How Should Special Needs Trust Funds Be Invested?

Here’s a question that comes up frequently in our practice: how should the funds held in a special needs trust be invested?

The answer should be obvious: a good investment plan for a special needs trust — just like a good investment plan for an individual — should consider the amount available to invest, the beneficiary’s likely needs in the short and long term, the cost of maintaining the investments and other factors affecting the beneficiary’s quality of life. All of that is part of the process of figuring out the trust’s (and the beneficiary’s) tolerance for risk. That, in turn, leads to an appropriate asset allocation — an estimate of what portion of the trust should be held in stocks, what portion in bonds or other fixed income investments, and what portion in other kinds of holdings.

Does all that sound confusing and complicated? It isn’t, really, but one way to get the proper allocation and investment portfolio is to trust the decision to qualified professionals. One would think a bank trust officer would be a good resource for this job. One might be less certain about a judge’s qualifications for the job — at least without looking at the judge’s professional training and background.

What happens when a judge orders a bank trust department to liquidate all its investments and hold an entire special needs trust in federally-insured certificates of deposit because of recent market swings? Well, you can read about a recent Washington State case in the weekly newsletter of our friends at Oast & Hook, a Virginia law firm.

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