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Estate Planning (Wills and Trusts) and Disability

Posted on: August 17th, 2016
As poet Robert Burns mused centuries ago, 'The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry.' Despite thoughtful effort and a concerted strategy, you cannot prepare for every emergency. A car accident, sudden illness, workplace injury or chronic medical condition can force you to re-evaluate the core assumptions you used to plan your future and set up your legacy.

A 2015 report published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offered this sobering assessment: 'In 2013, approximately one in five U.S. adults reported any disability, with state-level prevalence of any disability ranging from 16.4% in Minnesota to 31.5% in Alabama.' The CDC also reported that 'annual disability-associated health care expenditures were estimated at nearly $400 billion in 2006, with over half attributable to costs related to non-independent living (e.g., institutional care, personal care services).'

Frustratingly, you can't turn back the clock. However, you can take meaningful actions to protect your legacy and estate in the wake of your newfound limitations. Here are some insights to that end:

Work with a qualified estate planning attorney to ensure that:

There's an authorized person to make financial and healthcare decisions for you if you become mentally or physically unable to do so yourself.

There's also an authorized person to manage your property, pay your bills, file your taxes and handle similar business if you're unable to do these tasks.

Your wishes about health care decisions, such as end of life care and do-not-resuscitate instructions, have been communicated in a legally valid and binding manner.

Mind this important distinction:

Be advised that 'disability' for legal purposes is different than 'disability' for financial planning purposes.

For example, disability for financial purposes might mean you can't work gainfully anymore because of cancer or a workplace injury. On the other hand, 'incapacity' in an estate planning context typically means that a person is no longer capable of making sound decisions, often due to systemic illness or injury.

In other words, you can be 'disabled' for financial/insurance purposes and be non-disabled for legal purposes. However, almost anyone who is disabled for legal purposes would also be considered disabled for financial purposes.

Either way, it's important for us to work together with your financial advisor to make sure you and your family are fully protected.

Take these actions on your own:

Pay attention to where your money is going as well as to your long term planning strategy. Your estate planning attorney can help you assess whether your current plans are still realistic and, if not, what alternative options you have.

Get the help you need from trusted professionals. Now is the time to tap your friends and family and network for assistance with the heavy lifting. No single advisor will have all the answers. But your team can work in concert to reduce the anxiety and uncertainty and keep you focused on what really matters.

Please reach out to us to assess your long term plans and documents and make sure you are as secure as possible in light of your new challenges.
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