It's okay to not be okay.

Removing the stigma of mental illness starts by realizing that one in five US adults are affected by some type of mental illness.

Understanding that mental health challenges are part of our society helps more people seek guidance from qualified mental health experts.

Odds are that you or someone in your family is living with a mental health challenge. Or, you may develop mental health or cognitive issues as you age.

Mental health was an uncomfortable topic and rarely discussed in the past.

To make sure your wishes are carried out in your well-thought-out estate plan, you need to address any current or future mental health issues head-on.

50 Million Americans Suffer from Mental Illness

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 1 in 5 US adults experience some type of mental illness, 1 in 20 experience a serious mental illness, and 17 percent of American youth experience mental health disorders.  

The mental health crisis has worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic. Loneliness and isolation fueled increases in anxiety, depression, and thoughts of suicide and self-harm.

More people than ever are seeking mental health screening and treatment.  But, unfortunately, about 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. 

And as a growing part of family life, planning for mental health issues should be part of your estate planning strategy.

Your Mental Health and Your Estate Plan

Your estate plan should be tailored to your specific needs and unique family dynamics. 

Several estate planning tools and documents can address your concerns about your family’s current or future mental health challenges. 

One of the main worries is the possibility that, at some point, you may be unable to manage your own affairs.

Aging brings the likelihood of memory loss and other cognitive challenges.

Associated Memory Impairment is the mildest form of memory loss and affects 40% of people over 65.

Mild Cognitive Impairment is a more severe form of memory loss and affects more than 10% of people over 65. Nearly 15% of this group will develop Alzeheimer's every year.

Below are some estate planning tools to consider:

  • Financial Power of Attorney: A financial power of attorney allows you to appoint somebody else to manage your finances on your behalf. For example, they can manage your bank accounts or sign papers at a real estate closing for you.
  • Medical Power of Attorney: A medical power of attorney gives an individual of your choice the legal authority to make decisions about your medical care when you no longer can. You have the discretion to limit the kinds of decisions that your chosen representative may make. 
  • Revocable Living Trust:  A revocable living trust contains money and property that you transfer into it. You choose a trustee to manage it for your benefit while you are still alive. You can set up a living trust that can be changed or revoked except when you do not have the mental ability to do so or have passed away. A living trust can also specify the distribution of the assets and property when you die.

Your Beneficiaries with Mental Health Challenges

Having beneficiaries who suffer from mental illness presents a different estate planning challenge. 

You must pass your asset to them, but in a way that serves their best interests. 

Discretionary trusts and supplemental needs trusts are two ways you can take care of a mentally ill loved one even after you are no longer there to personally do so.

Discretionary Trusts:  This trust helps when you are concerned that a mentally ill family member might misspend the money if it was under their control

With a discretionary trust, you choose a trustee who determines how to spend the money in the trust according to your instructions and for the beneficiary's best interest. 

The trustee can ensure that the money is used for the beneficiary's necessities, and the beneficiary cannot squander it. 

This type of trust makes sense for somebody who is not receiving and does not plan to receive public assistance. 

Third-Party Special Needs Trust: You should consider a California Special Needs Trust (SNT) if you have a special needs family member.

Suppose you leave assets to a special needs family member through an ordinary will or trust. In that case, you might disqualify them from receiving crucial government benefits like Medi-Cal, SSI, or other government programs designed to help them.

In a California SNT, the trustee will pay for particular supplemental needs, such as personal care, therapy, and education. As a result, the money and property in the trust will not disqualify the beneficiary from becoming eligible for or receiving needs-based government benefits.

This is one time when you certainly want a well-qualified California estate and trust attorney who knows how to draft a California Special Needs Trust.

What to Do Now

You might have a  family member suffering from a severe mental illness, such as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, or less severe issues like anxiety or depression. 

Some people’s mental health issues can come and go throughout their lifetime. Other illnesses are prolonged or recurrent. In some cases, a person may be genetically predisposed to mental illness that has not yet manifested. 

And as we all get older, age may cause us cognitive issues.

Proper proactive estate planning can protect your estate and your beneficiaries’ financial well-being from whatever type of mental disorder that may be worrying you.

San Diego Legacy Law is a qualified estate planning attorney in San Diego, California.  

We are familiar with all federal and California estate and trust laws. We know how to best help you achieve your estate planning goals, especially when you are concerned about mental health issues and your estate.

Call today for a free consultation and learn your next best steps.



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