Your Trustee Toolkit: Finding an Attorney to Advise on SNT Administration
This article is a part of True Link’s SNT Expert Series. We have interviewed leaders knowledgeable in disability planning, Elder Law, and trust administration and will be sharing their expertise with you in a series of videos and posts. Note: the opinions and views expressed in these videos do not necessarily reflect those of True Link Financial or True Link Financial Advisors. This article is not intended to provide investment, legal, tax, accounting or medical advice. Before making decisions involving investing, legal, tax, accounting or medical concerns, you should consult appropriate professionals regarding your speciﬁc situation.
Trusts can be complicated documents for family members who aren’t lawyers or experienced trustees. And when we’re talking about a Supplemental or Special Needs Trust (SNT) the complexity can be even greater. This is why many trustees will hire an Elder Law or Special Needs Trust attorney to help them understand what’s outlined in the trust document and how to appropriately implement it. Here are tips from two experts about how to approach getting legal guidance as a trustee.
1. Find an attorney that really knows SNTs
There are many types of law that a practicing attorney could choose to specialize in, so it’s important to seek out the professionals who are in the best position to help you. Peter J Wall, Director of Fiduciary Services for True Link Financial Advisors explains, “I can't recommend it enough to seek out an attorney with Elder Law experience or Special Needs Trust experience. If you have a Ferrari, you're not going to take it down to the local mechanic to get its oil changed; you're going to take it to a specialist. And so why would you do anything other than that – taking [your trust questions] to a specialist for your loved one.”
2. Don’t rely solely on the lawyer who drafted the trust
As Elder Law and Special Needs Trust attorney Pi-Yi Mayo emphasizes, the attorney who drafted the trust “doesn’t necessarily represent you individually as the trustee. They may represent the beneficiary or they may represent the grantor. (i.e., the person who established the trust)” Instead, he explains “you need a lawyer that represents you [and] can advise you on your personal responsibility and liability.”
Of course, this doesn’t mean the drafting attorney isn’t a valuable resource. Mayo recommends asking this lawyer if they have any documents they can provide that may help you when implementing your trustee duties. But, he stresses that you “don’t rely on somebody else’s attorney to protect you”.
But where can you find these specialist attorneys that will work for you?
Wall recommends two resources for family trustees looking for an attorney to help with a Supplemental Needs Trust: NAELA – the National Academy of Special Needs Planners and SNA – the Special Needs Alliance.
Want to learn more about these attorneys and how they can help trustees? Click here to read our article answering common questions about elder law attorneys.
Want to watch these videos on Vimeo? Here are the links to the guest expert videos related to this topic:
Finding an Attorney that Specializes in Special Needs Trusts – Peter J Wall, Director of Fiduciary Services at True Link Financial Advisors
Hiring an Attorney to Help Administer a Trust – Pi-Yi Mayo, Elder Law and Special Needs Attorney at Mayo & Poland Attorneys at Law