One of the side effects of age is that it can cause mental instability. This doesn’t always mean a TV movie scenario where the mentally unstable person is wreaking havoc, but it can involve forgetfulness and an inability to think clearly. Every state’s law is different, and this article is not a definitive statement on the law. If you are mentally unstable but still alive, your wealth does not disappear. Here is an overview of the impact of mental instability on your estate.
Defining A Lack of Capacity
Needless to say, garden variety depression or even a touch of old age forgetfulness isn’t going to ring the alarm bells. Mental deficiency, to be actionable, requires you to have a lack of capacity, whether that is due to age or insanity. Insanity is a term that seems harsh and antiquated in today’s more enlightened society, but the term is still used by courts to describe an individual that cannot conduct his affairs because they cannot distinguish fantasy from reality or have a similar psychosis precluding them from functioning.
Age is a more common way to lose capacity. If you have dementia or Alzheimer’s and are unable to conduct your affairs because of the effect the diseases have on your mind, you might be deemed incapacitated.
The goal of the law is to protect incapacitated people, not harm them. The law recognizes that mentally incapacitated people, as with physically incapacitated people, are at a heightened risk for exploitation. Here are ways to protect your wealth before incapacitation strikes:
Appoint a POA
A Power of Attorney (POA) is someone that will manage your financial and/or healthcare decisions in your name when you are too incapacitated to make these decisions yourself. A POA steps in and acts in a protective mode, behaving as you would behave if you were able to function at capacity. Consult an estate planning attorney to fill out the paperwork to appoint your POA. They do not have to be a family member. Grant POA status to someone who is responsible, level-headed, and can be trusted to act in your best interests when making financial and healthcare decisions.
Don’t Put Assets in Your Kids’ Names
Another mistake that is easy to make is to put property in your kids’ names. You may think that this will keep the property safe. After all, it’s your kids, so you can trust them. However persuasive that line of reasoning may be, it is not a good idea. If your kid gets sued, divorced, dies, or has something equally unfortunate happen to them, that asset will be at risk and you may lose it. Much as you may trust your kids, external events can happen that may risk your assets and cause you to lose them permanently.
Consider a Revocable Living Trust
The better idea is a revocable living trust. This instrument can have one or more of your kids as co-trustees. You can set up the trust so that you still make the decisions as to management and use, while your kids get financial statements and the ability to interject if they feel like you are not making sound decisions (which is a risk when incapacitated). There are protective steps your co-trustee can take if they feel like your mental state is causing you to make bad financial decisions. An attorney can explain more in detail about how a revocable trust can apply to your situation.
Get a Lawyer
Finally, get a lawyer. All of the above points are valid and necessary to preserving financial health, but they require professional help to accomplish. An attorney is the best person for the job.
The last point on this list is perhaps the most important. Consult an estate planning attorney to ensure you are protecting yourself properly. We don’t know what the future holds, but we do know what we do not want it to hold: financial ruin. Mental incapacity can happen quickly or gradually, but, either way, it certainly does not mean you have to be harmed financially. The law can protect you.