Special needs trusts are designed to give people with disabilities the money they need to improve their overall quality of life without putting any public benefits they receive, like Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Medicaid, in danger.

What does that mean? Generally speaking, you can’t directly give a beneficiary cash from the special needs trust. You also can’t use it for their monthly bills, including groceries, utility payments and rent. You can, however, use it for luxuries and comforts that the beneficiary might otherwise have to do without.

Some of the things that a special needs trust can be used to provide include:

  • A car, bus passes, taxi service or Uber/Lyft service
  • Electronics, like a television, tablet, smartphone or computer
  • Hobby equipment, like art supplies, a camera, sports uniforms and other needs
  • Home improvements, including accessibility renovations
  • Magazines, newspaper subscriptions, game subscriptions and club due
  • Personal services, including haircuts, manicures, massages and attendant care
  • Pets, pet supplies and veterinary bills for the beneficiary’s pet
  • Music lessons and instruments
  • Maid services, delivery services and laundry services
  • Furniture, linens, household appliances (like a microwave)
  • Rental or homeowner’s insurance payments
  • Dental work and glasses (which are often not covered by public health plans)
  • Non-covered medical supplies and treatments, including vitamins and supplements and visits with specialists not covered by the insurance plan

Trustees generally have a lot of discretion about what they choose to pay for out of a special needs trust. However, it’s always wise to have some frank conversations with your chosen trustee about how you want them to provide for a disabled beneficiary once you’re gone. An experienced attorney can help you better understand your options.