Supplemental Needs Trust

Updated on March 1, 2024
Article byGayatri Ailani
Edited byShreeya Jain
Reviewed byDheeraj Vaidya, CFA, FRM

What Is A Supplemental Needs Trust?

Supplemental Needs Trust is a special savings plan for someone with special needs or disabilities without jeopardizing their eligibility for government assistance programs. The primary purpose is to enhance the quality of life for someone with disabilities by covering expenses that aren’t covered by government schemes.

Supplemental Needs Trust

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The trust provides financial security for the individual with disabilities. A trustee manages it, ensuring the funds are used wisely for the beneficiary‘s benefit. This can relieve the stress associated with managing money for someone with special needs. It enables long-term planning. Therefore, it ensures that the person’s needs are met even after the original contributors are no longer able to provide support.

Key Takeaways

  • Supplemental Needs Trusts are legal tools designed to provide financial support to individuals with disabilities while preserving their eligibility for government assistance.
  • These trusts aim to supplement, not supplant, government benefits. They cover expenses and desires that go beyond what government programs provide, including things like entertainment, travel, hobbies, and more.
  • Supplemental Needs Trusts provide flexibility in managing and disbursing funds, adapting to the changing needs and circumstances of the beneficiary.

How Does Supplemental Needs Trust Work?

Supplemental needs trust, or Special Needs Trust, is a crucial financial tool to enhance the well-being of individuals with disabilities. But it also protects their eligibility for government assistance programs like Medicaid and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). A grantor, often a family member, establishes it by contributing money, assets, or property to the trust for the benefit of the person with disabilities, known as the beneficiary.

Moreover, a grantor appoints a trustee to manage the trust and make decisions. The trustee is free to choose how and when to distribute funds. They are used to meet the beneficiaries’ diverse needs, including medical care, education, housing, and quality-of-life enhancements like travel and entertainment. Still, they must always keep the beneficiary’s best interests in mind.

The trustee has discretion in disbursing funds based on the beneficiary’s changing circumstances. There are two common types of these trusts:

  • The supplemental needs third-party trusts, which are funded with assets from someone other than the beneficiary. 
  •  Self-funded trusts allow an individual with disabilities to contribute their own money while maintaining eligibility for government benefits. 

Special Needs Trusts serve as a vital financial safety net. Therefore, by promoting the well-being and financial security of individuals with disabilities while also providing peace of mind to their families. Therefore, taxation applies to the funds generated from the assets within the trusts. The aim is to minimize taxation and benefit individuals. Furthermore, the grantor’s beneficiary must provide sanction for any alterations or terminations since the supplemental needs trust is irrevocable. Additionally, various sources like cash, investment, and life insurance proceeds can fund this trust


Let us look at the supplemental needs trust examples to understand the concept better-

Example #1

The Anderson Family’s Supplemental Needs Trust Scenario:

Meet the Anderson family: Mr. and Mrs. Anderson have three children, Emily, Michael, and Sarah. While Emily and Michael are in good health, Sarah has special needs that require extra supervision and support to ensure her well-being.

Hence,  Mr. and Mrs. Anderson choose the second approach, which involves creating a supplemental needs trust to safeguard Sarah’s independence and financial well-being. In this case, they have the following plan:

They include Sarah in their estate plan by setting up a special trust designed to protect Sarah’s eligibility for disability income and services. Moreover, they designate a specific person as the trustee of the trust who is responsible for managing Sarah’s assets and ensuring that she continues to receive special services and benefits.

Upon their passing, the Anderson family’s assets, or a portion of them, will go into the supplemental needs trust using the funding methods they have outlined in the trust document.

Therefore, one key advantage of creating a supplemental needs trust is that Mr. and Mrs. Anderson retain control over their assets during their lifetimes. They can adjust the plan for funding the trust at any time, depending on their circumstances and the needs of their children. This flexibility provides peace of mind, knowing that they can adapt to unexpected situations while still safeguarding Sarah’s future.

Example #2

Consider the imaginary scenario of Mrs. Evelyn Turner. She is a retired widow with two adult children, Mark and Lisa. Mark, her adult child, has been living with her in her home and has special needs that require additional support. Mrs. Turner has taken steps to ensure her financial and caregiving arrangements should she become unable to manage her assets.

In addition to establishing a power of attorney, Mrs. Turner has created an irrevocable trust to protect her assets. She has also set up a special needs trust for Mark. Mrs. Turner has chosen Lisa, her other adult child, to be the trustee of Mark’s trust. This decision is rooted in the strong bond and trust between Mark and Lisa. In case something happens to Lisa, Mrs. Turner has designated a bank trust department as a successor trustee.

In this scenario, Mrs. Turner’s careful planning ensures that she provides the necessary support for her son, Mark, and manages her assets responsibly. This emphasizes the importance of a family trust and a well-thought-out financial arrangement.

Supplemental Needs Trust vs Special Needs Trust

Though both these trust aids individuals with a disability, there are certain differences between the two as follows:

Supplemental Needs TrustSpecial Needs Trust
Supplemental Needs Trust” is a more specific term often used to describe a type of Special Needs Trust. It emphasizes the trust’s primary purpose, which is to supplement, not supplant, government benefits.Special Needs Trust” is a broad category that encompasses various types of trusts created to benefit individuals with disabilities while protecting their eligibility for government assistance programs like Medicaid, etc.
Can be funded with the disabled individual’s assets (first-party SNT) or with assets from someone else (third-party SNT)Primarily funded with assets from someone other than the person with disabilities
The primary goal is to enhance the beneficiary’s quality of life by providing additional financial support for various needs and desiresSpecial Needs Trusts can be used for a wide range of expenses, such as medical care, housing, education, transportation, and quality-of-life enhancements.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How is a supplemental needs trust taxed?

Typically, someone other than the beneficiary funds Third-Party Supplemental Needs Trusts with assets. The trust reports and taxes the income generated by its assets, such as interest, dividends, or capital gains, on a separate tax return using the trust’s tax identification number.

Are there restrictions on the types of investments allowed within an SNT?

While there may not be strict restrictions, the trustee should consider investments that balance growth with the preservation of capital to meet the long-term needs of the individual with special needs.

Is there an age limit for establishing an SNT?

Establishing an SNT does not have a strict age limit, but individuals often set it up from birth for those with disabilities or as early as possible to provide long-term financial support.

This article has been a guide to what is Supplemental Needs Trust. Here, we explain its differences with special needs trust, along with its examples. You may also find some useful articles here –

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