It has become more common to encounter clients whose lives are affected by a substance abuse problem in their family. As a trusted advisor to your client, you must be able to uncover a problem your client may be reluctant to disclose. When talking to your client, ask him or her to tell you about each of their children and listen carefully to the symptoms of substance abuse or addiction. Even if nothing is disclosed, ask if there are any drug or alcohol issues needing to be discussed regarding planning for said child.

Inevitably, an estate planning discussion will include disinheritance. Although this subject too is frequently discussed; it is rarely implemented. Parents still want to provide some sort of safety net for their children. Rather than disinheriting said child, a common solution is to establish a trust that either includes said child as a permissible beneficiary or is only for his or her benefit during his or her lifetime. The hard decision, however, is who will serve as trustee after both parents have passed away. Parents are often times reluctant to place that burden on their other children or other relatives. A common practice now is to choose a corporate trustee and give the other children or trusted friends or advisers the right to remove or replace that corporate trustee during the trust duration.

Planning for a beneficiary with a substance abuse problem is complex and can have consequences that affect the entire family. Keep in mind that the plan should also be flexible enough to contemplate the unknown circumstances that could occur in the future. Parents should revisit their plan every few years as circumstances change and evolve.