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William Rambaum, PA Clearwater & Oldsmar Elder Law Attorney

Financially Protecting a Disabled Family Member


When a family member with a disability renders him/her unable to work and/or perform the daily needs of life, measures need to be taken to protect this person in case the caretakers are no longer available or die. This effort involves careful advance estate planning to ensure the disabled individual is left with sufficient resources to cover their needs, which can span an entire lifetime. This dilemma can hit parents at any age, but those that are older, and who suddenly realize no one will be around to assume their responsibilities, are particularly pressed by time and circumstance to take action. If the right estate planning measures are not created and executed, the disabled individual can lose important government benefits, and also face the possibility of running out of money. This scenario is entirely avoidable, though, if the right estate planning attorney is given the opportunity to structure a plan to address this concern. A discussion of some options family members have to protect a loved one with special needs get the support and help they need long into the future will follow below.

What Is at Stake?

Individuals with severely debilitating conditions that prevent them from working and/or require assistance with the activities of daily living often qualify for government benefits tied to a person’s income and available assets. However, once a disabled individual’s caretaker dies, he/she will need additional money to pay for the long-term care he/she needs. If money and assets are directly transferred to the disabled individual’s name, he/she is at great risk of losing the government benefits most families need to obtain all the services required to manage these types of conditions. Some of the government benefits that could be lost if assets are directly transferred to a disabled individual include:

  • Social Security Insurance (SSI) (need based);
  • Medicaid (need based); and
  • Veterans’ Benefits (trust assets may be counted toward benefit eligibility).

This danger can lead parents and other loved ones to assume that it is not possible to provide for the disabled individual in their estate plan, but certain trusts, particularly special needs trusts, may be used to provide financial support without jeopardizing essential benefits.

The Role of Trusts

Planning an estate plan that incorporates provisions for a disabled child or relative takes time and attention from a knowledgeable estate planning attorney to ensure the options selected do in fact accomplish the ultimate goal. Trusts are usually effective, if the correct one is chosen, at achieving the objective mentioned above because they do not put the money and assets directly in the beneficiary’s name, and instead transfer authority to a third-party trustee, who controls and manages the distribution of funds. Two types of trusts that are often used to protect the financial security of a child or loved one are special needs trusts and support trusts. Support trusts require trustees to pay out funds for a child’s support related to food, shelter, clothing, medical care, and education. However, it would disqualify the beneficiary from receiving Medicaid or SSI, and should be avoided if this assistance is essential. To preserve government benefits, special needs trusts are the most common option used, and two possible versions exist: third-party special needs trusts and self-settled special needs trusts. The self-settled option allows disabled individuals under the age of 65, who do not require guardians and have the ability to make decisions, to protect their assets for purposes of keeping public benefits. Self-settled trusts are especially important if money is received through a personal injury lawsuit, gift or inheritance. Third-party trusts are established by parents, grandparents, or other individuals for the benefit of the disabled individual, and were the traditional method used to provide financial security. An experienced estate planning attorney can walk a family through the right approach for their unique needs.

Contact a Florida Estate Planning Attorney

Planning for the needs for someone with a disability can feel overwhelming, but the experience and dedication of William Rambaum can greatly relieve this burden. Oldsmar attorney William Rambaum has decades of skill and knowledge in estate planning that he can use to your benefit. Contact the office today to schedule an appointment.


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