Caring for a child with disabilities or other special needs often presents a wide range of difficult challenges. For the parents (or grandparents) of these children, there is an additional worry:  who will provide for the needs of these children, who may not be able to manage for themselves in adulthood, after their parents are gone?

One possible solution for Los Angeles-area families is the just-announced Jewish Los Angeles Special Needs Trust (JLA Trust), the first offering of pooled special-needs trusts in the region. It is modeled after other successful pooled special-needs trusts in other parts of the country.

Special-needs trusts allow beneficiaries of government safety net programs to keep their essential government benefits such as Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Medi-Cal and In-Home Supported Services (IHSS), and to legally supplement those benefits with their own funds or with money from family members or friends.  

These and other means-tested government programs limit a recipient’s resources to $2,000. Exceeding that cap can result in reduced or lost benefits. Funds provided through a pooled special needs trust do not impact a beneficiary’s eligibility for government benefits or reduce the amount of those benefits.

Money is invested in pooled special needs trusts under an umbrella Master Trust, and is managed through individual sub-accounts to support persons with disabilities throughout their lifespan. 

JLA Trust individual accounts are open to any person with a qualifying disability, regardless of religious affiliation, with a $20,000 minimum investment. The accounts provide professional trustee and investment-management services that traditionally have been obtainable only to families with much greater assets.

Seed funding for the JLA Trust was provided by a three-year, $250,000 grant from the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles. 

The JLA Trust was organized by Michelle Wolf, now its Executive Director, who formerly oversaw services to the disabled and aged at Bet Tzedek, a Los Angeles nonprofit which provides free legal services to low-income individuals in Los Angeles, and by Sandor Samuels, a professor of law at California State University at Northridge and previously President and Chief Executive Officer of Bet Tzedek.

The JLA Trust is registered as an independent nonprofit organization. Investment and trust management is provided by True Link Financial, a San Francisco-based provider of financial and other services for individuals with disabilities, and for older and at-risk adults.

Jacqueline D. Yu