In 2018, Florida revised the ability to more easily modify existing trusts.  Basically, now there are three separate ways that a trustee may engage in a decanting, a general term used to describe the trustee of an existing trust creating a new, second trust, and moving all assets of the old trust into the new trust.

1. A trustee may decant if they are given “absolute power” over distributions in the trust instrument. This method of decanting provides the most flexibility for all parties.

2. A trustee without “absolute power,” such as a distribution power limited by the ubiquitous health, education, maintenance and support, or “HEMs,” standard may decant. This method must comply with a more rigid standard.

3. A trustee may decant from any trust that does not qualify as a “supplemental needs trust” to a trust that does qualify as such. There are important limitations for this type of decanting as well. 

You can read more about the ways a trustee may decant a trust in our other article: Decanting Trusts In Florida.

New statutes in Florida for special needs trusts

The new statute provides that a trustee who has the power “to invade the principal of the first trust to make current distributions to or for the benefit of a beneficiary with a disability may instead exercise such power by appointing all or part of the principal of the first trust in favor of a trustee of a second trust that is a supplemental needs trust.”  A “beneficiary with a disability” is defined as “a beneficiary of the first trust who the authorized trustee believes may qualify for government benefits based on disability, regardless of whether the beneficiary currently receives those benefits or has been adjudicated incapacitated.”  A “supplemental needs trust” is defined as “a trust that the authorized trustee believes would not be considered a resource for purposes of determining whether the beneficiary who has a disability is eligible for government benefits.”  That provides a great deal of flexibility in the trustee being able to create a second trust that qualifies as a supplemental needs trust, however, there are requirements specific to this type of decanting.

There are many situations where decanting to create a supplemental needs trust will be desirable.  For example, what if mom and dad create a trust that is irrevocable after their death and this trust benefits their three children?  The trust lasts for the life of the beneficiaries and allows the trustee to distribute from income or principal to the beneficiaries for their health, education, maintenance, and support. 

If after the death of their parents, one of the children is involved in an accident or suffers a brain injury with permanent damage, then the terms of the trust will no longer be the best structure.  Through decanting, an authorized trustee could create a second trust that is a supplemental needs trust for the benefit of the child with the disability and move one-third of the first trust’s assets to it through decanting.  Another second trust could be created for only the other two children who have no disability (with all other terms being the same as the first trust) and two-thirds of the first trust’s assets moved to it through decanting.  After the decantings, the disabled beneficiary may qualify for government benefits because the first trust would have been “counted” as a resource while the second trust will not.  Additionally, the beneficial interests of the other children in their new trust are substantially the same as before the decantings occurred.

Questions to consider before decanting a special needs trust in Florida

When considering decanting in the context of special needs trusts, ask these initial questions:

  • Is there a compelling reason to decant? (Will the exercise of the power further the purposes of the trust?) Perhaps the existing trust terms will prevent a beneficiary with a disability from qualifying for government benefits.
  • Is the trustee an authorized trustee (not a settlor or beneficiary)?
  • Does the trustee have the power to invade the principal of the trust?
  • Is the beneficiary under a legal disability or does the trustee reasonably believe the beneficiary is incapacitated?
  • Is the proposed supplemental needs trust one that the trustee believes would not be considered a resource for purposes of determining whether the beneficiary who has a disability is eligible for government benefits?
  • Does the supplemental needs trust benefit the beneficiary with a disability?
  • Is the second trust’s beneficial interest substantially similar to the beneficiary’s interest under the first trust? In other words, you cannot substantially change the interests of any beneficiary; the only exception being that the interests of the beneficiary with the disability need only qualify as a supplemental needs trust would normally provide and likely their interests will be changed very substantial in order to qualify.
  • Are the beneficiaries of the second trust also beneficiaries of the first trust? In other words, you cannot add new beneficiaries.

If you have answered yes to any of the above questions and are interested in learning more about the expanded opportunities for fixing your special needs trust, please feel free to contact us.