Close this search box.

Special Needs Trust Can Protect Benefits After Personal Injury

Print Article


Joseph is eighteen years old and requires total care. He has been in his current condition, unable to speak or move and unresponsive to most stimuli, for five years. His family believes his condition is a result of improper treatment he received during a hospital stay, and lawyers negotiated a substantial settlement of a claim made against the hospital at the time.

Bridget and Diane have similar stories, except that their injuries both occurred prior to or during birth. Both require full-time care that is both expensive and exhausting to arrange and manage. Both live with family members, who provide most of that care.

Each of these three individuals (whose names, and some facts, have been changed to protect their privacy) receives care that would cost over $100,000 per year if paid for privately. Each received a substantial settlement as a result of a lawsuit filed by family members years ago—but each would have used up all their settlement proceeds within less than ten years if they had been required to pay for all their care privately.

Joseph, Bridget and Diane are not alone. There are dozens of individuals with catastrophic injuries and substantial, but inadequate, personal injury settlements in our community, and thousands more around the country. Their settlements may have been insufficient because the facts were ambiguous, or the defendants inadequately insured, or the families emotionally ill-equipped to sustain the rigors of protracted litigation. But they all need services they can not afford.

These three individuals have benefited from a 1993 federal law permitting establishment of “special needs” trusts with their personal injury settlements. Although the requirements are stringent and the rules tend to shift, the trusts established for Joseph, Bridget and Diane can pay for transportation, supplemental therapy, supplies and housing, while each remains eligible for federal, state and school programs providing much of the care they require. In this manner, their personal injury settlements can be stretched to provide real benefits long past the time they would otherwise run out.

Establishment of a special needs trust to hold a personal injury settlement can be both a positive and a frustrating experience. Involvement of experienced and knowledgeable legal counsel is essential to successful implementation. There are often less expensive yet equally efficient alternatives available, and qualified counsel can help sort through the options.

Next week: Arizona attacks special needs trusts.

Stay up to date

Subscribe to our Newsletter to get our takes on some of the situations families, seniors, and individuals with disabilities find themselves in. These posts help guide you in the decision making process and point out helpful tips and nuances to take advantage of. Enter your email below to have our entries sent directly to your inbox!

Robert B. Fleming


Robert Fleming is a Fellow of both the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel and the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys. He has been certified as a Specialist in Estate and Trust Law by the State Bar of Arizona‘s Board of Legal Specialization, and he is also a Certified Elder Law Attorney by the National Elder Law Foundation. Robert has a long history of involvement in local, state and national organizations. He is most proud of his instrumental involvement in the Special Needs Alliance, the premier national organization for lawyers dealing with special needs trusts and planning.

Robert has two adult children, two young grandchildren and a wife of over fifty years. He is devoted to all of them. He is also very fond of Rosalind Franklin (his office companion corgi), and his homebound cat Muninn. He just likes people, their pets and their stories.

Elizabeth N.R. Friman


Elizabeth Noble Rollings Friman is a principal and licensed fiduciary at Fleming & Curti, PLC. Elizabeth enjoys estate planning and helping families navigate trust and probate administrations. She is passionate about the fiduciary work that she performs as a trustee, personal representative, guardian, and conservator. Elizabeth works with CPAs, financial professionals, case managers, and medical providers to tailor solutions to complex family challenges. Elizabeth is often called upon to serve as a neutral party so that families can avoid protracted legal conflict. Elizabeth relies on the expertise of her team at Fleming & Curti, and as the Firm approaches its third decade, she is proud of the culture of care and consideration that the Firm embodies. Finding workable solutions to sensitive and complex family challenges is something that Elizabeth and the Fleming & Curti team do well.

Amy F. Matheson


Amy Farrell Matheson has worked as an attorney at Fleming & Curti since 2006. A member of the Southern Arizona Estate Planning Council, she is primarily responsible for estate planning and probate matters.

Amy graduated from Wellesley College with a double major in political science and English. She is an honors graduate of Suffolk University Law School and has been admitted to practice in Arizona, Massachusetts, New York, and the District of Columbia.

Prior to joining Fleming & Curti, Amy worked for American Public Television in Boston, and with the international trade group at White & Case, LLP, in Washington, D.C.

Amy’s husband, Tom, is an astronomer at NOIRLab and the Head of Time Domain Services, whose main project is ANTARES. Sadly, this does not involve actual time travel. Amy’s twin daughters are high school students; Finn, her Irish Red and White Setter, remains a puppy at heart.

Famous people's wills

Matthew M. Mansour


Matthew is a law clerk who recently earned his law degree from the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law. His undergraduate degree is in psychology from the University of California, Santa Barbara. Matthew has had a passion for advocacy in the Tucson community since his time as a law student representative in the Workers’ Rights Clinic. He also has worked in both the Pima County Attorney’s Office and the Pima County Public Defender’s Office. He enjoys playing basketball, caring for his cat, and listening to audiobooks narrated by the authors.