Mental disorders and depression are on many people’s minds this week following the sad news of actor/comedian Robin Williams’ apparent suicide. According to many news reports, he has struggled with severe depression and alcohol abuse for many years. Untreated mental illness and substance abuse are not just individual ailments. Family and friends are often impacted. If you or a loved one are struggling with mental illness or substance abuse, the law provides ways to protect you, your family and your assets.
1. Tennessee’s conservatorship law allows an individual to seek court protection for oneself or a loved one. The Court is authorized to remove all rights over your person and property or, simply, very limited individual rights – like managing your liquid bank accounts, for example. If someone with a substance abuse problem needs their ability to manage their finances removed or limit their ability to make mental health care decisions for a temporary period while seeking treatment, Tennessee law would allow for that very limited conservatorship action. Why would seeking Court protection better serve some individuals versus a simple power of attorney? Because a power of attorney is revocable. A Court proceeding would restrict the autonomous revocability of a power of attorney and provide a layer of assurance that the person in distress does not, for whatever reason, back out of treatment and to irreversible damage to their financial stability or themselves.
2. Third party trusts can be useful tools for managing the assets of an individual who tends to reverse course. As stated above, powers of attorney are revocable. A principal who gives you authority to help them can take it away.Third party irrevocable trusts can manage their assets and once funded, the distressed individual has lost the ability to control those assets. This can be done discretely without the intrusion of a Court conservatorship proceeding.
3. If you have a beneficiary of your estate who has struggled with substance abuse or mental illness, you will want to discuss the use of a trust for that individual with your estate planning attorney.