Should I Use a Professional Trustee for my Child’s Special Needs Trust in Virginia?

In most cases, parents or family members of a person with special needs serve as trustees of the child’s Special Needs Trust in Virginia. However, in some cases, the parents may choose not to serve as trustee and will ask other family members or close friends to serve instead. However, it’s not unusual for the trustee to become overwhelmed with the responsibility. Not only are there bills to be paid and tax returns needed, but there are also requirements for financial statements that need to be prepared and sent to various government agencies. It’s a LOT of paperwork.

If this happens and you are afraid that your child’s trustee is not up for the job, it may be time to consider the services of a professional trustee. Remember, if your current trustee is running into trouble, he or she may be hesitant to tell you because they don’t want to “burden” you or let you down. That is why I recommend to my clients that they proactively monitor the trustee and watch for these warning signs.

  1. Things are not getting done on a timely basis.

Every Special Needs Trust is unique, but in most cases, serving as the trustee of a Special Needs Trust can seem like a full-time job. The trustee could be spending a great deal of time monitoring government benefits, paying bills and serving as a liaison between the beneficiary and various service providers. If the trustee is not able to perform these tasks in a timely manner, it may be time to look for a professional trustee.

  1. They have trouble keeping track of government benefit rules.

One of the primary reasons for establishing a Special Needs Trust is to maintain the beneficiary’s eligibility for essential government programs like Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Medicaid. It is critical that the trustee understand the complicated, and sometimes contradictory, rules governing the programs and the Special Needs Trust. If you suspect that your chosen trustee is having trouble, it may be time to seek the services of a professional trustee who is experienced with the rules and can make solid decisions.

  1. The beneficiary is high-maintenance.

If the beneficiary of the Special Needs Trust is aware of the trust and capable of interacting with the trustee, they can sometimes make the trustee’s life difficult. In some cases, the beneficiary feels entitled to the money in the trust and puts pressure on the trustee to distribute it in ways that are not appropriate. This is particularly troublesome when the trust is managed by a family member. I’ve seen many family squabbles that would have been avoided if a professional trustee was involved.

If you are seeing any of these signs, you should immediately seek the help of an experienced special needs planning lawyer. You can work with them to bring in support from a professional. You can either turn over the entire responsibility of trust administration to a professional trustee, or remain as the trustee yourself and have the support you need from the professional. No matter how you decide to handle the situation, the sooner you put safeguards in place, the more secure the beneficiary will be.