Why Siblings Shouldn’t Be SNT Trustees

By Stephen W. Dale, Esq.

It may be counter-intuitive, but when considering trustees for your child’s special needs trust (SNT), naming a sibling – or another family member – is not a good idea. Having them on the front line for day-to-day activities could be a disservice to everyone involved. A more successful model, instead, casts them in an oversight role, ensuring that the trustee acts in the beneficiary’s best interest.

Professionally managed trusts are almost always less expensive and more effective than family-managed trusts for the following reasons:

  • Understanding of public benefits
  • Stewardship of investments
  • Knowledge of tax law
  • Familiarity with breadth of available services
  • Ability to remain objective

The stress of managing an SNT frequently takes a toll on family relationships and may even affect a sibling trustee’s health. Honest mistakes that hold dramatic consequences for a loved one with special needs can lead to anxiety, anger and guilt.

It’s far better to empower siblings and other family members to act as an advisory committee, monitoring a team of professionals that’s led by the trustee and, ideally, includes a care manager. Such an advisory group could define the distribution plan, amend the trust as conditions change, and, if necessary, replace the trustee.

As government benefits shrink, private industry is increasingly seeking to fill the gap. The family-monitored special needs trust, in response, is morphing into a personal social service system with its own checks and balances. The energies of siblings and other relations are more appropriately harnessed in an advocacy and supervisory role than in day-to-day execution.



  1. Mr.&Mrs. R.L. Jackson September 5, 2011 at 8:47 pm

    My husband is 84 and has congestive heart failure. I am 85 and care for him as well as a 50 year old son with schizophrenia. Son lives close by (slightly independent) in a family owned condo. Our two other sons live in different states. We have a revocable trust (special needs) in which all assets are assigned. We are interested in having a care manager. We are not able to move to a senior care type housing arrangement because of our ill son. Even though he is not at all violent and functions in a normal way, his depression and anxieties prevent social interaction. He takes many medications. He does not hear voices or see things that are not there and he really is functional. He just needs a professional care person to see that he gets his medical appointments and meds.

    • cbahan September 6, 2011 at 12:31 pm

      In response to the comments by Mr. and Mrs. R.L. Jackson: For assistance locating a qualified care manager, visit the Family Caregiver Alliance at http://www.caregiver.org or the National Association of Professional Geriatric Care Managers at http://www.caremanager.org. Be sure to check the credentials for care managers you are considering to be certain that they’re certified.

  2. Robert Woosley September 6, 2011 at 12:42 am

    I understand that IRS monitors income for tax liability. SSI, SSDI, Medicade etc. monitor assets for eligibility

    What entity monitors expenditures from a SNT?

    If an expenditure is disallowed, what consistences are there for the trustee and/or the beneficiary?


  3. Ed Wilcenski September 9, 2011 at 4:26 pm

    Responding to Mr. Woosley:

    Yours is an excellent question. The answer will vary greatly from trust to trust. If the trust was established by court order, often the court will require the trustee to submit annual accountings for review. Sometimes the terms of the trust will require annual accountings to the beneficiary and/or other advocates (which is how I prepare most special needs trust documents).

    In terms of the consequences of a ‘disallowed’ expenditure, again – the answer will vary. If the expenditure is in violation of one of the rules of the program supporting the trust beneficiary (such as SSI), the result may be a reduction in the beneficiary’s benefits. If the expenditure was not for the beneficiary’s benefit (ie the trustee used trust funds for his own personal needs), the trustee would be forced to return those funds to the trust, often with interest.

    The best way to avoid problems in this area is to make sure the trustee understands the nature of the beneficiary’s disability, knows the programs that support the beneficiary in the community, and has a good understanding of his obligations as trustee. Using an experienced special needs planning attorney is a good way of ensuring that the trustee is well informed in these areas.

  4. julia.Pearson April 6, 2016 at 9:28 pm

    Receive ssdi only am totally independent SNT
    Trust Fund from mother. Hope to find beneficiary rights
    Sister is trustee. I am concerned that I have to walk away
    I see info on ssi not ssdi. My health is affected.
    Any ideas, suggestions? I continue to research.
    Thank you.

    • Angel August 1, 2016 at 11:38 am

      Please if u have any indormatiom on this or what you can do tell me. It seems attorneys don’t care what disabled independant adults think or want. We have absolutly no voice because we carry that label. We’re looked as starting trouble, or throwing tantrums. In my case, they pick and choose which rules to follow. I’m stuck in a place I can’t afford. I’ve been evicted twice on their watch. Before my parents died, I worried about nothing. Now I could care less if I live or not. But we’re not important. Rehardless. I won’t even say the amount of my trust. THIS is all attorneys care about. How much is it worth? My life. .but that’s not a number. Ill say millions. But just cuz I’ve been treated so badly. Ill walk away

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