Trustee of Special Needs Trust must be cautious in making reimbursements

A person who is receiving Supplemental Security Income (SSI) from the Social Security Administration must report changes in his income or resources (assets) to SSI, because this can affect his eligibility or the amount of benefits. If countable resources exceed $2,000 on the first of a month, eligibility can be lost. If the issue is detected after the fact, there can be a resulting overpayment than can take months to straighten out. If assets are placed into, or are being held in, a Trust, there might be an impact on eligibility depending on the terms of the Trust, how those assets are distributed by the Trustee, and how much control the SSI recipient has (if any) over the assets in the trust.

A Trust established with assets of the SSI recipient or applicant might be excluded from the $2,000 resource limit if it meets the many requirements  for a Special Needs Trust. Particular problems come up when somebody has been spending money on the beneficiary and needs to be reimbursed by the Trustee. The payments out of the Trust to that third party may be viewed by the Agency as improper disbursements that violate this “sole benefit” requirement if the trustee can’t produce satisfactory proof to justify the reimbursement. If the payments are made out of a first party trust, the entire corpus (principal; value) of the Trust may be treated as an available resource because the payments to the third party are “not for sole benefit” of the Trust beneficiary. If cash is just transferred out of the Trust to the third party’s account to use for the beneficiary, this can create problems as well.  The standards are explained by the Social Security Administration in this section 01120.201.2.b of of the procedure manual called the “POMS,”  where it says, ” …do not consider a trust that provides for the trust corpus or income to be paid to or for a beneficiary other than the SSI applicant/recipient to be established for the sole benefit of the individual.” The POMS continues:

. ” Exceptions to the sole benefit rule for third party payments

“Consider the following disbursements or distributions to be for the sole benefit of the trust beneficiary:

  • Payments to a third party that result in the receipt of goods or services by the trust beneficiary;
  • Payment of third party travel expenses which are necessary in order for the trust beneficiary to obtain medical treatment; and
  • Payment of third party travel expenses to visit a trust beneficiary who resides in an institution, nursing home, or other long-term care facility (e.g., group homes and assisted living facilities) or other supported living arrangement in which a non-family member or entity is being paid to provide or oversee the individual’s living arrangement. The travel must be for the purpose of ensuring the safety and/or medical well-being of the individual.”

These are limited exceptions. If the Trustee is issuing payments to individuals under the guise that it is a reimbursement for expenditures that aren’t within these narrow categories, there will be a presumption that the trust is giving out money to third parties unless the Trustee can prove otherwise. The Trustee of any Trust for benefit of a person on SSI needs to assume that s/he will have to provide accountings and receipts in exquisite detail for scrutiny by the Social Security Administration. Great care should be exercised once a trustee takes on this major responsibility.

For advice on establishing and administering Special Needs Trusts, call ….. 732-382-6070