EXTENDED: Get 25% off your estate plan using code THANKSMA at checkout. Valid through 12/1
Get your free estate planning checklist!
Thank you! Check your email to get your checklist.
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form. Please try again.
Get 10% off this weekend only using DAD10. Redeem at checkout. Valid through June 20th
Thank you! Check your email to get your checklist.
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form. Please try again.

What Is HEMS? A Trustee’s Right To Give Money To A Beneficiary

Using HEMS language in your trust gives you more say in how and when your beneficiaries receive their inheritance. 

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.

HEMS (health, education, maintenance, and support) rules are used in estate planning to provide wealth distribution guidelines for trustees. Using HEMS language in your trust gives you more say in how and when your beneficiaries receive their inheritance. 

Today, we're lifting the veil on the HEMs standard and whether you should use it in your trust. Let's dive right in. 

What is HEMS?

The HEMS ascertainable standard grants your trustee specific distribution powers for assets held in trust for the benefit of your beneficiaries. Sometimes referred to as a HEMS trust, it's not an actual trust but a standard used within a trust.

The standard allows enough flexibility that a trustee has some discretion to do what is in the beneficiary's best interest, considering the trusts' income and remaining assets. The following is a breakdown of the types of expenses that the HEMS standard might include:


  • Healthcare, dental, and vision insurance premiums and deductibles
  • Eyecare, glasses, contact lenses, vision correction surgery
  • Routine medical care, checkups, and exams
  • Allergen services
  • Alternative therapeutic medical treatments (e.g., acupuncture, massage therapy, etc.)
  • Substance abuse rehabilitation programs
  • Vacations or retreats to improve mental health
  • Health-related home improvements or renovations
  • Home healthcare or long-term care
  • Health clubs; gym, spa, golf club memberships
  • Exercise equipment
  • Healthcare supplements
  • Mental health counseling & treatments
  • Handicap-related equipment, transport, and mobility services


  • Tuition (primary, secondary, college, advanced degrees)
  • Study-abroad programs and related travel expenses
  • Financial support between semesters or during unpaid internships
  • School-related expenses (room, board, textbooks, computer, etc.).
  • Private tutoring
  • Certification and graduation costs
  • Career counseling and job training programs
  • Childcare for dependents, so a parent has time to attend classes and study

Maintenance and Support

  • Rent or mortgage payments or a subsidy to live near work or school
  • Down payment on a house
  • Living expenses for a beneficiary that works for a nonprofit or engages in charitable work (i.e., peace corps)
  • Insurance premiums (life, auto, disability, homeowner's, etc.)
  • Vehicles and related repairs and maintenance
  • Family gift-giving for birthdays, weddings, holidays, baby showers, etc.
  • Travel for family events (funerals, support, weddings, etc.)
  • Legal fees
  • Continuation of typical family vacations
  • Home repair and maintenance
  • Mobile phone service and equipment
  • Utility bills, such as electricity, water, TV, internet, streaming, etc.
  • Seed money to start a business

The examples above are only some of the expenses commonly justified under the HEMS standard. A trustee must exercise consistency when making distributions to demonstrate to potential lawsuit plaintiffs, the IRS, and the courts that the HEMS standard prevents the beneficiary from having complete control over the trust property.

Example of HEMS language in a trust

Here's an example of how the HEMS standard may appear in your trust documents:

"After my death, my trust assets should be distributed when my beneficiaries turn 35. Before age 35, a beneficiary may request distributions from the trust to cover expenses related to their health, education, maintenance, and support."

Of course, you should work with an estate planning professional to customize the exact HEMS language in your trust. 

Benefits of the HEMS trust standard

Using HEMS in your estate planning has several advantages. 

  • Clear instructions: HEMS provides your trustee(s) guidelines and takes the guesswork out of distributing your assets. Depending on how much discretion you'd like the trustee to have, you can make the HEMS specifications as detailed or broad as you want.
  • Reduce frivolous spending: You want your heirs to use their inheritance responsibly. By limiting distributions to certain expenses, HEMS ensures your heirs won't blow your legacy on frivolous purchases like sports cars, luxury goods, or extravagant vacations.
  • Customizable: HEMS guidelines can be as general or specific as you prefer. You could add language allowing or prohibiting certain expenses that fall under one or more of the HEMS categories. For example, maybe you want to allow distributions for tuition but not other education-related expenses.
  • Asset protection: HEMS is also a way of building asset protection features into your trust. For example, it can prevent creditors from coming after your beneficiary's trust assets (when combined with a spendthrift provision). 

Taxes and HEMS 

From a tax perspective, the HEMS standard provides a few key benefits. If the beneficiary of a trust is also the trustee, HEMS prevents the value of the trust assets from being included in the beneficiary's gross estate, helping to manage their federal estate tax bill. 

Additionally, trust creators can transfer assets into the trust to decrease their taxable estate as long as they remain the trustee. Trustees must keep detailed records of distributions and the reason for those distributions to avoid tax consequences.

How are disputes resolved between the trustee and beneficiaries?

You might be wondering what would happen if your trustee and one or more beneficiaries disagree on what qualifies as a HEMS distribution. If the beneficiary requests a distribution that falls outside of the HEMS guidelines, the trustee must refuse. If the trustee declines a distribution permitted by the trust documents, the beneficiary can file an appeal with the courts. 

Your beneficiaries have the right to take legal action if there is a suspected "breach of fiduciary duty" by the trustee. They can petition the court to approve the distribution or remove and replace the trustee.

If your spouse is your trustee, you might be wondering how to ensure your spouse adheres to the HEMS standard so your heirs receive the remainder of your estate. Be as specific as possible when detailing the distributions your spouse can take, and consider naming a co-trustee.

The bottom line

The HEMS standard is often used in trusts, and for a good reason. It gives you more control over the distribution of your assets and provides clear instructions for your trustee. Doing so helps ensure that the trust will continue to provide for and generate wealth for your loved ones for many years to come.  

Create a HEMS trust online today

When you build your estate plan with MyAdvocate, you can customize your trust with the HEMS standard. Start protecting your legacy today.

No items found.

About the author

MyAdvocate Team

This post was written by MyAdvocate's team of estate planning attorneys.