6 Succession Planning Strategies for Family Members

Patient Expert

The burden falls on me to settle my parents' affairs even though I was diagnosed with schizophrenia when I was 22. My father is 80 and my mother is 77.

Too often, individuals who were diagnosed with schizophrenia in the 1970s and 1980s were shunted into day programs that were little more than babysitting services. A lot of us are in our sixties and seventies now and still depend on our parents for support and assistance.

Three years ago I wrote at HealthCentral about geriatric psychiatry. I've also written about developing self-reliance so that you can function on your own.

Since then, I want to revisit this pressing need of parents to do succession planning so that their loved ones are taken care of after the parents die.

Six strategies for transitioning your loved one into independent living:

  • Establish a special needs trust as soon as you realize your loved one will have to collect a government disability check the rest of their life.
  • Make the goal of finding your loved one suitable independent living by the time you're 60. By independent, this can be a reputable group home or well-managed supportive housing with a case manager to help your loved one. An idea: Have your loved one live in the group home Monday to Friday and have them stay with you on the weekends.

  • While your loved one lives with you, have them cook and clean, do laundry, and help shop for groceries. Get them involved in household management.

  • Encourage your loved one to do things people their age would do who don't have mental illnesses: go to a coffeehouse, see a movie, meet friends at a diner for lunch.

  • Create a Tax-Free Savings Account if your loved one was eligible for SSI before they turned 26. This fund will help them pay for better healthcare and mental healthcare after you're gone.

  • If you're in a position to afford this, research how you can buy property for your loved one to to live in now or after you're gone. Talk with an attorney about the kind of legal structure and requirements you might have to put in place so your loved one can live in their own home while collecting government benefits. Parents have done this for their son or daughter living with schizophrenia.

Things to remember:

Call your local NAMI to see if they offer an information session on estate planning. NAMI-Staten Island in New York City routinely has an attorney come in and talk to its members about this. Dial (800) 950-6264 to find the name and phone number of your local chapter.

Local NAMI chapters have family support meetings and information meetings
for family members who have loved ones with mental illnesses. You're not alone.
Others have been in your shoes and have been down this road before you so you
can get advice from them as you create your own succession plan.

HealthCentral links on how to help your loved one gain independence while
you're alive:

Social skills training to help your loved one set and achieve goals
Cognitive enhancement therapy to help your loved one function better
Finding rental or supportive housing

Searching for housing and moving in

How your loved one can own their own home