A Discussion on Special Needs Trust — Financial Planning for Disabled Beneficiaries

People with disabilities have specific requirements that must be carefully considered and planned for to make the most of their financial resources.
Responsible financial planning protects their government benefits and provides additional funds for medical, living, and recreational expenses.
Special needs trusts (SNTs) manage assets for disabled people without affecting their eligibility for means-tested government benefits like Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Medicare. With expert guidance from “trust lawyers near me,” we will explore special needs trust types, legal steps, and more.
Through these topics, we hope to explain special needs trusts and their vital role in disabled beneficiaries’ financial planning. Estate lawyers set up and manage special needs trusts to ensure legal compliance and benefit optimization.

Types of Special Needs Trusts in Canada

First-Party (Self-Settled) Special Needs Trusts

Canadian first-party special needs trusts, called “Henson trusts,” use disabled people’s assets. Suppose a beneficiary wants to keep receiving means-tested government benefits like the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) or another provincial disability benefit. In that case, they can set up a trust to hold their money.

Funding Sources

First-party special needs trusts receive funding from:

  • Personal Injury Settlements. Accident and injury lawsuit compensation.
  • Inheritances. The disabled person receives money or property.
  • Savings. Personal savings or assets of the disabled person.

Benefits and Limitations

  • Benefits. Maintains government benefit eligibility, allows the trust to pay for uncovered needs, and provides a managed source of funds for the beneficiary’s lifetime.
  • Limitations. Depending on provincial regulations, the government may claim benefits from remaining trust assets after the beneficiary dies.

Third-Party Special Needs Trusts

Third-party special needs trusts are created and funded by a parent, grandparent, or relative. These trusts meet the person with disability’s supplemental needs without affecting their government benefits.
Any family member or friend can create a third-party special needs trust for a disabled person. Estate plans often include these trusts to provide long-term support for the beneficiary.

Funding Sources

The following are common third-party special needs trust funding sources:

  • Gifts. Funds donated by friends and relatives.
  • Inheritance. Bequests made in a last will and testament.
  • Life Insurance Policies. Trust-designated life insurance proceeds.

Benefits of Using a Third-Party Trust When Creating an Estate Plan

  1. Flexibility. Adaptable to the individual’s situation and requirements.
  2. No repayment is needed. After the beneficiary dies, third-party trusts do not have to reimburse the government. Family or heirs can receive the remaining assets.
  3. Secure assets. Protects beneficiary assets from creditors and lawsuits.

Pooled Trusts

Each pooled trust beneficiary has a separate account, but assets are managed and invested together. These organizations make investment decisions, distribute funds, and comply with laws.

Benefits for Low-Asset Beneficiaries

  1. Cost-Effective. Shared administrative and management costs make pooled trusts cheaper for smaller asset holders.
  2. Managed Professionally. Professional trust administrators and investment managers help beneficiaries.
  3. Service Access. Beneficiaries often receive additional services from nonprofit pooled trust managers.

Comparing Pooled Trusts to Individual Trusts

Aspect  Pooled Trust Individual Trust
Structure Serves one beneficiary Combines assets from multiple beneficiaries.
Management Non-profit organizations Family, professional, or financial institutions
Flexibility Standardize management and investment strategies Allows more asset customization and control

Making a Special Needs Trust: A Step-by-Step Guide

  1. Beneficiary Needs Assessment. Determine disabled person’s financial and care needs. Assess trust asset types and amounts.
  2. Select Trust Type. Determine whether a first-party, third-party, or pooled trust is best based on the beneficiary and fund source.
  3. Seek Legal and Financial Advice. Hire an estate planning and special needs trust lawyer to write the trust. Consult a financial advisor to fund and manage the trust.
  4. Trust Document Drafting. Lawyers will write trust documents with terms, beneficiaries, trustees, and distribution guidelines.
  5. Trust Funding. Give the trust the identified assets. This could be cash, investments, real estate, life insurance, or personal injury settlements.
  6. Choose a Trustee. A competent trustee should manage the trust. This can be a relative, friend, professional trustee, or trust company.
  7. Finalize and Execute the Trust. Review the trust document with a lawyer to ensure compliance. Provincial law may require witnesses and a notary public to sign the trust document.
  8. Trust Registration. Trust registration depends on provincial requirements. Follow any additional legal and administrative steps.

Available Assets for Special Needs Trusts


A will or estate plan can name a special needs trust (SNT) as the beneficiary of inheritances. It transfers inherited assets directly to the trust rather than the person with disability. Process usually involves:

  • Making the special needs trust a beneficiary in the alter ego trusts, or will or estate plan.
  • Ensuring the will transfers assets to the trust after the benefactor dies.
  • Consulting an estate planning attorney to ensure legal compliance.

Life Insurance Policies

Policyholders can name a special needs trust as the beneficiary of life insurance. That includes:

  • Making the special needs trust the life insurance policy’s primary or contingent beneficiary.
  • Maintaining legality and informing the trustee of the designation.
  • Checking with an insurance agent and estate planning attorney about necessary steps and documentation.


Personal injury settlements can be transferred to a special needs trust to secure the beneficiary’s financial future. Process includes:

  • Work with an attorney to structure the settlement to transfer funds directly to the trust.
  • Having the settlement agreement name the trust as the fund recipient.
  • Setting up the trust before settlement to ease transfer.

Impact on Government Benefits

Overview of Government Benefits for Disabled Individuals in Canada

Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP)

Disabled people receive financial and employment assistance from the ODSP. Financial aid includes income support for food, shelter, and clothing.

Canada Pension Plan (CPP) Disability Benefits

Contributors who cannot work due to a severe and prolonged disability can receive CPP Disability Benefits. This program pays eligible people monthly.

Protecting Benefit Eligibility with Special Needs Trusts

  • Special needs trusts (SNTs) manage assets for disabled people without affecting their means-tested government benefits.
  • By putting assets in an SNT, the beneficiary cannot directly access them, preventing them from counting toward ODSP’s income and asset limits.
  • This allows the beneficiary to receive financial assistance without losing government benefits.

Benefit Qualification Income and Asset Limits


  • Asset Limits. Couples can have $50,000 in liquid assets, while individuals can have $40,000. Exempt assets include a primary residence and one vehicle.
  • Income Limits. Any beneficiary income exceeds ODSP income limits and reduces benefits. Special needs trust income for approved expenses is usually exempt.

CPP Disability Benefits

  • No Asset Limits. CPP Disability Benefits are based on disability severity and CPP contributions, not assets.
  • Income Limits. CPP Disability Benefits depend on workability, not assets.

Tax Considerations

Special needs trusts pay trust taxes on income. However, if the trust distributes income, the beneficiary may pay taxes.

Reporting Requirements for Trustees

  • Annual Tax Returns. Annual trust tax returns are due from trustees. Report all income, deductions, and distributions. Trustees must also follow CRA reporting and regulations.
  • T3 Trust Income Tax and Information Return. Trustee income and beneficiary distributions must be reported on the T3 return and T3 slip.
Consideration Details Description
Contributions to Special Needs Trusts and Their Tax Benefits Income Splitting Contributing to a special needs trust can reduce family taxes by splitting income. Trust income may be taxed less than beneficiary or contributor income.
Tax-Deferred Growth Special needs trust assets can grow tax-deferred, potentially increasing beneficiary support.
Potential Effects on Beneficiaries’ Taxes Taxable Distributions Depending on the circumstances, trust distributions to beneficiaries may be taxable income.
Disability Tax Credit (DTC) DTC beneficiaries can reduce their taxable income, reducing the tax impact of trust distributions.

Work With Trust Lawyers For Your Special Needs Trusts

Special needs trusts can protect, secure, and improve the quality of life for family members with disability without affecting their eligibility for vital public assistance programs. Due to the complexity of setting up and managing a special needs trust, estate planning lawyers are recommended.
Ng Sidhu handles probate and estate administration process, estate litigation, and conducts adequate provision based on your estate planning needs. We can guide you in creating special needs trust, business succession planning, drafting alter ego trust, and managing your complex estate plan in accordance with Wills Variation Act in British Columbia.

Frequently Asked Questions

Which steps can families take to prepare for primary caregiver incapacity?

A well-structured plan must be in place to seamlessly transition responsibilities to new caregivers or trustees when primary caregivers or parents die, become incapacitated, or otherwise cannot provide care.

  • This transition ensures the beneficiary receives necessary support and services without interruption.
  • This requires careful planning, real estate law knowledge, documentation, and a trusted support network.
  • Families can ensure their loved one’s future by appointing successor trustees and caregivers, creating detailed care plans, and enlisting professional help.
  • Advanced planning of possible legal fees and document reviews and updates will meet beneficiaries’ needs.

When setting up a special needs trust, what paperwork is required?

  • Trust Document. The trust’s main legal document governs trustees, beneficiaries, asset management and distribution. It includes probate fees, details about joint ownership, etc.
  • Letter of Intent. An informal document detailing the beneficiary’s preferences, needs, and daily care. The trustee learns more about the beneficiary’s lifestyle and needs.
  • Court Approval (if necessary). Court approval may be needed to establish first-party trusts or trusts with minor beneficiaries.
  • Identification Documents. Proof of identity and legal compliance for grantor, beneficiary, and trustees.

What are the advantages of depositing funds into a trust through life insurance?

  • Consistent funding. Life insurance provides a steady income for the trust, ensuring beneficiary security.
  • Tax benefits. Most life insurance proceeds are tax-free, maximizing trust funds.
  • Easy planning. The policyholder’s assets can be transferred more efficiently and legally by naming the trust as a beneficiary.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *