What are Common Law Trusts?

What is a Common Law Trust?

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court, through a number of decisions (“Common Law”), recognized that family and friends of an individual with a disability can create trusts to benefit the individual with a disability.
With a Common Law Trust, family and friends can provide for their loved ones while still preserving the individual's eligibility for essential, lifelong supports and services such as Medical Assistance, Waiver Services and Supplemental Security Income.
The individual with a disability cannot create a Common Law Trust, but may place their assets in a Pooled Trust or a Payback Trust.
ACHIEVA Family Trust serves as trustee and co-trustee of Common Law Trusts.
ACHIEVA Family Trust adds case management and social work expertise to the traditional role of corporate trustee.


  • Family and friends can fund the Common Law Trust during their lifetimes and through their estate plans.
  • The Common Law Trust can be very flexible and can benefit additional family member or friends.


  • Trustee must have absolute discretion over distributions, so the beneficiary cannot have a legal right to force a distribution from the trust
  • The individual creating the trust must clearly express their intention to supplement, not supplant, government supports and services
  • The individual creating and funding the trust must be someone other than the individual with a disability

Common Law Trust Documents: