3 essential skills of an effective special trust Trustee

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When dealing with beneficiaries of trusts who have special needs, we know that the job goes far beyond just simple administration of a trust. Uberrima Phoenix has been managing trusts on behalf of special needs beneficiaries for a number of years and through that time have identified some very key traits that Trustees need to have and continuously develop in order to succeed at managing these trusts effectively and keep the beneficiaries best interests at heart.

1) Empathy
This is possibly the core skill that a Trustee of a special needs trust needs to have in order to bridge the gap between formal trust administration and really getting to the core purpose of a special needs trust, which is to help the beneficiary live and function comfortably. I suppose to put it more simply, empathy forms the bridge between the letter of the law and the spirit of the law of trust administration. Empathy allows our Trustees to put themselves in the shoes of the beneficiary, to try and see their daily problems from their own point of view and to understand their personal situation better.

2) Future Orientation
Trustees can often be tempted to give in to all requests of a beneficiary or their family, as they are essentially managing the allocation of trust funds for the beneficiary after all. However, a really good Trustee can determine the long term goal of the trust fund and uses this to discriminate between short term desires and long term needs. It is hard to say no to an emphatic beneficiary request, but this can be overcome by focusing on the ongoing benefits that a more responsible allocation of funds can bring versus the transitory satisfaction of meeting a sudden whim. The key difficulty comes in sharing those long term benefits with the beneficiary and getting them on board with the more long term view. Which brings us to the next skill:

3) “Can do” or “win-win” focus
As mentioned, trust Trustees, through empathy and understanding, want to be able to deliver on and fund the request of a beneficiary, especially if this request is reasonable and relates to their general wellbeing and comfort. However, a trust fund is not a bottomless resource, and so not all requests can be catered to, however one might want to. Our Trustees have learnt that in many cases, a request may be catered for by focusing on solving the underlying need and not necessarily the specifics of the request. For example, a beneficiary’s family might request a new VW Caravelle to be able to accommodate a beneficiary’s disability and the extra room needed for wheelchairs, etc. However, this is a very expensive item and depending on the trust funds available, it may use up a substantial part of the fund that may be needed for ongoing rehabilitation of the beneficiary or even basics like food and clothing. By focusing on the need, which is transportation, and not the offered solution , the VW Caravelle, the Trustee can then help to source a suitable vehicle that is more within the trust’s budget and will solve the transport problem just as well. This is a win-win or “can do” approach to meeting beneficiary requests and the trust fund limitations at the same time. Solving requests with a win-win problem solving approach really sets apart a great Trustee from the rest.

There are many other skills that an effective special needs trust Trustee needs, like budgeting, attention to detail, negotiation and more, but the abovementioned skills are more soft skills that need to be innately incorporated into the job to ensure we create a firm and lasting relationship with beneficiaries and ensure the trust funds work as hard towards creating a better life for those with special needs as possible.

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