If you’ve set up a special needs trust, then you’ve named a trustee to serve in the best interest of the person(s) it benefits (called a beneficiary).
While it is true that trustees of special needs trusts wear many hats, oftentimes families are left with the impression that the trustee has more power and responsibility than they actually do.
Trustees, in these cases, can act as:
- investment advisor,
- trust distribution manager, and
- benefits advocate.
Often trustees are in constant communication with the beneficiary, and the caregivers, regarding such things as approving distributions for the purchase of a vehicle, or even the purchase of a home. The trustee is involved in many and varying aspects of the beneficiary’s life.
This level of involvement can be confusing for beneficiaries and their families, who may be under the impression that the trustee can make decisions regarding all aspects of a beneficiary’s life. If a trustee can approve or reject the proposed purchase price of a home for the beneficiary, does it follow that they can also decide where the beneficiary lives? In general, the answer is no.
What Care Managers Do
While a trustee makes distributions from the trust and administers it, the trustee’s duties do not extend to the day-to-day decisions regarding the management of the beneficiary’s care and placement. These decisions are typically made by a parent (or both parents), a close family member, or a guardian of the beneficiary who is acting as the beneficiary’s care manager.
The reason these decisions are not taken on by trustees is that although a trustee may have had the opportunity to get to know a beneficiary well, the beneficiary’s family members typically know how to best serve his or her daily and personal needs.
A Lifetime of Management
Making the distinction between trustee and care manager is vitally important. You need to plan appropriately so the beneficiary has an advocate, not just for the lifetime of the family member managing his or her care, but for the beneficiary’s entire lifetime.
It is possible that a parent or close family member will be appointed as trustee. In that circumstance the parent or close family member would still be acting in their capacity as care manager and not as trustee when making decisions regarding the beneficiary’s care and placement. When a parent or close family member is serving this dual role, it is even more crucial to plan ahead to ensure continuity for the eventuality of that person being no longer able to manage the trust for the beneficiary’s care.
If you have questions about the trustee’s role, or if you want to ensure that your loved one will be cared for even when his or her current caregivers are no longer able, we encourage you to give us a call at 913-345-2323. Please mention that you have questions regarding Special Needs planning when you call. We will be happy to help!