The quandary that I am in has been ongoing for over two years now, ever since I was diagnosed with cancer. My will needs updating and for a number of reasons procrastination has been an insurmountable hurdle for me even though I know that the quality of my life will be much improved if I can just deal with this and put it away. Alas I just move the old document from the kitchen table to the dining room table to a couple of other table tops and then repeat. Is part of my inability to complete this task due to the thought that if this loose end is tied up and finalized then I will be ready to die or is it because my personal situation befuddles and boggles my chemo addled brain? After reaching out to many others without achieving the ‘aha’ moment that might have opened the dam and paved the way to a resolution of my problem I thought … ‘maybe my cancer family has some pearls for me’. So my dear sisters and brothers I present to you my problem.
I have two sons born just 18 months apart. My first born was an amazingly gifted young person who knew the names of the Ministers of Parliament and the Prime Minister at the age of 18 months (Bwian Mulwoney). At age 6 or 7 he was reading Stephen King novels and at 9 could pick up a musical instrument and just play it. He had a photographic memory until things started to change when he was around 10 years old. By the time he was in his late teens he became floridly psychotic and was diagnosed as suffering from paranoid schizophrenia. A forensic study showed that he had potential for violence but I didn't need a study to be done to know that. An alien had invaded my son's body. His eyes were flat, lifeless, and he was not there. Once in a blue moon he would say or do something where I felt there was a .00001% chance that I might possibly see my son again, that he might return to his body. I had a thread of hope for this and kept myself very healthy both mentally and physically … running around 50 km per week, eating only the most nutritious food and taking regular vacations all with an eye to keeping myself in top form to be alert to any and all opportunities to be an effective advocate and parent for my ill son.
One time when I returned from one of my ‘no caregiver burnout here’ vacations something wonderful had happened. A miracle. After several forced hospitalizations and medications trials he had developed insight into the fact that he could benefit from taking medication. Since he had tried many of the older generation anti-psychotic meds he qualified for a newer medication that if it didn't kill him could be, and in fact was effective. He has been compliant with taking it and seeing a counsellor on a monthly basis ever since and for many years now. While he still has some deficits, including those of a social nature, mostly my wonderful son has returned to his body. Although he cannot/will not work (this disease is stress related) if you met him you would not likely know that he is ill. A true miracle.
In the darkest days my younger son was sadly neglected. As a teen without a present father figure and a mother who was pretty much not there mentally for him he was left to pretty much raise himself. Luckily today we are all in a rather happy state with all the normal issues, problems, joys, gifts and delights any family might have. So what is the problem you ask.
Well, as everyone of us here knows, life is not fair and it certainly hasn't been fair to my two children. What I would like to do is to make my will fair. How to do that is something I am too close to and cannot see the solution clearly. Do I let the younger one inherit and leave the older son with a trust? The older son sees that as me not thinking he is capable of managing money. He thinks they should each inherit equally. Currently he is on ODSP and if he has an inheritance that would be cancelled. If he spends all the money and loses his supports I worry that he might go off his meds, decompensate and become a street person. Or, what if he doesn't budget well and the money isn't enough to last his life? Would he navigate his way through the system to go back on ODSP? Am I giving him too little credit? Can he manage? He has shown that he manages his money very well however the counsellor I saw at the time of his original break recently recommended unreservedly that he should not inherit. She knew him, his disease and his personality so I attach great weight to her opinion. So … should I set them both up with a trust where they both receive the same amount annually? Is that fair to my younger son? They are more like competitor siblings than allies. My head is swimming.
That is a conundrum!
I have to redo my will too and it is making the same trips as yours from table to table. My problem is different in that I have no children and don’t have a clue what I want to do. I am thinking about having a chat with a lawyer to see if they can give me some insight on how to go about this. Have you talked to a lawyer re your options and best way to proceed?
A friend of mine has a trust set up from her father’s will. The trustees make more money than the recipients in her case. So there is that to think about too.
As far as the procrastinating is concerned……if something was to happen to you tomorrow, think about how your current will reads. If it’s not too far off of what you would like to do, then take your time thinking about this. If it would create a hot mess, then stop procrastinating and get some advice!
The other thing you want to avoid is someone contesting the will. It can take years to sort it out and lots of legal bills.
Hope you are able to get it all sorted soon.
@DMT Thank you very much for your reply. So glad you mentioned about administrative fees being prohibitive. It gave me an idea that I could perhaps approach a couple of nephews with the notion that they could administer the trust should that be the route I go. Little by little the problem will be solved as I collect tidbits of data here and there to be processed and distilled into a solution. Your input is much appreciated.
@LoveMyLife your story and your conundrum certainly resonate with me. I have an adult son who was hospitalized and diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia just before I was diagnosed with cancer. What you have dealt with sounds so like my own struggles over the years to reconcile the image of a scary, dangerous, and disturbed young man suffering from psychosis with the image of my formerly kind, smart and gentle natured son. Your description of “losing” him and not knowing if he would ever “return to his body” made me cry – I may never be over that pain even though my son, like yours, is now taking medication which works and he is somewhat back to his old self, albeit with a few deficits. You’re right, it does seem like a miracle to be very grateful for, but still, we are always waiting for the other shoe to drop. And in both cases the father is absent, and we, the mothers have cancer. There are concerns about the future.
When things were really bad for my son and I, my brother (who unfortunately lives in Norway) was the person I turned to for advice - about financial things, legal things, domestic things, you name it. He has a cool head and could see the big picture in most conundrums and come up with sensible solutions when I was far too stressed to think straight. I was so moved by your story and dilemma that I thought I would ask my brother what he would do if he were in your shoes. For what it’s worth, here’s what he said to me – I hope it helps a little:
“Yes, I can see how this would hit home for you as there are so many similarities to your own situation. Nobody can really tell her what she should do in her situation, but I can try to put what my logic would be into words.
Firstly, the key to the inheritance question is the fact that her schizophrenic son cannot or will not work. Even if he were able to earn a living while medicated there is no guarantee that he will stay on his meds in the future. This means that he is almost entirely dependent upon his inheritance to keep his living standard above the poverty level that he would have if he only had ODSP to live on. For this reason, he can never inherit directly because a lapse in his medication could lead to him losing his entire inheritance and leave him in group homes or on the street for the rest of his life. It is obvious that the only alternative is for this woman to will her schizophrenic son’s share of her estate to a Trust. That is her best hope for having him looked after in the best way possible.
The question is a bit more difficult with regards to her second son, but I don’t understand why she is in anguish about that. Nobody has the right to receive a lump sum inheritance that they have full control over and those that do very often lack the willpower to use that inheritance wisely. Her youngest son would be better off receiving an income stream spread over his lifetime in the same way as her older son would receive from his Trust. If either of her sons expresses a strong preference for receiving a lump sum rather than a steady income stream, that is a warning sign that they are likely to squander their lump sum inheritance and makes the argument for placing the funds in trust even stronger.
The problem with Trusts is that they are complicated, costly and create a lot of red tape. That is why most people do not bother with them. In this woman’s case she has no choice but to create a trust for her oldest son so if I were her, I would just make both sons equal beneficiaries of the same trust. That way it is perfectly fair. Both sons receive the same amount and both sons are protected from squandering their inheritance in a weak or psychotic moment. She should just do this as the safest most equitable solution and should not worry what either of her sons think about it. It is her money, after all, to do with as she pleases, and her sons should just be grateful that they get any form of inheritance.
Her sons should be quite happy with the structure of things and value the stability and security that comes from that steady income. Much preferrable to having a huge lump sum sitting in a bank account just a few keystrokes away. That would just add stress and the risk of coercion from others. So why should either of her sons be offended if she chooses to set up a trust for both?”