Downs Law Firm, P.C.

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The Impact of Addiction on Estate Planning

Families struggle with the damages created by alcohol or drug habits. Most families have had to work with a member or more with substance abuse issues. It is something that knows no boundary of age, gender or race. Now the leading cause of death of Americans under the age of 50 is now from opioid addiction and this is having an impact on estate planning, according to MarketWatch in “How to leave money to a family member with an addiction.” Addiction has been known to drive even good people to steal and lie to get money to support their habits. Parents of children are wracked by guilt and anger. The stories of families spending hundreds of thousands of dollars in an effort to help their children are growing in number—as are the number of families who exhaust their retirement savings paying for rehabilitation and related services. Trusted family advisors, including estate planning attorneys and financial advisors, find themselves working with families to protect the family finances and the well-being of their addicted family members. The fallout from addiction creates many secondary problems for families. Estate planning for a family grappling with addiction addresses many different issues, not just inheritance.  For starters, deciding whether someone has a drug or alcohol problem is itself often a source of great discord and disagreement. Substance abuse issues often run in families, and across generations. The discord can be a huge impediment to putting planning in place. Lump sum distributions or full bequests to an adult struggling with addiction can be deadly, if the person uses the funds to purchase large quantities of drugs. At the same time, writing someone out of the will completely and withdrawing all support, can be devastating to the addicted adult and the family. Creating a trust can help to protect assets and ensure that there is some degree of accountability in how the distributions are made. Incentive trusts, where a certain behavior or accomplishment markers are determined, can be used to encourage behaviors. This may mean that the addicted adult does not receive funds, until after passing a drug test, attending a certain number of treatment sessions or entering a residential rehabilitation program. Incentive trusts are part of a special area of estate planning. Therefore, it is necessary to work with an attorney who has experience with trusts and with incentive trusts. Ideally, the attorney who helps your family, will be one who is also familiar with the impact of addiction on families. Creating incentives for positive outcomes includes having consequences when the person fails to meet the terms of the trust. In this situation, a trustee who is extremely trustworthy and not prone to being manipulated is necessary. They will need to make sure the person adheres to the requirements and while they may be given certain levels of discretion, this person needs to be strong-willed enough to withstand an addict. Naming one sibling to be trustee over another is a choice many clients make, but one we

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