By Harry S. Margolis
In determining eligibility for MassHealth and Supplemental Security Income (SSI), the state and federal agencies treat self-settled trusts—those created by the applicant for benefit—and third-party trusts—those created by someone else—entirely differently. The assets held in a self-settled trust are considered available to the applicant for benefits to the extent the trustee has discretion to distribute them to the applicant or to use them for her benefit. The assets of a third-party trust are only considered available to the extent the trustee actually distributes them to or uses them for the applicant for benefits.
These rules track the rules for creditors. With some exceptions, creditors can gain access to assets in trusts created by the debtor and cannot gain access to trusts created by someone else for the benefit of the debtor. The issue in the case of Calhoun, et al. v. Rawlins (93 Mass. App. Ct. 458, June 27, 2018) is whether a trust created by one divorcing spouse for the benefit of the other spouse is protected from the creditors of the beneficiary spouse. This has significance for special needs planning because it's not unusual for a special needs trust to be created in the context of divorce.