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Mental illness a barrier to some in the creation of estate plans

Last week we discussed a study that found African Americans were less likely to have certain estate planning documents in some situations. Specifically, they were less likely to have advance directives or living wills when they were residents of a nursing home or recipients of home health care. Another recent study found that those with a serious mental illness also represent a group of people less likely to have these important documents.

The study was published in the January issue of Psychiatric Services, a journal put out by the American Psychiatric Association. The study looked at more than 13,500 nursing home residents in nearly 1,200 different nursing homes and found that those with a mental illness were nearly 25% less likely to have drafted some of the common estate planning documents concerning end-of-life care.

In particular, the study looked at living wills, do-not-resuscitate order, do-not hospitalize orders, and documents concerning the long-term use of life support devices such as ventilators and feeding tubes. The results of the study showed that those with a serious mental illness such as schizophrenia or bi-polar disorder were less likely to have each one of those types of documents when compared against those without a mental illness.

Researchers believe that some of this disparity might be due to the lack of training or inability for nursing home staff to deal with mental illnesses. Since those with these serious mental illnesses seems even more likely to become incapacitated or incompetent to make necessary medical decisions, the need for such documents is even greater in this group.

If you are someone you know has not created any of these important estate planning documents, it may be worth talking to an experienced estate planner to go over the basics and start considering what sort of plans you might want to make for the future.

Source: Medical News Today, People with mental illness less likely to have medical advance care directives, 1/5/11

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