When a Special Needs Trust or Supplemental Needs Trust is established for the benefit of someone with a disability, that disabled person is the only legal beneficiary of trust assets during their lifetime. Unfortunately, sometimes trustees — the people in charge of managing the assets and distributing funds according to the terms of the agreement — abuse their authority. That is allegedly what happened in the case of a Colorado mother who was the Trustee of a fund that initially held a $1.6 million settlement for her daughter.
In 2005, when Apryll Sardinha’s daughter was just six years old, she was struck by a car. While she lived, she was left unable to communicate and with the mental functioning of a toddler. The child was awarded a settlement of $1.6 million in 2010, with her mother named as the sole party with access to or control of the funds.
According to an arrest warrant issued for Sardinha, she spent her daughter’s entire trust fund, actually overdrawing the account. While the funds were supposed to be earmarked for her child’s sole benefit, Sardinha reportedly spent hundreds of thousands of dollars at a Land Rover dealership, a Mercedes dealership, a resort in Mexico, a Harley dealership, a liquor store, Victoria Secret, DirecTV services, and even on breast enhancement for herself. She is apparently out on bond while her case moves through the legal system.
If the allegations are proven, this is tragic. Sardinha’s daughter, now 20 years old, was to have the settlement funds to provide necessary care and support. Sadly, those funds are no longer there for her use. This case underscores the importance of naming fiduciaries (trustees, personal representatives, or agents under power of attorney documents) who you believe will act according to your wishes when you aren’t there to monitor their actions.
Talk to your estate planning attorney about options for helping ensure your wishes will be honored. To learn more and to schedule a consultation, contact The Estate Planning & Legacy Law Center today.