While many people prioritize planning for their financial future, most do not plan for a future that includes mental incapacity or cognitive impairment, such as dementia, Alzheimer’s, or other mental illness. The idea that people’s mental capacities might change at some point in the distant future is an unpleasant one, and they would rather go about their estate planning as if they’ll be as sharp as a tack late into their golden years. Unfortunately, this common approach of ignoring a potential problem and hoping it simply won’t happen can leave a giant hole in your estate plan. Read on to find out how this common hole can be more easily filled than you might think.
Expect the best, but plan for the worst
The reality is that an individual’s chances of experiencing some form of cognitive impairment rises with age. While it’s never certain whether dementia will occur, smart estate planning means factoring it in as a very real possibility.
As the huge baby boomer generation transitions from the workforce and begins to make their way into retirement, cases of Alzheimer’s are expected to spike from the current 5.1 million to 13.2 million as soon as 2050. Alzheimer’s is just one of several causes of dementia, and usually begins with the much more common mild cognitive impairment, or MCI.
As U.S. life expectancies increase, the chances of living with dementia increase as well — with between 5% and 7% of adults over the age of 60 experiencing it in one form or another.
No matter your age or family history, cognitive impairment can affect anyone, although it’s widely accepted to affect mostly older adults. As you implement or revise your estate plan, it is well worth the effort to plan for this potential. Luckily, estate planning attorneys have developed good solutions to handle this circumstance and can help guide you on the best way to protect yourself and your family.
An easily-avoidable estate planning mistake
Consider Ashley’s story. A successful real estate agent with a stellar career in her hometown of Littleton, Colorado, Ashley begins planning her estate in her mid-thirties.
She partners with an estate planning attorney, and together they draft a revocable living trust with Ashley’s preferred beneficiaries and charities in mind, figure out guardianship for her two sons in case she and her husband pass suddenly, and settle on an appropriate beneficiary for her life insurance policy. Now that she knows where her assets will go after her death, Ashley rests easy assuming there’s nothing more that needs doing in her estate plan.
Preserve your estate from being exhausted by dementia care
But forty years down the road, Ashley’s children realize her MCI is developing into dementia. Although she’s occasionally visited with her attorney to make adjustments to her plan, she never added any provisions for how she wanted her children and other guardians to handle a situation like this. Here’s where things get complicated.
Ashley did not work with her estate planning attorney to put disability provisions into her trust and never worked with an insurance professional to purchase adequate income insurance or long-term care insurance. The care she requires to live her best life possible with cognitive impairment doesn’t come cheap. Those mounting care costs will likely quickly erode Ashley’s estate. As a result, her estate plan may no longer work as intended, since it no longer lines up with her actual asset portfolio.
But since Ashley does not have the ability to rework her estate plan in her current mental state, her family is left with the burden of figuring out what to do while navigating a complex and bureaucratic legal system in the guardianship or conservatorship court. No one in the family really knows what Ashley’s wishes are regarding both serious medical decisions and financial changes. All Ashley’s family wants is to see her enjoying her remaining years in peace and security, but they are now tasked with using guesswork to make difficult choices on her behalf while a guardianship or conservatorship court watches every move.
Give us a call today
Factoring the potential for cognitive impairment into your estate plan doesn’t have to be a headache. In fact, a little effort now by legally designating who you want to be in charge and what you want them to do can have a wonderful impact on you and your family later on. We can work together to ensure your estate plan is ready for whatever life throws your way. Give us a call today to find out how painless and cost-effective this process can be.