It is not uncommon for the average person to have heard of a Henson Trust, but not to have understood its meaning. A Henson Trust is named after a 1989 case involving the will of Leonard Henson of Guelph. The provisions of that will was challenged and eventually led to an important decision that held that a Henson Trust was a valid method of assisting a disabled beneficiary while not impinging upon their ongoing receipt of Government assistance. The most common example of that is ODSP, the Ontario Disability Support Program. Legally the validity of a Henson Trust was given the “Gold Seal of Approval” by the 2019 Supreme Court of Canada case of S.A. v. Metro Vancouver Housing Corp.
The general concept of a Henson Trust is for the testator/willmaker to set aside a fund for a disabled beneficiary, but do it in a fashion in which the fund never belongs to the aimed beneficiary and the dispersal of funds is completely at the discretion of the trustee in charge of the Henson Trust. Generally speaking, the executor of the Will will be that trustee. A prime example of a Henson Trust is for an adult child who suffers a disability and is unlikely to ever become financially self-sufficient and the willmaker does not wish to harm the ongoing entitlement of the adult child to ODSP. The amount of ODSP varies with time and is set out in the regulations to the Ontario Disability Support Program Act. At the time of writing, an individual living independently and having no dependents will receive a total payment of $1,169 per month. Hardly enough to support a lavish lifestyle.
What is a parent to do to in an effort to achieve the goal of making provisions for their child, but not harming their ongoing entitlement to ODSP? A Henson Trust is the common method of doing this for the adult child is inheriting nothing and has no entitlement to any benefit in the Henson trust. Whatever they receive is completely at the discretion of the Trustee. These are extremely common, and it is important that you discuss this issue with the drafting lawyer.
One of our standard opening questions is about the mental and physical health of all parties within the family to alert ourselves as to whether not any special provisions need to be made in one’s Will, including a Henson Trust. Clearly critical is having complete trust in the Trustee/Executor to do the right thing for the beneficiary child.
Strategies when a Henson Trust was not created, can be found in our blog titled ODSP – WHAT TO DO WHEN THE RECIPIENT RECEIVES A SHARE IN AN ESTATE