It’s okay not to be okay. To remove the stigma surrounding mental health, we must recognize that mental illness affects approximately one in five US adults. You or someone in your family is likely living with a mental health condition. Most people want to avoid the potentially uncomfortable topic of mental health. However, it is essential to proactively address mental illness issues by establishing an estate plan that confronts them directly. So go ahead and start making a plan. Do it for your future self.
Estate planning is the process of shaping the course of your future. It allows you to prepare, even if your life takes unexpected directions. Creating a plan now can focus your life’s future direction. Let’s look at what it looks like to make a plan that takes into consideration your mental health (or that of your family).
Nearly 50 Million Americans Face Mental Illness
The statement that America faces a mental health crisis is not an exaggeration. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, approximately 20 percent of US adults experience mental illness, with 1 in 20 dealing with serious mental illness. Additionally, 17 percent of American youth are affected by mental health disorders.
The mental health crisis worsened during the coronavirus pandemic. Mental Health America reports indicate loneliness and isolation have led to increased anxiety, depression, and thoughts of suicide and self-harm. While more people seek mental health screening and treatment, around 23 percent of our country living with mental illness still do not receive the necessary services.
Recognizing the problem is the first step toward improvement. Engaging in conversations about mental health struggles and treatment options with healthcare professionals leads to better outcomes. One positive outcome can be creating an estate plan that considers your own or your family member’s mental health.
Do It For Your Future Self: Your Mental Health and Estate Plan
Every estate plan should be tailored to an individual’s needs and the unique dynamics of their family. Various estate planning documents can address concerns related to mental health. One crucial concern is the potential inability to manage personal affairs at some point.
To prepare for such a situation, consider having the following documents in place:
- Financial Power of Attorney (POA): This document allows you to appoint someone else to manage your finances. For example, they can handle your bank accounts or sign papers at a real estate closing. Depending on state laws, the document can take effect immediately or upon a future event, such as mental incapacitation.
- Medical Power of Attorney: A medical power of attorney grants an individual of your choice the legal authority to make decisions regarding your medical care when you can no longer do so. You can restrict the types of decisions your chosen representative can make.
- Revocable Living Trust: This trust contains money and property you transfer. You select a trustee to manage it for your benefit while alive. A living trust can be modified or revoked, except when you lack the mental ability to do so or have passed away. Additionally, it can specify the distribution of funds and property after your death.
Importantly, to give these documents legal authority, you must have mental capacity when signing them. To ensure capacity, it is advisable to obtain a professional opinion from a licensed mental health provider affirming that you are of sound mind and comprehend the meaning and effect of the documents you are signing. Alleging a lack of capacity is a common basis for contesting an estate plan.
Furthermore, suppose you are granting power of attorney authority to someone who has their own mental health concerns. In that case, discussing this matter with your family and your estate planning lawyer is crucial.
Mental Health of Your Beneficiaries
Handling beneficiaries who experience mental illness presents a distinct challenge in estate planning. It is crucial to pass on your legacy to them in a manner that serves their best interests. Discretionary trusts and supplemental needs trusts are two options to support a mentally ill loved one even after you are no longer present.
- Discretionary Trusts: If you worry that a family member’s mental illness may hinder responsible spending of their inheritance, a discretionary trust offers a solution. With this trust, you select a trustee who determines how the funds are used. The trustee ensures that the money is allocated for the beneficiary’s essential needs, preventing them from misusing it. This type of trust is appropriate for individuals who do not currently or intend to receive public assistance.
- Third-Party Special Needs Trust: Similar to a discretionary trust, a special needs trust designates a trustee to distribute funds for the beneficiary’s benefit. However, unlike a discretionary trust, the money and assets in a special needs trust do not go directly to the beneficiary. Instead, they are utilized for specific supplemental needs such as personal care, therapy, and education. As a result, the funds in the trust do not disqualify the beneficiary from eligibility for or receipt of needs-based government benefits.
There is a significant distinction between severe mental illnesses like bipolar disorder or schizophrenia and less severe conditions like anxiety or depression. Mental health issues can vary over an individual’s lifetime, with some experiencing intermittent episodes while others face prolonged or recurring challenges.
Additionally, specific individuals may have a genetic predisposition to mental illness that has not yet manifested. By engaging in proactive estate planning, you can safeguard yourself and your loved ones from any type of mental disorder that may be a concern.
Estate Planning for Mental Health: Investing in Your Future Self
When it comes to estate planning for mental health, it’s essential to think about the future. As human beings, our lives are largely shaped by past experiences, but we have the power to effectively grow and create the life we desire. To begin this process, it’s helpful to reverse engineer our future. As Psychology Today contributor Daniel Gilbert once said, “The best way to predict your future is to create it.”
Imagine the course you want your life to take and the impact you want to have on the lives of those around you.
Consider What You Want to Achieve
In this journey, it’s crucial to consider the role of your present and past self. Reflect on the moments that have shaped you and the dreams and ideas that have driven your thinking. By writing down your aspirations and goals, you can create a roadmap to help you realize them, despite mental health challenges.
Extensive research shows that motivation and the pursuit of growth play a significant role in our happiness and success. Consider your story and the impact it has on your overall well-being. Maintain a healthy mindset and express gratitude through letters or by simply putting your thoughts on paper. A healthy mindset can often profoundly affect your mental health.
However, if troubles come, knowing you have plans in place can give you and your loved ones security.
Know Your Future Self Has Plans in Place for Care
Tomorrow, as you walk the path you’ve designed, you can feel grateful you have made plans to care for yourself. You are not only considering the future but also valuing the present. You deserve a life filled with fulfillment. So speak up and share your wishes for the future to avoid feeling lost or unheard. Communicate openly with your loved ones and those involved in your estate planning. Doing so can ensure your desires are heard and respected, leading to a more natural and fulfilling future outcome.
Address potential troubles and challenges head-on by connecting with an experienced estate planning attorney. Finding someone who understands the importance of mental health considerations is crucial. Together, you can create a comprehensive plan that aligns with your values and supports your complete well-being.
By putting your mental health at the forefront, you are investing in your well-being and future health. Practically, this may mean naming a power of attorney or drawing up a living trust in case you face mental health troubles in the future.
Creating a plan for your mental health needs can bring you and your loved ones peace of mind.
We Can Help
We all face highs and lows. At Vail Gardner Law, we understand that looking ahead and planning for the future can be an empowering and transformative experience.
By making an estate plan for mental health, you prioritize your well-being and set the stage for a fulfilling legacy.
Every individual and family is unique, so your estate plan should reflect your current understanding and be regularly updated to accommodate changes in your life and the lives of your family members. We can help you think about the crucial factors in your estate planning while considering the potential of mental illness within your family.
Reach out to explore how mental health considerations can be incorporated into your estate plan. Get in touch today and set up a consultation time to get started.