With the turn of the century, a light now shines on mental health. Still, many people are not accustomed or even comfortable discussing their mental health with their friends or family. There is a lingering perception that difficulties with mental health and struggles with related diagnoses are somehow the fault of the afflicted. Western society suggests avoidance of uncomfortable feelings and so we, as individuals, build walls in response to protect ourselves (or so we think). Consider this short writing an opportunity to let the walls down.
As we age, we often must consider critical life decisions and significant milestones that we never would have contemplated in our earlier years. Do I have my affairs in order? What happens to me in the case of an accident, illness, or injury? What about my spouse or children? What happens if I suddenly passed away? Am I leaving behind a mess for others to clean up?
What about the legal implications of starting a new job or career, getting married or divorced, having children, going to college, or buying a home? While some folks have the good fortune of newfound wealth at a young age, most people ultimately build their wealth over the course of their lifetimes and begin to consider protective measures somewhere in the middle. So, what makes the most sense? And where does mental health fit in?
As I’ve said time and time again, there is no “one size fits all” for estate planning. It is a highly individualized conversation that considers various factors and client goals. The earlier you begin planning, the better. That said, the diagnosis of a mental illness can often be the catalyst for beginning that very same planning. However, this can be a double-edged sword. For instance, what if it is too late? How will you know?
As a general matter, the diagnosis of a mental illness is not dispositive on the issue of capacity. In other words, just because you have been diagnosed, does not necessarily mean you are prohibited from engaging in estate planning. It is not the fact that you have been diagnosed that is the deciding factor, but rather, the degree to which you are affected by the underlying diagnosis.
For example, what if you are one of the hundreds of thousands of people recently diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease? Alzheimer’s Disease is one of the most debilitating and disabling afflictions commonly found among the elderly and is often progressive in nature. It is known as a “slow killer.” To that end, Alzheimer’s Disease is often accompanied by dementia related symptoms. Gaps in memory, confusion, difficulty with abstract thinking, etc. So, does that mean, if you have been diagnosed with that kind of disease, that it is too late to do any planning? In short, it depends. It depends on many different factors, the most important of which should be discussed with competent legal counsel.
The conversation does not stop at Alzheimer’s Disease either. Depression, anxiety, and a number of other various disorders fall under the umbrella of mental health. And while their presence serves as the catalyst to begin planning for some, they act as planning deterrents for others. The point is, do not let the involuntary override the voluntary. Take control of your life now, or risk moving past the point of being able to manifest your own will into existence.
That said, early planning leads to goal satisfaction. We often watch professional athletes deliver stunning results and make unbelievable plays on television. The untrained eye might ask, how in the world they could possibly do that!? To the learned, there is a realization that it is merely a product of proper planning and preparation. Practice, practice, practice. By the time gameday hits, they’ve already been through the motions a hundred times and relived it in their head a hundred more.
The same principles can be applied to your life and your plan moving forward. Whether you are facing a recent or current diagnosis, or whether you’re looking toward the future, I encourage you to consider the value of planning. If there is a diagnosis in place, it is all the more important that you consider consulting with an attorney to understand your rights and what options may be available.
Please do not hesitate to contact us directly at 704-749-9244 or visit us at www.mcelderlaw.com to schedule your free consultation today. We welcome the opportunity to serve you.
Estate Planning & Elder Law attorney