Supplemental needs trusts (sometimes referred to as “special needs” trusts) are drafted so that the funds will not be considered to belong to the beneficiary in determining his or her eligibility for public benefits, such as Medicaid, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), or public housing. These trusts usually do not provide basic support, but instead are used to pay for comforts and luxuries that could not be paid for by public assistance funds, such as education, recreation, counseling, and medical attention beyond what is required simply to maintain an individual.
Often supplemental needs trusts are created by a family member for a disabled child (even though the child may be an adult by the time the trust is created or funded). But the disabled individual may create the trust himself or herself, depending on the program for which he or she seeks benefits. Medicaid is the most restrictive program in this regard, making it difficult for a beneficiary to create a trust for his or her own benefit. But even Medicaid has a “safe harbor” allowing for the creation of a supplemental needs trust with a beneficiary’s own money if the trust meets certain requirements.