A large factor in the burgeoning number of older people in our population is the successful management of chronic conditions and diseases. Many chronic conditions and diseases are now, thankfully, routinely managed with regular medical care and pharmaceutical drugs. Some chronic diseases can adversely impact a person’s ability to make a living during the prime earning years of their lifetime, and may cause periods of physical and mental disability and have serious emotional consequences as well. Many people who are disabled as a result of chronic illnesses or conditions are not “seniors” and they face special estate planning challenges.
I recently had the opportunity to hear Martin Shenkman, a nationally recognized estate planning attorney, CPA and RV driver, speak to a professional group to which I belong. He had some very useful insights into legal, financial, medical and tax planning for those suffering from a chronic illness. Shenkman’s wife Patti (an M.D.) was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2006 and now he and his wife and their little dog Elvis (yes, he’s a chick magnet) spend some time traveling around in an airstream trailer so that Shenkman can deliver insightful and entertaining educational programs to professional planners (lawyers, CPAs, financial planners and insurance consultants) on tips for advising clients and their families who are living with chronic illnesses including: ALS; Alzheimer’s Disease; Parkinson’s Disease; COPD and others.
Shenkman’s article “Estate Planning for Clients with Chronic Illnesses” is available here. You can look at his numerous articles helpful for both consumers and professional planners here. I especially liked his “holistic” or multidisciplinary approach to planning for individuals and individuals relative to their unique family situations, and which addresses not only the legal issues but also financial, tax, health and lifestyle considerations of those facing chronic diseases and conditions.
In the legal context, chronic diseases and conditions can often impact a client’s capacity to hire an attorney, as well as the capacity to make a will or trust. This is problematic in some progressive diseases in particular, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, but also in MS or COPD, where flare-ups may implicate cognitive functioning. Parkinson’s may also involve certain forms of dementia, and where there is depression with any of these chronic diseases, it can sometimes be masked in other symptoms.
People facing these diseases may be more motivated to consider planning for their future and to take care of their family. Clients who are meeting with an attorney may want to make sure that their lawyer asks enough questions and that she or he listens carefully to responses. What can sometimes happen is that a detail that the client thinks is not important is indeed important from a legal planning perspective. Some elder law and estate planning attorneys are more knowledgeable about and sensitive to medical conditions and diseases and how they impact a person’s life. The average age of diagnosis for both Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s is 60 and over. Both Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s are progressive in nature – Alzheimer’s is a brain disease and Parkinson’s is a disease of the nervous system. Both of these diseases present challenges for persons interested in taking care of themselves and their families while they are living with the disease, so it is important to not wait until the opportunity for planning has passed. Both The Alzheimer’s Association at http://www.alz.org and the Parkinson Association of the Rockies at http://www.parkinsonrockies.org have helpful information for the public about legal issues for planning purposes. Taking an approach to plan for a progressive disease such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s can help people affected by these diseases maintain quality of life and dignity.