What is a California Special Needs Trust?

If you’re the parent or relative of a person who has a developmental disability, you want to provide for him or her financially as much as possible. . At the same time, you understandably have concerns about your loved one’s rights to public assistance, especially since making that person “too rich” may negatively impact those financial benefits. Fortunately, California law does provide you with an effective legal option to support a disabled person and still qualify for government assistance: The Special Needs Trust. While you should always discuss your situation with a knowledgeable special needs trusts lawyer, some background information may help you understand the basics.

Overview of Special Needs Trusts


This type of trust is a legal arrangement where an individual or entity acts as the trustee to manage assets on behalf of a person with a disability, termed the “beneficiary.” Almost any real or personal property can be titled in the name of the trust, including bank and investment accounts, stocks, a home, and other assets. Because the trust holds the assets and the trustee manage them, the beneficiary doesn’t have an ownership interest. This means that he or she still qualifies for public assistance benefits under California and federal law, such as:

  • Supplemental Security Income (SSI), a Social Security program that provides cash benefits for eligible individuals;
  • California’s Medicaid program (Medi-Cal), which provides healthcare for those with disabilities; and,
  • In-Home Support Services (IHSS), a program that offers personal assistance for disabled individuals who can live with a certain amount of independence.

Required Language in Trust Documents


To ensure that a special needs trust serves its purpose, namely to avoid having assets counted in connection with public benefits, it must include certain language. The trust document must provide that:

  • Only the trustee can determine when and how to apply funds for the benefit of the beneficiary;
  • The purpose of the trust is to provide support and services beyond what the beneficiary receives from public assistance; and,
  • The beneficiary has no control over the management of trust assets.

Consult with an Experienced California Attorney About Special Needs Trusts

As you can see, special needs trusts can be quite complicated and there are harsh legal consequences if you make an error or overlook the requirements. It’s wise to retain a skilled lawyer to represent your interests and ensure all necessary details are handled properly. If you’d like more information about the benefits of a special needs trust, please contact the Law Office of Charles D. Stark to schedule a consultation. We serve clients in Santa Rosa, CA and throughout Sonoma County, and we’re happy to help your family.


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