With roughly 40 percent of U.S. adults suffering from a mental illness, it’s time to remove the stigma surrounding the topic. With greater awareness, there is greater opportunity to ensure that those affected by mental illness receive the help or treatment that they need, not just now, but in the future as well. Estate planning for someone with a mental illness will give you peace of mind that your loved one will be well taken care of in any unforeseen event.
The odds that you or somebody in your family is living with a mental health condition are 2 in 5. Rather than dismiss these issues because they are uncomfortable, we recommend being proactive about these challenges so that you’re prepared for whatever life brings your way. The best way to do this is with the help of an incapacity and estate planning attorney who will be able to draft a trust that covers all your bases.
Nearly 50 Million Americans Suffer from Mental Illness
Saying that America is dealing with a mental health crisis is not an exaggeration. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, approximately 40 percent of US adults experience mental illness, which is an increase of 20 percent from the year 2020. Additionally, 1 in 20 who experience serious mental illness, and 17 percent of American youth experience a mental health disorder.
The mental health crisis has worsened during the coronavirus pandemic. Loneliness and isolation are fueling increases in anxiety, depression, and thoughts of suicide and self-harm, reports Mental Health America. More people are seeking mental health screening and treatment, but around 23 percent of Americans with mental illness are still not receiving the services they need.
Improvement starts with acknowledging that there is a problem. Talking to a healthcare professional about mental health struggles and treatment options leads to better outcomes. One improved outcome can be creating an estate plan that takes into account your own, or a family member’s, mental health.
Your Mental Health and Your Estate Plan
Every estate plan should be tailored to the individual’s needs and their unique family dynamics. A number of estate planning documents are available to address concerns about your mental health. Chief among such concerns is the possibility that, at some point, you may be unable to manage your own affairs. To prepare for that contingency, consider having the following documents in place:
Importantly, for these documents to have legal authority, you must have mental capacity when you sign them. To ensure capacity, you may want to obtain a professional opinion from a licensed mental health provider stating that you are of sound mind and understand the meaning and effect of the documents you are signing. Alleging lack of capacity is a common basis for contesting an estate plan.
In addition, if you are entrusting somebody with power of attorney authority, and that person has their own mental health concerns, you should discuss the issue with your family as well as your estate planning lawyer.
Your Beneficiaries’ Mental Health
Having beneficiaries who suffer from mental illness presents a different estate planning challenge. You must pass your legacy to them in a way that serves their best interests. Discretionary trusts and supplemental needs trusts are two ways you can look out for a mentally ill loved one even after you are gone.
There is a significant difference between suffering from a severe mental illness, such as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, and a more minor issue such as anxiety or depression. Some people’s mental health issues can come and go over the course of their lifetime. Others’ illnesses are prolonged or recurrent. In some cases, a person may be genetically predisposed to mental illness that has not yet manifested. Proper proactive estate planning can protect you and your loved ones from whatever type of mental disorder may be of concern to you.
These are some of the factors to consider when making estate planning decisions based on mental illness in your family. Every individual and every family is unique. Your estate plan should reflect what you know now and be updated to reflect changes in your life and the lives of your family members. Contact us to learn how mental health considerations can fit into your estate plan.
Estate planning is a sensitive subject and it can be even more sensitive when the issue of mental health is involved. If you need to set up an estate plan, or revise an existing estate plan, around mental health concerns, we are here to help. Please contact our office to set up an appointment with an estate planning attorney.