Q&A: Keeping a bequest from doing harm

Dear Liz: I am leaving a good friend a bequest in my will. He receives government benefits, including disability, Supplemental Security Income and Medi-Cal (California’s version of Medicaid). I am beginning to be concerned that if he inherits the money, it could mess him up more than help him. Is there a way to leave someone like my friend a bequest without jeopardizing the various benefits they now receive?

Answer: You’ll want an attorney experienced in “special needs trusts” to help you put language into your estate plan that can help shelter this money and protect your friend’s benefits.

Your concern is well founded because a direct inheritance could cause him to lose income and health coverage. SSI and Medi-Cal are both “means tested” programs that require people to have less than $2,000 in assets. All too often, well-meaning friends and relatives leave direct bequests that have the unintended consequence of separating the recipients from vital services they need to survive.