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Better to Play It Safe: Proactive Estate Planning and Cognitive Impairment

Why Factoring Cognitive Impairment into Your Estate Plan is Critical

Most financially savvy individuals begin planning their estate when they’re in peak mental shape. The idea that this 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 the possibility of cognitive impairment in the future (and hoping it simply won’t happen) can leave a giant hole in your estate plan.

Expect the best, but plan for the worst

The reality is that an individual’s chances of experiencing some form of cognitive impairment rise with age. While it’s never certain whether cognitive impairment 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 cognitive impairment conditions, along with dementia and the much more common mild cognitive impairment (MCI), which is often a precursor to those more serious ailments.

As U.S. life expectancies increase, the chances of living with cognitive impairment increase as well — with at least 9.5 percent of Americans over 70 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 effective 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 Kalamazoo, MI, 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 should rest easy assuming there’s nothing more that needs doing in her estate plan… right?

Wrong. Forty years down the road, Ashley’s children realize her MCI is developing into Alzheimer’s. 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.

Save your family from obstacles and conundrums

Unfortunately, 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 make a profound difference for you and your family later on. At McDonald Law Firm, we can work together to ensure your estate plan is ready for whatever life throws your way. Give Andre O. McDonald, an experienced Howard County estate planning and long-term care planning attorney, a call today at (443) 741-1088 to find out how painless and cost-effective this process can be.

DISCLAIMER: THE INFORMATION POSTED ON THIS BLOG IS INTENDED FOR EDUCATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY AND IS NOT INTENDED TO CONVEY LEGAL OR TAX ADVICE.

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For help with estate planning, special needs planning, elder law or Veteran's Pension Planning needs throughout Howard, Montgomery, Prince George’s, Anne Arundel, and Baltimore County; and Baltimore City, contact McDonald Law Firm, LLC.

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