How to Help Family Members in Need


These days there are so many people out there who are struggling with a substance-abuse problem, or living on the streets, or suffering from mental disability – or all three simultaneously. Many families want to assist family members who are struggling like that, but families are unsure about how to offer that assistance, given that money might hurt more than help. Especially inheritances, which can come in one lump sum, could be squandered on self-destructive behavior or exploited by street “friends.”

If you have a family member who is facing these kinds of challenges, please consider consulting with us, or another good estate planning attorney, immediately. There are a number of ways to provide money or an inheritance to help your loved one but still to protect her from unwise spending. 

A trust, or a will that contains trust provisions within it, can appoint a trusted person to manage the money for your family member’s benefit. Those documents can detail permissible spending purposes, treatment options, and provide a schedule for how often money is to be released. You can also earmark funds for a professional caregiver to manage your family member’s recovery, with incentives to encourage a healthier way to live.

Delay is not a good idea, though. If you leave behind no will or trust, a court must follow the law of your state rather than honor your wishes. That would likely mean your family member would inherit with no restrictions. Or, if your will or trust doesn’t contain protective provisions, the result might be just as bad. If you have estate planning documents, check whether you did them within five years. If longer ago than that, your documents may be out of date. Call us, or another attorney with estate planning expertise, to ensure that your plan is properly set up to care for your at-risk family member. 

We would also be glad to help you write your own letter of instruction, in which you explain your wishes simply and in your own words. This letter can also include important information to guide whomever you have named to be your executor or trustee. The letter should inform those people as to where you keep important papers like birth certificates, financial records, and passwords – but be careful to store this document safely because it contains confidential information.

It would also be great to have a heart-to-heart conversation with the at-risk family member, if that’s at all possible. Families who make peace with each other build fonder family memories. We lawyers love to see that happen.

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