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Estate planning when a loved one is addicted

Many people in California have loved ones who are struggling with addictions. People often want to leave behind bequests to their family members, but wonder how to do so in a way that is responsible when the recipient has a substance use disorder. This question is increasingly common, especially as the opioid crisis has spread across the United States. In 2016 alone, over 42,000 people died as a result of opiate use, five times the death rate in 1999. Addiction can lead to difficult relationships and dangerous, even criminal, behavior, but many people love and want to support their addicted loved ones.

When they are planning their estates, people may want to leave assets to a family member with an addiction but also exercise some controls. These controls are not intended only to protect the financial assets themselves, but also to encourage the recipient to seek treatment. In fact, estate planning can provide mechanisms that help to protect vulnerable adults and provide support for addicted people. A simple lump sum distribution of funds can even be deadly, leading to an overdose or exploitation.

Trusts are designed to provide a greater level of customization and control. For example, an incentive trust can provide distributions provided that a loved one attends a treatment program or complies with drug tests. However, given the probability of relapse, most people will want to write these trusts flexibly enough to prevent their loved one from becoming destitute.

An estate planning attorney can provide critical guidance and experience throughout the process, helping people to draft trusts that are clear yet flexible. An attorney can also provide advice on the types of terms that can be included to provide the clearest safeguards as well as the agreements needed from the beneficiary in order for the incentives to operate as planned.

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