PLANNING FOR MENTAL DECLINE

by Monte L. Schatz

When the topic of estate planning comes to mind, most individuals think about the distribution of their assets at death.   The increased longevity of our population requires equal attention to diminished cognitive skills caused by dementia or other diseases that affect normal cognitive functioning.

Dementia is a syndrome in which there is deterioration in memory, thinking, behavior and the ability to perform everyday activities.  An estimated 5.5 million Americans of all ages have Alzheimer’s disease.  One in 10 people age 65 and older has Alzheimer’s dementia.  The average survival time for people diagnosed with dementia is about four and a half years, new research shows. Those diagnosed before age 70 typically live for a decade or longer.  The time frame from mild cognitive decline to the onset of dementia averages seven years.   Typically, when an individual is in the moderately severe cognitive decline, assistance may be required for daily activities and management of the person’s financial affairs.

The difficulties that families encounter is determining when the person no longer can manage their own affairs or maintain his or her own physical well-being.  The ultimate question of capacity is a legal determination and in some cases a judicial determination, not a clinical finding. A clinical assessment stands as strong evidence to which the lawyer must apply judgment considering all the factors in the case at hand.  While psychologists and other health professionals may use different terms than lawyers, conceptually the clinical model of capacity has striking similarities to the legal model.

The best estate planning approach is to take proactive legal steps ahead of mental decline to assure adequate personal and financial care and to minimize unnecessary legal costs or litigation expenses.  The legal tools available to circumvent legal capacity issues include:

  • A will drafted in advance of cognitive decline to minimize heirs contesting an estate.
  • A living trust should be considered to assure proper management of assets and continuity of financial management by a trustee for the incapacitated person’s benefit.
  • A durable power of attorney for financial matters designating a trusted and financially responsible individual to manage assets upon the onset of mental incapacity.
  • A health care power of attorney or directive that provides for a designated person to make health decisions in the event of incapacity.
  • A living will that outlines, in advance, the wishes of a person who receives artificial life sustaining treatment.

Thoughtful estate planning in advance of mental decline can help avoid expensive court alternatives that can include court conservatorships or guardianships during life and/or estate litigation after the person’s death.  More importantly, well designed advanced planning minimizes the possibility of disputes among heirs that may disrupt family relationships.

© 2017 Vandenack Weaver LLC
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What Is a Revocable Living Trust?

A Video FAQ with Ronald K. Parsonage.

A revocable living trust is a document that is created by yourself as the grantor and its purpose is to hold assets for the benefit of yourself and your family, typically during your and their lifetimes. The idea of a revocable trust is that the assets can pass to or for the benefit of your family without probate. It has another very unique value connected to it in the fact that you can coordinate a lot of tax activities by using skip generation planning within the trust and cause the assets to pass down to your spouse, children and grandchildren without being taxed again.

© 2014 Parsonage Vandenack Williams LLC

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What Benefits Does a Trust Offer?

A Video FAQ with Mary E. Vandenack.

A trust can offer a variety of benefits. One possibility is probate avoidance. If all of your assets are titled in a trust, then the assets are not going to go through the probate process in that state.

Another advantage that a trust can offer is to protect assets from creditors. If I create a trust for my son, depending on how I structure that trust, there are certain protections from his creditors or from a divorcing spouse.

Another benefit of using a trust is to reduce estate taxes. If you have an estate tax exposure, there are certain ways you can structure the trust to protect those assets.

You can also control disposition among a mixed family. If your particular estate plan involves a remarriage and kids from one or more families, you can set up a trust so that each is treated, in some respect, fairly within that trust.

© 2014 Parsonage Vandenack Williams LLC

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What Happens If I Die Without a Will?

A Video FAQ with Ronald K. Parsonage.

The state provides an estate plan for you if you die without a will. In other words, there is a statute called Intestate Succession which specifically provides where the assets will go. It is the state’s best guess as to who should really receive the benefits. Ordinarily, most of them pass to the children and spouse; however, if you have a need for distribution to other people, the state will not take into consideration your wishes.

Additionally, you can do intestacy by using joint titling and beneficiary designations in order to cause an estate to pass both probate-free and tax-free; however, most people do not coordinate those activities very well.

© 2014 Parsonage Vandenack Williams LLC

For more information, contact us