“The Ruling That Could Change Everything For Disabled People With Million-Dollar Trusts”

George Washington on the $1 Bill
Special Needs Trusts

The Village Voice recently featured featured the saga of Mark Christopher Holman, a man with severe autism who is also the beneficiary of a multimillion dollar trust.

Holman’s adoptive father died in 2007. When Holman’s prospective guardian, Harvey Platt, was asked by the Manhattan Surrogate Court in 2009 whether any of the funds from the trust had gone to supporting Holman’s needs, Platt responded that he had not even visited Holman, who lives in an institution in upstate New York.

Judge Kristen Booth Glen, the former of dean of CUNY School of Law, eventually ordered Platt and JP Morgan Chase, the trust’s other trustee, to hire Robin Staver, a professional care manager, who recommend that some of the trusts’ funds be diverted to pay for various services for Holman.

In ordering the trustee to comply with these recommendations, Judge Glen created a new precedent for New York State trusts, in which guardians appointed in Manhattan would have to annually report to the court how they spend their beneficiaries funds. New York is one of the few states whose guardianship laws do not require periodic judicial review.

“They’re lazy pieces of shit,” Judge Glen told the Village Voice, referring generally to the trustees. “It’s a business. They collect their commissions, and they think their only responsibility is to invest the money and keep the money safe with no regard for the beneficiary.”

With the new services, Holman, now 20, can for the first time in his life communicate with a few signs and words beyond just gestures.

As her final act before retiring in 2012, Judge Glen again challenged the trustees with a potentially new precedent, determining for the “first time that banks and other trustees have to figure out what disabled people need and spend money to improve their lives.”

Nationwide, so-called special needs trusts hold billions of dollars. But for the most part, the trustees discretion remains near absolute, regardless of whether they help the intended beneficiary.

“We see a lot of trusts that sit dormant,” says Edward Wilcenski, a New York lawyer and former president of the Special Needs Alliance, a national network of attorneys. “It’s not uncommon that over a period of three, five, 10 years we don’t see distributions made, but we see the calculation of commissions.”