When Chronic Illness Strikes the Blended Family

 

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Blended families are families where one or both spouses have children by a previous marriage. Typically, parties want to provide for each other and also for their children of prior marriages. The situation becomes even more interesting when the children are “his, hers, and ours.” Estate planning for these blended families can be tricky in the best of times. However, more complex issues arise when the blended family faces chronic illness by one of the spouses. Cost of care for the disabled spouse may extend well beyond that spouse’s means. In determining Medicaid eligibility, Florida does not consider nuptial agreements, whether they were made before or after a marriage. The Veterans’ Administration also does not recognize nuptial agreements. The well spouse may end up at risk for the cost of the ill or disabled spouse’s high cost of care or consider the prospect of dissolving the marriage to protect his/her life savings. Appropriate planning can avoid these results.

Sometimes blended families avoid facing the reality of the situation because it is difficult to deal with the problems created by the various family factions. If the chronic illness is dementia, the family may wait so long that it is too late to make appropriate asset protection planning changes to documents. When this happens the family experiences greater stress (both financially and emotionally) as the nest egg is unnecessarily depleted.

Another issue critical to blended families is naming the appropriate person to make decisions in the event of incapacity. In a blended family situation, naming the appropriate person to make decisions not only means naming a person who is able to make good decisions, but who can also play the diplomat and peace-keeper. In a blended family situation this may mean naming a child of one of the spouses, but sometimes in these situations the best person may not be a child at all. It is important for the family to critically consider this issue, because naming a child without the necessary diplomatic aplomb can tear a family apart.
Sometimes problems in the blended family arise, not about financial decision making, but instead about health care decision making. I have seen many families resort to guardianship because the children are critical (sometimes justifiably) about the care that is being provided by the spouse. Not all problems can be avoided by planning, but the more a family discusses potential issues when chronic conditions first arise, the more likely the family will be able to weather the problems with relationships intact.

While having appropriate legal documents is a critical piece when planning for long term care, documents alone do not resolve the problems that families face when planning for chronic illness. The problem transcends the legal, financial and the medical realms. Appropriate counsel and advocacy in all of these realms provide peace of mind to families struggling with the long term care maze.

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