Pool /pool/ n. 1) a small area of still water, formed naturally or artificially, sometimes used for swimming, 2) a common fund into which many contributors pay and from which financial backing is provided, v. 1) to aggregate in a common pool or effort.
As we've discussed in several blogs, Special Needs Trusts are a very important tool in the Special Needs Planning box. When properly written, they can hold all types of assets in any amounts, and those assets will not "count" against the $2,000 in resources that act as the upper limit for Medicaid eligibility. Since Medicaid is the only benefit that pays for long-term care, including personal care and employment support services, access to Medicaid is very important for people with disabilities.
With that said, trusts do cost money. An attorney has to draft them and that typically costs several thousand dollars. Family trustees may not ask to be paid, but professional ones will. Bank trust departments charge to manage trust assets and generally will only manage assets of a size (that what the bank can charge) makes commercial sense. And non-grantor trusts are their own tax-paying entities and need to pay to complete and file their taxes. What this means is that if you have assets that are large enough to count you out of SSI and Medicaid but are also relatively small compared to the cost of creating and administering a special needs trust, then you face a conundrum. Do you keep the assets and spend them all down before you qualify for Medicaid and SSI, or do you spend a noticeable portion of the assets to create a trust to protect the assets? In other words, is it worth paying $2,500 to create a trust to protect $25,000? In some cases, an ABLE account makes a good alternative, but if your disability onsets after your age of 26, this makes you ABLE-ineligible. And what if you have $50,000 and cannot wait over three years (based on the ABLE annual-contribution limit of $15,000/year) to get your Medicaid services?
In these cases, your best option might be what is called a pooled trust. A pooled trust, generally created and maintained by a non-profit corporation, is essentially one large special-needs trust, governed by a single-master trust agreement. Many individuals can join this master trust. The trust maintains a separate account for each individual's benefit. From an accounting standpoint, the funds of each individual remain discreet and are not commingled with the funds of any other individuals, participating in the trust. From a practical standpoint, though, the funds are managed and invested in aggregate by the non-profit on behalf of all participants. You can think of a pooled trust as analogous to an employer-sponsored 401(k). Each employee has his/her own 401(k) account and each employee’s funds are accounted for separately, but all the employees’ accounts are governed by one master plan, and the entire firm’s aggregate 401(k) assets are managed collectively.
The advantage to a pooled trust is that it costs less than a stand-alone trust. The master trust agreement has already been drafted. The administrative costs are spread across all the participants. Since investment fees are usually tiered with breakpoints, where the percentage cost per dollar invested drops as the aggregate dollars invested reach larger and larger thresholds, then the cost of investing assets within a pooled trust is typically less than for assets held in a stand-alone individual trust. Of course, the investment choices are more limited than for an individual trust; but typically, as in a 401(k), there are enough options to fit any risk profile. Like stand-alone special-needs trusts, the pooled variety comes in first-party (for holding the beneficiary's own money) and in third-party (for holding other people's money) and the first-party trust is a payback trust.
If your resources are too modest to warrant the cost of an individual trust and your situation does not fit the parameters of the new ABLE accounts, you may then want to consider a pooled trust to protect both your assets and your access to Medicaid and/or SSI.