Special Needs Trust

A Special Needs Trust names a trustee to manage your family member's financial assets for them.

This can be a good way to manage payments for things not covered by government benefits.

Example purchases:

  • Paid staff

  • Special therapies

  • Personal items, like computers, furniture, electronics, sports equipment

  • Recreation

  • Vacations or travel

The trustee is legally responsible for making sure the money is invested and spent properly on your family member's personal needs.

Your family member will have no control over how the money is used.

Special Needs Trusts can be managed without approval from the Probate Court.


A similar, lower-cost option is a pooled trust.

Click the box here to learn more:

In Massachusetts, you can also get pooled trustswhich cost less because they reduce overhead expenses.

These may be a good option if your family's funds are limited. Here are a few local options:

What you can do: 

  1. Get help from a lawyer who is familiar with Special Needs Trusts and the laws about disability benefits. You could also meet with a financial planner who has experience with this.

  2. Decide what kind of trust is right for your family member. There are different kinds, depending on the source of the money.It is critical to set up the right kind.

  3. Carefully consider who the trustee should be. It's not easy to reverse this decision. Trustees should be able to:

  • Do accounting, investments, tax returns and distributions

  • Understand various public benefits programs

  • Know your family member's needs

  • Be highly ethical and trustworthy

If your family member inherits money or gets compensation for an injury, you can transfer the money into a qualified Special Needs Trust (sometimes called a "payback special needs trust").

  • This will ensure that the payment does not affect their ability to qualify for public benefits, like SSI or MassHealth.

  • You must file a petition and ask the Probate Court to approve this.

  • You will have to pay some fees. The amount will vary by county.

Here's what you can do:

  1. Get help from a lawyer or special needs financial planner who is familiar with qualified Special Needs Trusts.

  2. Download and fill out the Petition for Appointment of a Conservator for Disabled Person or for Single Transaction form by clicking the link at the bottom of the page. In part 5, check the box for "Authorization of the following protective arrangement or single transaction," and describe the transaction.

Note: you need approval from the Probate Court for the transfer of the money. You can set up a Special Needs Trust without going through the Court.


Sources: Commonwealth of MA Probate and Family Court, Fletcher Tilton Attorneys at Law (2011), Jackins (2010), Mercado (2015), Special Needs Law Group of MA (2015)