People familiar with Midwest Special Needs Trust know board member Jerry Zafft’s story. In 1988, Jerry was inspired to promote a way for moderate and low-income Missouri families to provide for family members with a disability. Jerry’s commitment and tenacity paved the way for legislative reform, and, ultimately, the creation of MSNT (a/k/a Missouri Family Trust).Today, Missourians living with disability – and those in the contiguous states – have a vehicle for ensuring financial security that does not threaten their public benefits. Little did Jerry know that his efforts would spread beyond the Midwest and on to the world stage. Midwest Special Needs Trust, the trust Mr. Zafft still champions, has recently served as a leader in international policy discussions about how to best to serve those with a disability.
In October 2018, MSNT Executive Director Kathy Birkes spoke at the 5th World Congress on Adult Guardianship held in Seoul, South Korea. The World Congress, created to explore and address the universal issues affecting persons with disability, brought together diverse thought leaders from countries such as Argentina, Austria, Canada, China, England, Japan, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Scotland, Spain, Switzerland, Taiwan, and elsewhere. The Office of the U.N. Commissioner for Human Rights was also represented. Kathy reunited with many people she met at the University of Hong Kong in 2017. See MSNT: A Model For the World posted January 25, 2018.
The bi-annual Congress is a forum for examining the problems, and sharing solutions, different leaders have encountered. The theme of the conference was “Living Together with Persons with Cognitive Impairments in the Communities.” The Congress members attended an array of sessions, examining proposed best practices, and often having spirted, thoughtful, discussions about implementing them within their cultures. Those discussions explored topics such as guardianship systems; possibilities and challenges of personal guardians; financial abuse; assessment of mental capacity and decision-making; issues of protection and autonomy; alternatives to guardianship; and supported decision making. Additionally, the Academy Award-nominated documentary Edith+Eddie, which had its world premiere at Columbia’s True/False Film Festival in 2017, was shown to much acclaim for its sensitivity and authenticity in depicting a loving couple devastated by guardianship gone awry. (You can view the film here on Youtube.)
Kathy served as both a participant and presenter at the Congress. She shared her insights on special needs trusts with two audiences. First, Kathy co-presented on special needs trusts as an alternative to guardianship. Her co-presenters were Esther Tan, General Manager of Special Needs Trust Company Ltd. of Singapore, and University of Hong Kong Professor Lusina Ho. The buzz in the room was palpable as Kathy traced the Zafft family story to MSNT’s present operation. Kathy, along with University of Missouri Professor David English, then wound up the conference by presenting a special workshop on the use of special needs trusts in the U.S. at Hanyang University.
Click here to read MSNT: A Model For the World Part 1 about MSNT’s participation as a guest of the University of Hong Kong (UHK) in an international symposium on financial planning for special needs.
MSNT has stepped out beyond the borders of the Midwest and shared its institutional knowledge. Just as MSNT was a leader when the concept of special needs trusts was first developed, so it remains a model for the world as the debate continues on the protection and independence of persons with disabilities.