Today is a good-news day for people with disabilities who want to set up a Special Needs Trust to preserve their eligibility for critical benefits: the President has signed the Special Needs Fairness Act — S349 — into law. . Since 1993, an applicant or recipient of Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Medicaid (now MLTSS in New Jersey) has been able to shelter their excess resources by transferring them into an irrevocable, first party Special Needs Trust for their own sole benefit, sometimes called a D4A trust (for the section of federal law that allows this). The thing is, the Trust itself could only be established by the person’s parent or grandparent, legal guardian [with Court permission], or by a Court. This created a problem for individuals who had no parent, grandparent or guardian. Such an individual could not just hire an attorney to prepare the Trust and provide advice on how to fund it. S/he would have to hire an attorney to petition the Court to establish the trust, and it would have to be on notice of interested parties such as next of kin and the State of New Jersey. This was a time-consuming process and would sometimes create problematic delays that would pose a risk for filing an application or maintaining ongoing eligibility.
The new law corrects this gap in the statute. Now, an individual who has disabilities but is otherwise managing his own affairs can establish the trust without going to Court. This certainly recognizes the capability of individuals with disabilities by allowing them to do their planning privately with their attorney rather than publically in court. Each state has its own requirements for the exact terms of these trusts, within the framework of the federal Medicaid and SSI statutes and regulations, so the Trust needs to be written carefully to comply with the State’s requirements. And it still has to be established and funded before age 65.
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