As we observe Autism Acceptance Month this month, it’s worth pausing to reflect on the financial challenges faced by adults with disabilities, including those on the autism spectrum. Transitioning to any level of independent living with supports can represent a daunting challenge for people with autism, their families, and loved ones. People with autism often depend on those supports, which can provide self-assurance and much-needed guidance when establishing their independent lives and reaching their personal goals. For them, a special needs trust (SNT) can make the possibility of an autonomous life a reality.

Financial planning is a critical component of supporting someone with autism as they make their way in the world, and yet it is an aspect of life that is often overlooked. For clients with a disability, the answer often comes in the form of an SNT. A trust is a legal relationship in which a trustee is granted control of money or assets on behalf of a beneficiary. An SNT is designed specifically for a beneficiary with a disability such as intellectual and developmental disabilities or autism.

For clients who have a special needs trust with The Arc of Northern Virginia, Key Private Bank serves as the trustee. The Arc serves as the manager, assisting the beneficiary with the day-to-day choices and tasks regarding the money in the trust. Since the beneficiary does not directly control the money held in an SNT, that money does not affect or diminish government benefits the beneficiary may have, benefits that are based on that person’s income, savings, and other assets they directly control.

A special needs trust with The Arc of Northern Virginia comes with advantages and strengths that set it apart. The trust counselors and staff at The Arc bring a high level of professional expertise to bear on establishing and managing SNTs. Their work on behalf of their clients results in a minimal amount of responsibility for the family. Key Private Bank approaches the trust as a corporate entity rather than as a friend or relative who could move, pass away or simply find the process too overwhelming. Likewise, The Arc of Northern Virginia will remain a constant manager, no matter who changes within the organization. The Arc’s mission of advocating for and supporting the disability community has not faltered in 60 years and will continue.

This constancy presents a great comfort and reassurance for people with autism and other disabilities, as well as to their parents and their families. For parents, the transition to adulthood for their kids brings with it a reminder of their own mortality, and with that a visceral fear. “What if something happens to me? What will happen to my child when I’m gone?” People with disabilities depend heavily on their family supports, and those supports are vulnerable. For many families, it’s an unspoken issue, but the specter of sudden change is never far from most families’ thoughts.

There are a number of very good reasons a family might choose to set up a special needs trust for their loved ones, but for many, the sense of peace and permanence is the most compelling, particularly with a long-standing and respected organization like The Arc of Northern Virginia. For more information please visit

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