The Basics of Special Needs Trusts

Timothy Doolittle

Special Needs Trusts (“SNTs”) are an essential tool both when a person with disabilities has assets to protect and when that person’s parents are considering their estate plan. Whether the person with the disability has funds, receives funds from a personal injury settlement, or receives funds and property as a gift, the money must be managed carefully. SNTs (or Supplemental Needs Trusts as they can be referred to) are the best tool to use for asset protection for those with disabilities. 

    The primary goal of an SNT is to preserve a disabled person’s access to needs based public benefits when receiving a lump sum or inheritance. These benefits might otherwise be lost when the individual acquires resources over a given threshold. A person who is disabled may be receiving Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) on a monthly basis and may have Medicaid coverage to pay for the costs of healthcare. Medicaid and SSI are means-tested and impose limits on resources, so an influx of money from an injury settlement or inheritance could result in a loss of benefits access. 

    An SNT makes it possible to avoid this loss of benefits. When properly drafted in accordance with the law and when properly structured and maintained, SNTs allow money to be used for the benefit of someone who is disabled without jeopardizing benefits access. The assets held in the trust are not counted as resources for Medicaid or SSI calculations but can be used to supplement and enrich the quality of life of the person who is disabled, beyond what governmental benefits provide for. When SNTs are created, it is important to know what specific type of trust must be used. There are two primary kinds of SNTs: first-party trusts and third-party trusts. The unique situation of each person will dictate which type of trust will need to be created. 

    If the money or property being put into the trust comes from the person who is disabled, the trust is a first-party trust. This situation can occur if the individual receives a windfall inheritance, receives a personal injury settlement, or if they simply have built up assets based on gifts from family members. A third-party trust can hold assets that are deposited in the trust directly by any third-party source, like a grandparent, parent, aunt, uncle, neighbor, etc. 

    A first-party special needs trust can be established only by the disabled individual, parent, grandparent, guardian or court. They also can only be established for someone under the age of 65. In some situations, courts would monitor these trusts. The main drawback of a first party SNT occurs when the individual with a disability dies. At that point, the SNT must contain terms that names the state providing Medicaid benefits to the individual as the primary beneficiary of the SNT’s assets. This is known as the “Pay-Back” provision, to allow the state to pursue reimbursement for the costs of care expended during the individual’s life. 

    A third-party SNT can be created by anyone who wants to leave money to someone who is disabled. Third-party SNTs can be funded up to any amount, with any type of asset. The trust can be used for virtually any purposes to benefit the person with special needs, except for that the person’s own money cannot be held in the trust. Often times, parents of a child with disabilities will set up a third-party trust as part of their estate plan, to ensure any inheritance meant for the child will not affect their public benefits. 

    Upon the death of the disabled beneficiary of the third-party special needs trust, the money and property can transfer to any other relatives or beneficiaries that the trust creator chooses. Because the money and assets in the trust never belonged to the person who was disabled, the state has no ability to require a pay-back provision. 

    Special Needs Trusts can provide very important protections for someone with disabilities. If you are in a situation that calls for a Special Needs Trust, reaching out to a qualified attorney well versed in the area is a must. 

Timothy Doolittle primarily focuses his practice on estate planning, as well as asset preservation for individuals. Mr. Doolittle is a magna cum laude graduate of the State University of New York at Buffalo, Honors College. Mr. Doolittle is admitted to practice in New York State and is a member of the New York State Bar Association. Contact Mr. Doolittle by emailing TDoolittle@WladisLawFirm.com.

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Learning The Trade

SYDNEY SCHAEFER/NNY BUSINESS
Inside the mechatronics lab at the Lewis County Jefferson Community College Education Center in Lowville.

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Inaugural ‘Celebration of Leadership’ Tuesday night in Canton

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Northern New York’s emerging leaders: Where are they now?

December marks the sixth year that NNY Business magazine will recognize 20 emerging leaders under the age of 40 who live and work in Northern New York.

Selectees embody leadership, professionalism and community involvement. Past recipients have come from a variety of backgrounds throughout Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence counties, and have served as role models in their professions and active volunteers in their communities.

Since the magazine launched its 20 Under 40 program in 2011, it has honored 103 young men and women (three times a husband and wife team were selected) who were nominated by a wide range of people in the communities where they live and work.

At press time this month, the call nominations for the 20 Under 40 Class of 2016 closed with 60 nominees from nearly 100 different nominators. The level of enthusiasm and respect for the program has given it credibility and stature.

Last year, the magazine invited a representative from the region’s business community to join its 20 Under 40 selection committee. “As the program has matured, we felt it was important to gain a perspective on nominees from outside the ranks of the magazine and our company,” said Kenneth J. Eysaman, NNY Business editor.

This year’s nine-member selection committee also includes a seat held by a past 20 Under 40 recipient.

“We are pleased to have a committee that shares the same excitement for advancing the work of our quality young leaders as those who have volunteered to serve this year,” Mr. Eysaman said. “It is an unenviable task, narrowing the selection to just 20 worthy men and women.”

On Wednesday, Dec. 7, the Class of 2016 will be honored during a luncheon from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at the Hilton Garden Inn, Watertown. St. Lawrence County Manager Ruth A. Doyle will deliver the keynote address. More information on the luncheon, including online reservations, will soon be available on nnybizmag.com.

This month, in advance of our 6th annual NNY Business 20 Under 40 issue, we visit with seven alumni and speak with them about their career advancements and the importance of supporting young emerging leaders in the north country.


Erika F. Flint >> Class of 2011 

AMANDA MORRISON / NNY Business

AMANDA MORRISON / NNY Business

DSRIP Director, North Country Initiative

(At the time of her selection in 2011, she was executive director of the Watertown Urban Mission.)

Provide an update of what you have accomplished since your award, including information about your new position.

I went on to serve the Watertown Urban Mission until December 2015 as the Executive Director. During my tenure, I administered a $1.5 million annual budget, including federal, state, county and private funding. Our team successfully led the agency’s first ever capital campaign, raising over $2.1 million, which led to the completion of

a $1.5 million facility renovation project. A highlight was Meals on Wheels, a separate nonprofit, being merged under the Watertown Urban Mission umbrella. In addition, I was part of a team that ran seven major community programs, serving several thousand individuals in need each year. In December 2015, I joined the team at the North Country Initiative as Delivery System Reform Incentive Payment Program (DSRIP) director. My primary role is to provide oversight and coordination of the development and implementation of all projects within the DSRIP. The DSRIP brings the potential of approximately $78 million to the region over a 5-year period for the implementation of clinically driven projects across the Performing Provider System, aimed to improve quality, reduce costs, and improve the patient experience.

As a 20 Under 40 recipient, what did you appreciate most about the recognition at the time?

It was very encouraging that recognition in this community is not solely focused on a lifetime of achievement, but as an acknowledgement of someone’s potential. I was very appreciative and humbled, but mostly I viewed it as a responsibility to carry out the potential that was recognized in me. I am very aware that everything I have achieved has been thanks to a whole host of people, and I will always owe them my best. So I guess you could say that what I appreciate most about the 20 Under 40 award is the motivation it gave me to be the kind of leader who isn’t self-serving, but serving of others.

Did receiving this recognition have an impact on your career advancement?

Not only this award, but NNY Business magazine as a whole, certainly does a tremendous job highlighting the professional achievements of so many in this community. An old saying is that “it isn’t what you know, but who you know” and while it’s a balance of both, having acknowledgement for the work you are doing and the skills you possess can be very beneficial for career advancement.

Describe the importance of recognizing young leaders in the community?

Recognizing people, especially young people, can serve as a catalyst in two key ways. One is that hopefully the recognition serves as an inspiration for them to be their best. Many of us would agree that one of the best motivations is feeling appreciated, and the 20 Under 40 award goes a long way toward making someone feel appreciated by an entire community. Another value in recognizing young leaders is that the community has a chance to look around and become aware of the talent surrounding us. Sometimes when trying to fill jobs or board seats we have a limited view of who is available, but the recognition of young leaders serves as a spotlight for future potential in this community.

Does this type of recognition serve as an incentive to accomplishing your career and family goals without feeling the need to leave the area?

Yes. There comes a point in time where connections mean a lot more than a resume, and the sooner that the young people of this community feel connected and valued, the more likely that they will stay rooted and want to continue to contribute to a community they feel part of. I have been asked before what the best part of living in Watertown is and have heard responses such as Fort Drum, four seasons, and the array of beauty and enjoyment from the lakes, rivers and mountains, but I have consistently answered community. We are blessed to live in a place where we don’t only know our neighbors, but sincerely care about them, and that is something special. The fact I have felt embraced by this community has helped our family decide this is a place where we want to remain.


Michelle A. Carpenter >> Class of 2012 

STEPHEN SWOFFORD n WATERTOWN DAILY TIMES Michelle Carpenter, Foundation Director at Jefferson Research Center

STEPHEN SWOFFORD / NNY Business

Director, Jefferson Rehabilitation Center Foundation, Inc.

(At the time of her selection in 2012, she was  the director of events for the Greater Watertown-North Country Chamber of Commerce.)

Provide an update of what you have accomplished since your award, including information about your new position.

While it was difficult to leave my former position at the Greater Watertown-North Country Chamber of Commerce, making the move to the JRC Foundation was like coming home. I knew a great number of staff here already through their involvement in the Jefferson Leadership Institute program, and I have been truly blessed to get to know so many of the people that the Jefferson Rehabilitation Center supports. As the first director of the foundation, I’ve had the opportunity to utilize my knowledge and experience to provide structure for the foundation and lay the groundwork for our future growth. My responsibilities entail overseeing all of their fundraising efforts to include special events, our annual appeal campaign, and our planned giving program. In addition, we have now implemented a new employee donation campaign, through which employees can donate back to the foundation through payroll deduction. In my position, I also oversee the funding request process and assist staff with making requests to the foundation for the people that we support for items and equipment not covered by their insurance. With the help of our board of directors and staff, the newly created foundation has been successful in increasing our fundraising efforts and also our visibility in the community. We have many great plans on the horizon, and I am truly humbled to have the opportunity to be a part of such an amazing organization that is vital to the people of our community with developmental and intellectual disabilities.

As a 20 Under 40 recipient, what did you appreciate most about the recognition at the time?

At the time of my recognition, I was a single mother of three young girls trying to balance a career and caring for my children, while trying to remain involved in the community. Although I’m not one who is driven by praise, being acknowledged in this way was very meaningful to me. I was both proud and humbled to be recognized with such a great group of people and young leaders of our community.

Did receiving this recognition have an impact on your career advancement?

I believe that every position I’ve held and all of my past experiences, including the 20 under 40 recognition, have helped me to grow both personally and professionally. With every experience, there are lessons to be learned and positivity to be gained. Being a part of the 20 under 40 was a great experience, and definitely helped in growing my self-confidence.

Describe the importance of recognizing young leaders in the community?

Recognizing young leaders is important in reinforcing that it is possible to have a good work/life balance, in addition to giving back to the community. The young leaders of today will be carrying on the torch of volunteerism and community enrichment to pass on to the next generation. An acknowledgement such as 20 under 40 not only recognizes current young leaders for a “job well done,” but in turn provides the next generation of young professionals with role models to look up to and to learn from.

Does this type of recognition serve as an incentive to accomplishing your career and family goals without feeling the need to leave the area?

The Watertown area, in my opinion, has grown significantly throughout my lifetime. I myself left for several years, seeking larger opportunity for personal and professional growth in a large city. Like many young people who leave the area, I returned home realizing that I could still advance my career in this area, while being close to my family and while giving back to a community that has helped to make me the person I am today.


Jesse C.P. Roshia >> Class of 2012 

AMANDA MORRISON / NNY Business

AMANDA MORRISON / NNY Business

Manager of education services, Samaritan Health

(At the time of his selection in 2012, he was director of residential services for the Children’s Home of Jefferson County.)

Provide an update of what you have accomplished since your award, including information about your new position.

Following my award, I was promoted to director of human resources at the Children’s Home of Jefferson County. This promotion allowed me to better utilize my education and look at things from more of an organizational and operational standpoint. I was also able to obtain my Society of Human Resources Management certification as a certified professional in the Human Resources field. In August of 2016, I accepted the Manager of Education Services position with Samaritan Health, and am looking forward to starting the next journey in my career.

As a 20 Under 40 recipient, what did you appreciate most about the recognition at the time?

It’s very easy to get caught up in the day to day duties and responsibilities we have both inside and outside of the workplace. This award was nice because it was recognition from my peers and the community. It also allowed me to take a step back and pat myself on the back, recognizing that the hard work I had put in educationally and professionally was paying off.

Did receiving this recognition have an impact on your career advancement?

I no doubt believe this recognition had an impact on my career advancement. It looks excellent on your resumé, puts a spotlight on your accomplishments, and perhaps most importantly, creates a very well respected group of professionals with whom to network.

Describe the importance of recognizing young leaders in the community?

Individuals are all motivated in different ways, some intrinsically and some extrinsically. This award hits both forms of motivation. You are awarded extrinsically with gifts and plaques, but also intrinsically by being able to feel a greater sense of self-worth due to the accomplishment.

I think young people need that as they are trying to find their way in their profession.

Does this type of recognition serve as an incentive to accomplishing your career and family goals without feeling the need to leave the area?

This recognition has played a role in affording me the ability to accomplish my career and family goals in the place where I was born and raised. It was an important stepping stone to be recognized and respected locally, and while I may have had aspirations of living the big city life following college, this community and all that it offers will be where I raise my family.


Brooke E. Rouse >> Class of 2013 

JASON HUNTER / NNY Business

JASON HUNTER / NNY Business

Executive director, St. Lawrence County Chamber of Commerce

(At the time of her selection in 2013, she was a small business advisor at the Small Business Development Center at SUNY Canton.)

Provide an update of what you have accomplished since your award, including information about your new position.

In 2014, I took the job as executive director of the St. Lawrence County Chamber of Commerce, where I oversee and implement programming and administration for the 450 member chamber as well as the tourism marketing program for St. Lawrence County, in partnership with New York State’s “I LOVE NY” tourism program. The first two years of my role have included updating technology tools within the organization and for members, launching a new website, starting a monthly business webinar series and a five-week online bed and breakfast course.

As a 20 Under 40 recipient, what did you appreciate most about the recognition at the time?

As a young professional, not originally from the area, I made a point to invest my time and energy in the community and in learning new skills to develop as a leader who could make an impact in my job and the community. It was nice to be recognized for that, and it certainly helped to make people aware of who I am and have some face recognition, so that I was not a stranger as I entered meetings and events with people who have been in leadership positions for much longer than I have.

Did receiving this recognition have an impact on your career advancement?

I think it gave my background more credibility. I was asked to apply for the job, rather than seeking it out specifically. Perhaps the board and search committee saw some value in the fact that I was recognized with the award, and that a young professional with the leadership and experience was a good next step for the chamber.

Describe the importance of recognizing young leaders in the community?

Often young leaders are just doing what they love to do — getting involved in different opportunities — and they don’t realize how important it is, to them personally and professionally or to the communities and organizations they impact. This award tells them that people are watching, are noticing, and appreciate your hard work and commitment. It’s not always easy to balance personal, professional, and civic life — but the award reminds you of how important it is to stay involved.

Does this type of recognition serve as an incentive to accomplishing your career and family goals without feeling the need to leave the area?

I think the award reminds you that this is a great place to live and work. A little bit of commitment and interest in the community and your profession can go a lot further than if you are in a big city. People are looking for new energy and talents, and as a young leader, if you are honest and hard-working, it is certainly possible to be a ‘big fish in a little pond’ early in your career. That is not always possible elsewhere…you can spend your whole career climbing the ladder.


Jacob S. ‘Jake’ Johnson >> Class of 2014 

STEPHEN SWOFFORD / NNY Business

STEPHEN SWOFFORD / NNY Business

Owner, jake’s garden center and jake’s lawn care & landscaping

(At the time he was selected in 2014, he owned only Jake’s Lawn Care & Landscaping.)

Provide an update of what you have accomplished since your award, including information about your new position.

I’m blessed to have continued success in my 12th year of running Jake’s Lawn Care. This year, I expanded my business to include Jake’s Garden Center, which opened in May on Route 11 near the car dealerships, and has been an exciting new venture for me.

As a 20 Under 40 recipient, what did you appreciate most about the recognition at the time?

It was a huge honor for me to be chosen by my peers as one of NNY Business magazine’s 20 Under 40 recipients. I’m forever grateful to the community, my customers, friends and family — everyone who has supported and encouraged me through the years since I started in business.

Did receiving this recognition have an impact on your career advancement?

Receiving this award was great and helped me to get my name out around the north country.

Describe the importance of recognizing young leaders in the community?

Everybody needs some encouragement and recognition in order to succeed. To know you’re doing something right, and especially to be chosen by the members of your community, peers, makes you truly feel like a valued asset. I’m thankful to the NNY Business magazine and Watertown Daily Times for starting the 20 Under 40 award program in Northern New York. So many young professionals work very hard and deserve an opportunity to share their success stories.

Does this type of recognition serve as an incentive to accomplishing your career and family goals without feeling the need to leave the area?

I think it absolutely helps, it forms a sense of unity. Praise and recognition create an environment that is desirable to want to stay and grow in any community. Programs like 20 Under 40 are important for young people in the area to have something positive to work for.


Jennifer S. Loonan >> Class of 2015 

JUSTIN SORENSEN / NNY Business

JUSTIN SORENSEN / NNY Business

Time Warner Cable media sales manager

(At the time of her selection in 2015, she was an advertising account executive for Time Warner Cable Media.)

Provide an update of what you have accomplished since your award, including information about your new position.

It’s been a wonderful whirlwind since I received this award less than a year ago, with huge career and community growth. I was surprised with the 20 Under 40 award notification on Oct. 26, 2015. At the same time, I was deciding that I was ready to take the next step in my career with Time Warner Cable Media and applying for the sales manager position. In December, actually the same week as the 20 Under 40 award ceremony and luncheon, I was named the new sales manager, effective January 2016. I now oversee five account executives and marketing activity for more than 300 advertisers in six counties. I have also added two new board positions to my community involvement. This year has been a year of changes, learning experiences, and continually rewarding work.

As a 20 Under 40 recipient, what did you appreciate most about the recognition at the time?

Being nominated by a prominent local leader who saw how dedicated I was to my job and the community projects I was involved with. It was very flattering and truly meant a lot.

Did receiving this recognition have an impact on your career advancement?

I was already in the process of advancing my career at the time of the award; it actually had a bigger impact on my community involvement. It connected me to many more people throughout the business and nonprofit community.

Describe the importance of recognizing young leaders in the community?

Leaders naturally give everything they can to their job and their community without looking for external validation, but we are all human and of course it’s nice to receive a nod for a job well done on occasion. This award has become a famed and sought after title by young local leaders.

Does this type of recognition serve as an incentive to accomplishing your career and family goals without feeling the need to leave the area?

I had already decided that my return to the North Country was a permanent one, this is just icing on the cake and validation that home is where I belong because I can make a difference right here.


Jeffrey L. Ginger >> Class of 2015

Principal, mannsville manor elementary school

JUSTIN SORENSEN / NNY Business

JUSTIN SORENSEN / NNY Business

(At the time of his selection in 2015, he was an assistant principal at Watertown High School.)

Provide an update of what you have accomplished since your award, including information about your new position.

Since December of 2015, I have moved to a new position as principal of Mannsville Manor Elementary in the South Jefferson School District. Mannsville has 370 students and 29 teaching staff. Approximately 50 adult staff members work in the building. As building principal, it is my responsibility to oversee teacher professional practice and evaluations, student and staff safety, discipline, manage the building budget and ensure effective communication with families and the community.

As a 20 Under 40 recipient, what did you appreciate most about the recognition at the time?

I was honored to be in a class with other 20 Under 40 recipients for whom I already have personal admiration and respect. It is always nice to be recognized for the work that you do, especially when you love to do it. The 20 Under 40 class is full of successful, hard-working people, but they are also nice. We often forget to point out how important “just being nice” is. I was proud of the company. The 20 Under 40, for me, has become more about being part of a larger mission. When Brian spoke at the recognition ceremony he highlighted that point. He spoke of continuing to grow as a group. If we do that, everybody in the community wins.

Did receiving this recognition have an impact on your career advancement?

I believe I would have been looking to advance my career with or without the 20 Under 40 award. I wasn’t expecting to receive it after all. I cannot speak to whether it influenced the committee that hired me for my new position. What 20 under 40 has meant to me is a charge to give back to the community where and when I can. There are a lot of amazing people in our area, both over and under 40. I try to recognize excellence when I see it, every day. While I’m not sure I can wholly attribute career advancement to 20 Under 40, I can certainly say that I have a “care for the community advancement,” and that I try to recognize others as often as I can.

It feels good when others see our hard work and let us know.

Describe the importance of recognizing young leaders in the community?

Everyone works harder when they feel they are being watched. Recognizing hard work and talent in young leaders reminds them of the fact that other people do care about their work. The 20 Under 40 Class of 2015 included professionals from many varied career fields. By recognizing business, health care, philanthropy, public service and education, NNY Business points out to the larger community and to those who may wish to return home, that we have a thriving, growing group of young professionals in the area. It is easy to jump on the bandwagon and say that we have a “brain drain,” or there is no opportunity. It takes bravery to create opportunity and invest human capital in that pursuit. The 20 Under 40 program recognizes that bravery, and encourages it.

Does this type of recognition serve as an incentive to accomplishing your career and family goals without feeling the need to leave the area?

I love the north country. I have never wanted to be anywhere else for extended periods of time. Brenna and I are lucky that our careers of choice are readily available to us here.

What I hope this kind of recognition does for others is to show them that there are a lot of young, hard-working people living in Northern New York and that we are looking for colleagues, friends and co-workers with which to achieve goals.

I tell anyone who will listen that there is no better place to raise children and go to work every day.

To anyone reading this and thinking about coming home, I encourage them to do it. Call me if you need help unpacking the U-haul truck.

Local experts discuss north country’s economic outlook at Chamber event

The Economic Forecast event featured a panel of five speakers discussing the economic trouble spots and assets in the north country.

The Economic Forecast event featured a panel of five speakers discussing the economic trouble spots and assets in the north country. Photo by Stephen Swofford, Watertown Daily Times.

Trying to get a glimpse of the local economic future is more like staring into an opaque globe than a crystal ball, noted Donald C. Alexander, chief executive officer of Jefferson County Economic Development. [Read more…]

January 2016: Business Scene

NNY Business 5th annual 20 Under 40 Award luncheon

On Dec. 10, NNY Business Magazine and New York Air Brake presented the 5th annual 20 Under 40 luncheon at the Hilton Garden Inn, Watertown, to recognize 20 of Northern New York’s emerging leaders under age 40. Photos by Karee Magee, NNY Business.


[Read more…]

New York Air Brake president speaks at luncheon

Michael J. Hawthorne, president of New York Air Brake, speaks during NNY Business magazine's 20 Under 40 Emerging Leaders luncheon Thursday at the Hilton Garden Inn, Arsenal Street, as the magazine's editor, Ken Eysaman, right, looks on. Photo by Justin Sorensen/Watertown Daily Times

He’s older than 40 years old, but an exception was made at Northern New York’s 20 Under 40 Emerging Leaders ceremony Thursday at the Hilton Garden Inn on Arsenal Street. The keynote speaker was Michael J. Hawthorne, the 44-year-old president at New York Air Brake.

Mr. Hawthorne — a Clarkson University graduate who hails from Harrisville — returned to his roots by moving his family from Texas back to the north country. He’ll now manage operations at the facility at 748 Starbuck Ave., where in July he replaced former president J. Paul Morgan, who held the position since 1993. Mr. Hawthorne started his career in 1995 as a young engineer at the Watertown facility, and he is back after spending 12 years leading one of Air Brake’s subsidiaries in Texas. [Read more…]

NNY Business 20 Under 40 luncheon