A recent NJ Supreme Court decision could have a major impact on firefighters and police officers who are concerned about providing for their special-needs children.
The Case, Saccone v. Board of Trustees, was filed on behalf of Thomas Saccone, a retired Newark firefighter whose son, Anthony, suffers from a “severe mental disability.” The elder Saccone receives pension payments from the NJ Police & Firemen’s Retirement System (PFRS); and his wife and son are entitled to receive pension death benefits if Saccone predeceases them.
But Anthony receives public assistance, such as Supplemental Security Income and Medicaid, that are subject to income limitations. The survivors’ benefits could put Anthony over the income cap, possibly eliminating his eligibility for public assistance.
Thomas wanted to name a special needs trust (SNT) as the beneficiary of Anthony’s PFRS benefits. The trust funds would supplement Anthony’s needs, but would be shielded from the income test, and he would continue to be eligible for public assistance benefits. The PFRS rules did not permit Thomas Saccone to change the individual he originally named as beneficiary and the retirement fund’s board rejected Thomas’ request to name the SNT as the beneficiary. The NJ Appellate Division upheld the board’s decision.
The Court’s decision:Finally, in mid-September, the NJ Supreme Court ruled that the disabled child of a retired member of the PFRS may have his survivors’ benefits paid into a first-party SNT created for him. The Court cited strong public policy favoring special needs trusts..
 As reflected in NJ Statutes 3B:11-36 & 37, which were authored by Lawrence Friedman on behalf of the NJ State Bar Association.
The Court’s ruling makes it easier for certain individuals to ensure that their special-needs children continue to receive public assistance with a SNT. But to qualify a special needs trust should be carefully structured by a competent attorney.
Three amici, among them, the Guardianship Association of NJ (GANJI), argued in support of Saccone. Urbach & Avraham Partner, Pamela Avraham, has been on the Board of GANJI for many years. We commend the tremendous work of GANJI, and of three GANJI members; Daniel Jurkovic who argued the cause for GANJI, Donald Vanarelli, Saccone’s attorney and Shirley Whitenack who was counsel for amicus Special Needs Alliance.