Your Teachers’ Retirement System Pension (TRS) Can Provide Benefits For Individuals With Special Needs






The Illinois Teachers’ Retirement System (TRS) provides retirement benefits for workers in the educational system including:

  • classroom teachers,
  • regional superintendents
  • school administrators
  • school nurses, social workers, and psychologists
  • school librarians
  • other school-related positions requiring licensure.

If you are paying into TRS from your paycheck, you are building a benefit account that you can access upon your retirement or disability. TRS also provides a survivor benefit that allows you to care for your family after you are gone. If you have a child with special needs, you can use your TRS pension to plan for that child’s financial needs and help protect his or her future for life.

TRS Benefits

TRS offers two types of death benefits to its members.

  1. Beneficiary refund – if your account has contributions remaining after your death, these funds can be paid to your surviving spouse or partner, or if you have none, the money goes to your estate.
  2. Survivor benefits – these funds can be paid to an eligible dependent beneficiary, or if one is not designated, to your estate.

According to the official TRS website, a dependent beneficiary is defined as:

  • an unmarried child under age 18, or
  • a child between the ages of 18 and 22 who is a full-time student in an accredited school, or
  • “an unmarried child of any age who is dependent by reason of a physical or mental disability and claimed as a dependent on your final federal income tax return. For purposes of determining dependency, ‘disability’ is defined as an inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment that can be expected to last for a continuous period of 12 months or more.”

Use a Third-Party Special Needs Trust

While there are many types of Trusts, when providing for a child with special needs, parents need to establish a third-party Special Needs Trust to ensure the child does not lose benefits when he or she receives pension benefits. TRS allows a member to leave pension benefits in the form of a continuing annuity to a Special Needs Trust for the benefit of an adult child with special needs. This annuity can last for the beneficiary’s entire lifetime but only if specific provisions are included in the trust.

A third-party Special Needs Trust does not allow the beneficiary direct access to the funds held on their behalf. Instead, a trustee is appointed to make financial decisions and allocate the trust funds to care for the beneficiary’s needs. Also, there is no legal cap on the amount that can be held in this type of  trust.

For a Special Needs Trust to receive a monthly survivor benefit, the trust must include specific language authorizing the receipt of monthly TRS benefits that can only be used for the care of the beneficiary according to the Illinois Pension Code.

A Special Needs Trust established for an adult dependent child with a physical or mental disability can receive monthly survivor benefits for the beneficiary’s lifetime if:

  • the beneficiary does not get married;
  • the beneficiary cannot maintain substantial gainful employment;
  • TRS periodically receives a doctor’s certification verifying the beneficiary’s continuing disability; and
  • the child was claimed as a dependent on the tax return filed the year before the retired teacher’s death.

Providing for the future of your loved one with special needs is important. If you are a member of the Teachers’ Retirement System, you have a valuable asset that can help fund a Special Needs Trust for your child’s benefit. Taking the necessary legal steps to protect your child, and not jeopardize potential benefits, is complicated and confusing. One misstep could cost your child’s security.

At Rubin Law we understand retirement plan intricacies and your legal options to protect your loved ones. In fact, we are the only law firm in Illinois exclusively limited to providing compassionate special needs legal and future planning to guide our fellow Illinois families of children and adults with intellectual disabilities, developmental disabilities, or mental illness down the road to peace of mind. For more information, email us at or call 866-TO-RUBIN.