Pooled Special

Understanding Pooled Special Needs Trusts

9 mins read

For families with loved ones living with disabilities, ensuring their long-term well-being is a top priority. One crucial aspect of this is preserving their eligibility for vital government benefits like Medicaid and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). However, an unexpected inheritance or financial windfall could jeopardize this eligibility, leaving them without access to the support they need. This is where pooled special needs trusts come into play, offering a powerful solution to safeguard their future.

What Is a Pooled Special Needs Trust?

A pooled special needs trust is a type of irrevocable trust established and managed by a nonprofit organization. Rather than creating an individual trust, the nonprofit pools together the funds of many beneficiaries into a shared trust, with separate sub-accounts maintained for each person.

The key aspect is that these trusts are specifically designed to supplement, rather than replace, the government assistance someone with a disability receives. Any money disbursed from the pooled trust must be used solely for the supplemental needs of that individual beneficiary.

Pooled trusts come in two main varieties defined by how they are funded:

  • First-Party Pooled Trust—This trust is Funded with assets that belong to or are due to the person with a disability themselves. These could include an inheritance, personal injury settlement, or their own savings.
  • Third-Party Pooled Trust—This type of trust is funded by assets that never belonged to the beneficiary, such as a gift or inheritance from a parent, grandparent, or other third party.

Advantages of Using a Pooled Special Needs Trust

There are several reasons why families may want to consider a pooled trust as part of their overall special needs planning and estate plan for a loved one with disabilities:

Professional Trust Administration – Perhaps the biggest advantage is having your trust funds managed by professional trustees who specialize in working with people with special needs. They understand all the complex rules around using trust money to supplement government benefits without jeopardizing eligibility.

No Minimum Funding Required—Pooled trusts do not require a minimum amount to open a sub-account. This makes them accessible even if you have only a modest sum to leave to your family member with special needs. By contrast, many banks and trust companies require at least $500,000 to set up an individual special needs trust.

Investment Advantages – By pooling assets together, the nonprofit organization can achieve greater investment diversification and returns compared to individually managed trusts. This helps the funds in each sub-account grow over time.

Stability and Oversight – You don’t have to worry about finding and replacing individual trustees who may become incapacitated or pass away. The nonprofit organization provides professional trust services continuity.

Another key benefit is that pooled trusts can be either first-party or third-party, providing flexibility in your special needs planning. For example:

  • A disabled individual under age 65 can directly establish their own first-party pooled trust sub-account using their own assets. This avoids having to go through a parent, grandparent or the courts.
  • Parents or grandparents can open a third-party pooled trust sub-account to leave an inheritance for their loved ones with disabilities while protecting future public benefits eligibility.

When Are Pooled Trusts Used?

Pooled special needs trusts are commonly utilized when:

  • The person with disabilities only has a modest amount of assets that would not justify the costs of setting up an individually managed special needs trust.
  • There is no family member able or willing to serve as trustee for an individual special needs trust.
  • The family wants the professional administration and oversight that a nonprofit organization provides for trust funds.
  • An individual with disabilities lacks a parent or grandparent available to establish a first-party special needs trust for them directly.

Pooled trusts can be a good alternative to ABLE accounts, which have an annual contribution limit of $16,000 and restrict the total account balance. They offer more flexibility for larger amounts of funds.

Mechanics of Pooled Trust Operation

While the specific rules and fees vary between different nonprofit pooled trust organizations, they typically operate under these general guidelines:

  • Each beneficiary has their own sub-account holdings kept separate, while all the funds are pooled together into a shared master trust for investment and administration purposes.
  • Disbursements from each beneficiary’s sub-account can only be used to pay for supplemental needs like education, recreation, therapy, medical costs not covered by public benefits, and other quality of life expenses.
  • Certain expenditures are not permitted from pooled trusts such as giving gifts to others, paying basic food/shelter costs covered by benefits, debts/taxes, etc.
  • Upon the death of the beneficiary, a first-party pooled trust sub-account must first repay Medicaid for any benefits paid on behalf of the beneficiary during their lifetime if not retained by the nonprofit organization. For third-party trusts, any remaining funds can pass to other beneficiaries named by the third-party settlor.

Evaluating Potential Pooled Trust Organizations

Not all nonprofit pooled trust organizations are created equal in terms of fees, investment strategies, services provided, and quality of trust administration. It’s essential to do your due diligence when considering using one by:

  • Examining the organization’s history, reputation, and stability in North Carolina
  • Understanding all fees, both upfront to join and ongoing administration charges
  • Reviewing the investment approach, risk profile, and historical returns
  • Assessing the level of disbursement oversight and other administrative services
  • Checking if they accommodate any unique situations like real estate holdings

While pooled trusts offer advantages, they also have some potential downsides compared to individual special needs trusts:

  • You sacrifice a degree of control and customization once funds are pooled.
  • Investment options and strategies may be limited.
  • Fees can be high, especially for very small sub-account balances.
  • Service levels can vary greatly between different nonprofit trust organizations.

The best path depends on your specific circumstances, assets involved, level of required professional administration, and goals for supplementing government benefits. This is why it’s critical to consult with a qualified special needs lawyer near me who can evaluate your situation.

A Way Forward for Your Loved One

If you’re a North Carolina resident with a loved one living with a disability, it’s crucial to plan for their future and ensure they have access to the resources and support they need. At Cary Estate Planning, our team of experienced estate planning attorneys is dedicated to helping families navigate the complexities of pooled special needs trusts and other disability planning strategies.

With a 5-star rating from over 400 reviews, we pride ourselves on providing personalized, compassionate guidance tailored to your unique circumstances. Our attorneys deeply understand the legal and financial considerations involved, and we work closely with you to develop a comprehensive plan that protects your loved one’s eligibility for government benefits while ensuring their long-term care and quality of life.

Don’t leave your loved one’s future to chance. Contact Cary Estate Planning today at (919) 659-8433 to schedule a free consultation and take the first step towards securing their well-being. With our expertise and commitment to your family’s best interests, you can know that your loved one will be cared for, no matter what the future holds.

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