Recently a man called me with a question I often hear: "My mom just turned 70 and she doesn't have any estate planning done, but we've noticed her memory is not as good as it used to be. In fact, we are thinking about moving her in with us. What planning should we do now for her estate and for her long-term care?"

The answer depends on a lot of factors, but for this family it was not too late. The mother still had lucid periods lasting days or even whole weeks at a time. It was clear to me when I met her she could understand the situation and was capable of making informed decisions about her estate.

Another question posed by the financial advisors I work with: "My clients have a special needs child with severe autism. I am working with them on meeting their financial goals. Can you help them with their estate planning? We are concerned that their child may lose government benefits in the future."

The truth is that these issues are not far removed from our own households. How many financial advisors themselves are caring for elderly parents or special needs children? How many of your clients are caring for the elderly or the special needs young?

Look around, and you discover the odds are that a significant percentage of us will face some level of disability personally or in our close families at some point in our lives. And when a family deals with a mentally incapacitated member, it affects their financial planning and estate planning options in very specific ways. The parents of special needs children may have a difficult and complex task of planning for their child's basic needs even after the child is an adult and long after the parents have died.

I have confronted these same challenges myself both personally and professionally. Both my grandmother and father-in-law suffered from Alzheimer's, and I witnessed firsthand the ramifications of that disease for loved ones, their spouses and adult children caring for them. I am currently serving as the court-appointed conservator and guardian for an 83-year-old who suffers from both Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease. I have also helped others deal with these issues in my law practice for the past 12 years, working regularly with families that have special needs children suffering from a range of mild to severe mental or physical disabilities.

The Disabled Population
The U.S. Census Bureau provided staggering data a year ago indicating that 40.9% of adults over the age of 65 are legally disabled. As used by the bureau, the term "disability" means a long-lasting physical, mental or emotional condition that impedes one's ability to do normal, typical daily activities or even leave the home. This includes someone who has a limited ability to walk, bathe or dress. Consider also the percentage of adults ages 21 to 64 who are disabled (12.9%) or children ages 5 to 20 (6.5%), and we realize there is a significant population of people requiring a lot of care and another population of people responsible for giving it.

The Incapacitated Population
Besides disability, our aging population and special needs children may also suffer from various levels of incapacity. Generally, this means impairment due to mental illness, mental deficiency or physical disability. Those suffering from it are unable to communicate decisions about their own care or finances.

Over the past three years, WealthCounsel, an estate planning attorney membership organization, has queried lawyers about their estate planning practices. In 2007, a study by the organization indicated that 9% of an estate planning attorney's practice dealt with spouses who were terminally ill and 7% dealt with families who had a special needs member. The following year, the numbers had jumped, with 18% of the attorney's practice being devoted to incapacitated or ill spouses and 10% to families with special needs members. These figures are going to continue increasing with the aging baby boomer population, and understanding these issues will help you in your business.

The Effect On The Advisor
To properly address all the financial and legal issues presented by potential or actual disabilities, estate planning attorneys and financial advisors must work hand in hand, and their work must be intertwined. Though it is the attorney who helps a client decide who manages her financial affairs during her lifetime if she becomes disabled or incapacitated, it is the financial advisor who confronts critical options such as long-term health care, private insurance and other financial management issues. The attorney/advisor team will also help clients focus on their personal care-on their medical decisions, on where they want to reside and whether they want nursing care.

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