Can I make a special needs trust without a lawyer?

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Question:

Can I make a special needs trust without a lawyer?

Answer:

For some families, making a special needs trust without a lawyer is a good option. But others will be better off getting a lawyers help.  Here are some things to consider:

  • The type of trust you need. If you plan to fund the trust with the beneficiary’s own money – money from an insurance or divorce settlement, for example – then you need to hire a lawyer because the rules for these “first-party” special needs trusts are complicated enough to warrant getting a lawyer’s help. However, if you want to make a “third-party” trust using money or property from someone other than the beneficiary – like an inheritance or gift from a family member – then making your own trust is an option. Learn more about First-Party vs. Third-Party Trusts.
  • How much money or property will go into the trust. If you don’t have much money to put into the trust, it may not be worthwhile to hire a lawyer. For example, it could make sense to make a special needs trust for a gift of $5,000 -- after all, that amount of money could provide the beneficiary with $100 worth of services every month for over four years.  However, paying a lawyer $1,500 of that $5,000 to get a special needs trust would significantly diminish the benefit, so making a trust yourself may be a good option.  On the other hand, hiring a lawyer to make an individualized special needs trust for a gift of $50,000 would probably be money well spent.
  • The feasibility of hiring a lawyer. If you can afford to hire a lawyer to write a trust designed to address the beneficiary’s unique  needs, you should.  However, if you cannot afford to hire a lawyer – so that your choices are either make a trust yourself or don’t have a trust -- your own untailored “bare-bones” trust is probably better than not having one at all.
  • Your willingness to do some work. If you’re going to make your own trust, you must be willing to do the leg work.  That means spending the time and mental energy to do it right – making sure you’re well informed and getting all of the details right.  This kind of task is not for everybody – some folks are naturally inclined to let a lawyer take over.  But if you meet the other criteria, and you’re willing to put in the work, making your own trust can work for you and your family.

Learn more about Special Needs Trusts on Nolo.com

Learn more about making a trust with a Special Needs Trust Form.

Special Needs Trust: Protect Your Child’s Financial Future , by Stephen Elias and Kevin Urbatsch (Nolo) provides all of the information, instructions, and forms you need to make your own third-party special needs trust. 

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