In the realm of estate planning, the well-being of beneficiaries is paramount. For those with disabilities who rely on government benefits like Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Medicaid, a thoughtful and strategic approach becomes even more critical. This is where the creation of a Third Person Special Needs Trust comes into play. In the state of Pennsylvania, as in many others, the careful design of trusts under wills or revocable trusts can safeguard the financial future of individuals who may not be able to manage assets independently.

wheelchair Understanding the Importance of Third Person Special Needs Trusts

  1. Preserving Government Benefits: Individuals with disabilities often depend on crucial government benefits, such as SSI and Medicaid, for their daily living expenses and healthcare. An outright inheritance, however, can jeopardize these benefits due to income and asset limits. A Third Person Special Needs Trust serves as a protective shield, preserving eligibility for these vital programs.
  2. Avoiding Disqualification: The eligibility criteria for SSI and Medicaid typically include strict income and asset thresholds. An inheritance, if received directly, could exceed these limits, leading to disqualification from the much-needed government assistance. By placing assets in a Third Person Special Needs Trust, the beneficiary can continue to receive benefits without risking disqualification.
  3. Mitigating the Risks of Poor Financial Management: Beneficiaries who lack the capacity to manage financial assets effectively are susceptible to financial exploitation and mismanagement. Without proper safeguards, an outright inheritance might be squandered, leaving the individual without the necessary resources for a secure and comfortable life.

The Multifaceted Role of the Trustee

  1. The Role of the Trustee: In a Third Person Special Needs Trust, a trustee is appointed to oversee the management of assets, investments, and distributions. This impartial individual acts as a fiduciary, making decisions in the best interests of the beneficiary. This not only protects the individual from financial mismanagement but also ensures a sustained source of support throughout their lifetime.
  2. Investment Management: Trust assets, often including financial assets and real estate, need skilled management to ensure they grow over time. The trustee is responsible for making informed investment decisions, considering the long-term financial needs of the beneficiary while minimizing risks.
  3. Tax Planning and Compliance: The trustee plays a crucial role in navigating the complex landscape of tax regulations. From filing annual tax returns to implementing tax-efficient strategies, their expertise ensures that the trust remains in compliance with all applicable tax laws, maximizing the financial benefits for the beneficiary.
  4. Distributions and Decision-Making: Determining when and how trust funds are distributed requires a nuanced understanding of the beneficiary's needs and the impact on government benefits. The trustee acts as a gatekeeper, making judicious decisions that align with the beneficiary's well-being, while avoiding any adverse effects on benefit eligibility.

Crafting a Comprehensive Estate Plan

  1. Collaborative Planning with Estate Planning Attorneys: Crafting a Third Person Special Needs Trust necessitates collaboration between estate planning attorneys, clients, and potential trustees. Legal professionals play a pivotal role in tailoring the trust to the specific needs and circumstances of the beneficiary, ensuring a comprehensive and effective plan.
  2. Regular Review and Adaptation: The circumstances of the beneficiary and the legal landscape may evolve over time. Regular reviews of the trust provisions are essential to ensure that the plan remains aligned with the beneficiary's best interests and continues to comply with relevant laws and regulations.


In the intricate landscape of estate planning, a Third Person Special Needs Trust emerges as a powerful tool for securing the financial future of individuals with disabilities. By preserving government benefits, mitigating the risks of poor financial management, and appointing a trustworthy trustee, this specialized trust ensures a legacy of support and care for those who need it most. Douglas Kaune and the other estate planning attorneys at the law firm of Unruh, Turner, Burke & Frees play a pivotal role in guiding clients through the complexities of creating special needs trusts.  If you would like to schedule an initial consultation in either of our office locations or via video conference, please call the Phoenxiville office at 610 933 8069. 


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