What can we do if a trust distribution is stolen?

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Q. My wife’s aunt left her $245,000 to be put into a special needs trust and to be administered by her brother. My wife has multiple sclerosis and it is progressing. Her brother received a check over a year ago. As far as we know he took the money and never set up the account. What can be done about this?
— Husband

A. This isn’t a simple issue.

If you’re accusing your wife’s brother of fraud — taking money that rightfully belongs to her — you’re going to need to speak to an attorney.

The purpose of a special needs trust is to shelter income and assets that otherwise would jeopardize the ability of a person with disabilities to receive government benefits such as Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Medicaid, which have asset and income limits, said Shirley Whitenack, an estate planning attorney with Schenck, Price, Smith & King in Florham Park.

But if you think your wife’s brother is not honoring the terms of the trust, you need to talk to an attorney.

The attorney can address your wife’s options, including the initiation of a lawsuit or the filing of a criminal complaint against her brother, Whitenack said.

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This story was originally published on July 24, 2020.

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