If you are considering taking on the responsibility of serving as the trustee of a special needs trust, you will probably have questions about the trustee's role. Trustees of special needs trusts have many important responsibilities, but these five likely rank at the top of any trustee's list. 1. Making Appropriate Distributions From the Trust Before a trustee makes a distribution from a special needs trust, she has to confirm that the distribution is actually authorized under the terms of the trust and she must also understand the effect that the distribution will have on the beneficiary's government benefits. At a minimum, every special needs trust will contain some language giving direction to the trustee. But no matter the wording, one thing is very clear - the trustee is legally required to follow the terms of the trust when making distributions.

Not only must a trustee understand the terms of the trust itself, but the trustee must also recognize how a distribution affects the beneficiary's government benefits. Just because the trustee can spend the money does not mean that the trustee should spend the money, especially since certain purchases can reduce or end the recipient's government benefits. On the other hand, some distributions that affect government benefits may still be in the beneficiary's best interest and should still be made. 2. Investing the Trust Property Appropriately

A trustee is probably not going to be picking individual stocks to invest on behalf of the trust. But the trustee is required to make sure that the trust funds are appropriately invested by qualified financial professionals. This involves oversight of the investment activity, monitoring and frequent meetings with financial advisors and accountants to make sure that the trust's investment strategy is working properly. The trustee is also tasked with making sure that the level of risk is appropriate for a trust to provide steady growth while still generating some income for the trust. 3. Bookkeeping The trustee is responsible for keeping the trust records and for providing accounts to the beneficiary and sometimes to others. Like investing, not all trustees are going to prepare accounts on their own - sometimes they hire bookkeepers to do this. But the trustee must ensure that the proper information is recorded and distributed to the appropriate parties and that the trust's records are in order and available for audit by the beneficiary or a court. 4. Tax Reporting Trustees are required to file the trust's state and federal income tax returns, typically on April 15th. Since trust tax returns are complicated, it's best to leave this job to a professional accountant, but the trustee must still understand the basics of trust accounting and how distributions from trusts are taxed to the beneficiaries. If the trustee is not careful, the trust beneficiary could experience an unwelcome tax bill come tax time. 5. Communication Although all of these responsibilities are significant, communication with the trust beneficiary, his caregivers and others involved in his life is probably the most important responsibility of all. Trustees often have to coordinate payment for essential services like housing and medical care, and miscommunication can result in the loss of these sometimes life-saving benefits. Trustees also risk suit from beneficiaries or family members who feel that their needs are not being addressed by the trustee. Often a simple phone call can save a lot of hurt feelings. But this does not mean that a trustee shouldn't be able to say "no" to a beneficiary. While a million-dollar trust may seem like it will last a lifetime, it can be easily squandered if a trustee is more concerned with keeping a beneficiary happy than with making appropriate expenditures from the trust. Setting and communicating clear expectations about the use of trust funds avoids this problem.

The coronavirus pandemic has had a devastating impact on the elderly, particularly those in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities. This has raised questions about how the virus has influenced the costs and provision of long-term care insurance, which covers care in facilities and sometimes at home as well. 

If you have a long-term care insurance policy, you may wonder how it is affected by the pandemic. If you don’t have a policy, you may wonder if the pandemic will make it more difficult to get one. An article by US News and World Report, examines issues with long-term care insurance that have arisen in the last few months, including the following:

  • Qualifying for insurance. It is already more difficult to qualify for long-term care insurance the older you get. Because older individuals are at a higher risk for coronavirus, this can affect your long-term care application as well. Some insurers have been limiting applicants’ ages or putting additional restrictions on applicants who have been in contact with the virus. If you had a positive COVID-19 test, you may have to wait for three to six months before qualifying for insurance. These policies vary by company. 

  • Premiums. Insurers can’t raise rates for customers due to individual circumstances. To raise rates, insurers must obtain approval from the state and raise them for the entire group. However, if you are considered high risk due to exposure to coronavirus, you may not qualify for the best rates when you first apply for long-term care insurance. 

  • Moving out of a nursing home. If you have a policy and want to move out of a nursing home, you will need to check what your policy will pay for. Some policies pay for long-term care in a variety of settings, including home care, but others are more restrictive. On the plus side, you may be able to use your policy to reserve your bed, allowing you to keep your nursing home spot.

  • Home care. If you have a policy that was paying for home care, there may also be changes. Some home care workers are charging more for work during the pandemic, which could exceed your policy coverage. Another change may be to the number of people entering your home. You may want family to provide care, rather than an outside home health care worker. Unfortunately, most long-term care policies don’t pay for family members to provide care. However, if you aren’t using the insurance to pay for care, your coverage may last longer--depending on the policy. 

There are lots of uncertainties regarding long-term care, insurance, and coronavirus. To read the full US News and World Report article about what we do know, click here.

Among the challenges of raising a child with special needs is figuring out how to provide for that child once you’re gone. If the child will never be able to earn a living, how can you determine how much of your own money to set aside for her care and support, and for the rest of her life?

One way to answer this question is through a free online calculator at launched this summer by Harty Financial, a Boston-area financial services firm that focuses on planning for families of special needs children.  Utilizing a three-minute questionnaire, the calculator is designed to guide parents through the estate planning process by assessing the cost of everything their child with special needs is likely to need for the duration of his life, anything from medical assistance to food and shelter, clothing, physical therapy, education, and entertainment.

Planning the long-term future of a child with special needs can be the source of enormous stress for parents embarking on the estate planning process, the company’s principals note. And while the calculator is not designed to replace one-on-one consultation with an experienced special needs planner, it can help answer some basic questions and move the process forward, they say. “What we think is really helpful about this calculator,” says Harty Financial co-founder Brendan Harty, “is that it utilizes our own observations about actual costs that parents face, such as housing and lifestyle preferences, rather than asking parents to supply those numbers themselves.” The calculator, available at, asks the user a series of questions about the child’s needs as well as the parents’ expected longevity and financial profile. “Though there is no substitute for planning with a family on an individual basis, we believe that this calculator has the potential to be transformative to the millions of Americans with a child with special needs,” says Caleb Harty, Brendan’s brother and a co-founder of the firm. “Our objective is to help parents check off the peace-of-mind box, and getting an idea of how much money parents may need to leave behind is one step toward that goal.” Once the parents of a child with special needs have a clearer idea of this figure, they can begin their planning. They can set money aside in a special needs trust, for example, or apply for life insurance to make sure there will be adequate funds should they die unexpectedly. They may want to make decisions about ongoing care and housing for their child with special needs based on what they can afford now and into the future.

For questions regarding special needs trust or how to utilize estate planning tools to protect your family member's financial future, contact Meredith Hilton, Esq. at or 404-538-6975.