The Memorandum of Intent is a personal letter drafted by you intended to give your trustees insight and information regarding services, supports and other personal matters affecting the beneficiary of a special needs trust you created. This letter does not convey legally binding directions like those in a trust. Rather, a Memorandum of Intent is a personal letter to those people who will have responsibility for decisions about the trust beneficiary to assist them in making important decisions.

  1. Points to Remember
  • Parents, brothers, sisters, other family members, and especially the trust beneficiary him/herself should contribute to the letter.
  • The contents of the letter should reflect your expectations. Future circumstances may make it difficult for others to carry out strict demands. You must trust that those you’ve designated to carry out your plan will try to adhere to your expectations.
  • You should gear the preferences in the letter toward enhancing the trust beneficiary’s independence and growth. Your requests should not accommodate the convenience of other family members or service providers.
  • The letter should be written in non- technical language. It should communicate to the reader your heartfelt desires.
  • A letter of intent is not legally binding like your trust. However, the contents of the letter should not contradict your trust.
  • Periodically review and, if necessary, update your letter. Make sure that it still reflects not only your expectations, but also the preferences of other family members and the trust beneficiary. Age and circumstances may alter what you want in your letter.
  1. Information that Should Be Included in the Memorandum of Intent
  • The letter should begin by stating the trust beneficiary’s full name, date of birth, place of birth, name of the trust, date of trust, and Social Security Number.
  • You should then name the agencies that relatives, trustees, and guardians should contact for advice and help (e.g., local chapter of the ARC, the law firm that created the special needs trust, case manager, care providers, physicians, therapists, close family members and friends, etc.).
  1. Financial and Other Support for the Trust Beneficiary
  • List all government benefits that the trust beneficiary receives or may be eligible to receive.
  • List any arrangements with a corporate trustee, care manager or other entity for the trust beneficiary’s continued care. Include the name and address, plus any special instructions.
  • If appropriate, list the trust beneficiary’s current employment or the type of employment you think he or she would like.
  1. Current Living Arrangements
  • Describe the type of living situation you anticipate for the trust beneficiary (e.g., live with a particular relative or in a small group home or apartment with support).
  • The location of the living situation you anticipate for the trust beneficiary (e.g., the geographic locale you prefer and type of physical and natural environment, if that is important).
  • The qualities of the living arrangement (e.g., non-smoking home, adherence to a certain religion, a home that only allows certain types of disabilities).
  • Regular routines in the trust beneficiary’s schedule (e.g., daily schedule of getting ready for school, weekly appointments).
  1. Programs and Services
  • Name the type of school or day program setting expected.
  • List the name and address of day programs, sports programs, habilitation programs or other programs and activities in which the trust beneficiary regularly participates.
  • List the type of services, therapies, or medical interventions that are needed, or may be needed (e.g., job training, speech therapy, behavioral evaluations).
  • Describe the trust beneficiary’s routine medical care (e.g., regular check-up schedule, annual eye examination) and the names and locations of preferred medical professionals.
  • Identify any health insurance that should be maintained, including addresses, phone numbers and insurance number. Make a copy of the insurance card and attach it to the letter.
  1. Personal Preferences
  • Describe the trust beneficiary’s grooming preferences (e.g., type and color of clothes, hair style, preferred toilet articles).
  • Describe the trust beneficiary’s likes and dislikes about food, chores, and other routine daily activities.
  • List favorite personal items (e.g., personal radio, certain furniture, personal pet).
  • Describe personal habits that it would be important for someone else to know about.
  • List all friends and relatives, their addresses, and how often the trust beneficiary likes to visit these people.
  • List the trust beneficiary’s favorite recreation and other leisure activities and the level of independence in these activities. Include how often the trust beneficiary likes to participate in these activities.
  • Describe any religious preferences and how often the trust beneficiary participates in religious activities.
  1. Abilities
  • Describe the trust beneficiary’s level of independence for getting around the community (e.g., ability to ride public transportation, independence in shopping, ability to go out alone).
  • Describe the trust beneficiary’s ability to handle money (e.g., change-making, independence in purchasing items).
  • Describe the trust beneficiary’s abilities in reading, writing, communicating, and understanding what others say. If the trust beneficiary does not use verbal communications, note how the trust beneficiary communicates.
  • Describe any aspects of the trust beneficiary’s disability that you feel are particularly important to be aware of (e.g., needs a structured environment, must be kept from food, does not like loud noises).
  1. Completing the Letter
  • Some clients find it easier to write the letter if they keep a daily journal for several weeks, which records the daily, weekly and monthly activities of both the trust beneficiary and those people who provide support and care. The journal can then be condensed into a letter.
  • List any other information you feel is particularly important.
  • You should sign and date the letter. The letter (and any revised letters) should be sent to the law firm which prepared the special needs trust. Keep a copy for yourself and a copy with your trust. Distribute the letter to those who may be responsible for decisions about the trust beneficiary.

(Adapted from an Academy of Specials Needs Planners’ pamphlet entitled “How to write a Memorandum of Intent.” Mr. Vanarelli is a founding member of the Academy of Special Needs Planners.)

Another blog post on this topic may be found here: Writing a Memorandum of Intent for a Special Needs Child

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