Estate Planning, Opioids and Addiction

Estate planning, opioids and addiction: Addiction is one of those common issues everyone thinks is uncommon.

But if it was talked about more, more people would realize addiction is a widespread illness, affecting many families. Before Covid-19, the opioid crisis was one of the worst epidemics to affect the U.S. Like Covid-19, there were outbreaks and hotspots. Unlike Covid-19, the opioid epidemic was brought about by unscrupulous doctors and pharmaceutical companies.

Below is an excerpt from a guest blog post by Mike Mastry, Esq. of Mastry Law in St. Petersburg, Florida. In it, he details how opioids and addiction are affecting families and attorneys as they document their estate planning.

Mike Mastry is an estate planning attorney located in St. Petersburg, Florida. Mike’s goal is to simplify the process of estate planning by crafting individualized plans that provide each client with peace of mind. He does this by maintaining a client centered practice that focuses on creating comprehensive estate plans that are tailored to fit each client’s unique circumstances.

Mike’s ideas are relevant for planning involving any kind of addiction – the kinds that are easier to see, like drugs and alcohol, as well as the kinds that aren’t – like gambling, sex, or porn.

All addictions, seen or unseen, hurt the addict and the people who love them. Having a good estate plan in place can’t take away the hurt, but it can hedge against making it worse.

Opioid Epidemic Now Impacting Estate Planning, by Mike Mastry, Esq.

“Estate planning often serves as a reflection of a family’s experiences. In this instance, estate planning is used to protect the family and individuals with substance abuse problems.

Estate planning attorneys hear all kinds of stories about bizarre family dynamics and difficult relatives. However, the national opioid epidemic is relatively new to the estate planning world. Sadly, it is likely here to stay.

The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review’s recent article, “Pittsburgh attorney sets up ‘opioid trusts’ for beneficiaries with addiction issues,” reports that the American Family Survey, commissioned annually by the Deseret News, found that 12% of families in 2017 said they had an opioid-addicted relative. Opioid overdoses nationally were the leading cause of death for people younger than 50, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2017.

Attorneys Getting Creative

The opioid epidemic has led some attorneys to get creative and establish what are being called “opioid trusts.” Some folks don’t want to leave anything outright to a child with a dependency issue, because of what can happen to the money.

Estate planning attorneys are regularly asked to create trusts for beneficiaries with intellectual disabilities, who are entitled to public-health benefits through Social Security or Medicaid and receive supplemental trust payments that add to those. However, the so-called opioid trust is somewhat different.

Parents may be paying for the child’s basic support needs. However, is that money going to buy drugs? If so, have they cut him or her off completely?

With an opioid trust, there’s no support to the child. This sounds cruel, but medical experts say it’s to get the child to embrace recovery. The goal is to get him into recovery and, eventually he might be able to stay clean long-term. An opioid trust is created to pay recovery-related expenses, such as rehabilitation bills, therapist payments and treatment bills. Optimally, the child gets a job. It’s this “tough love” that’s the only way this type of trust will work.

The money is never distributed directly to the beneficiary, nor is any property that could be easily converted into drug money. However, you can give them other, in-kind benefits, like the use of a car-but not the title to the car.

Naming a Trustee

Naming a trustee can be challenging in this kind of situation. This is a situation where a professional trustee, rather than a family member, may be a better choice. Achieva, a Pittsburgh-based organization, handles standard trust disbursements and has a team of social workers and counselors who work with trust beneficiaries.

An estate planning attorney will be able to help your family distribute assets through an estate plan that protects the family from the impact of addiction.

Reference: Pittsburgh Tribune-Review(August 21, 2018) “Pittsburgh attorney sets up ‘opioid trusts’ for beneficiaries with addiction issues”

Other Resources

For families struggling with addiction and alcoholism –,

For books addressing family dynamics with money, including enabling behaviors – see our Recommended Books page

Florida addictions counseling – or search for addictions counseling at the website of Psychology Today.

Holly Donaldson

Holly Donaldson, CFP® runs an hourly and fee-for-service financial planning practice virtually from her Tampa Bay, Florida office. She also works with clients throughout the U.S. (except Texas) interested in retirement and tax planning advice without product sales or investment management. Holly is the author of The Mindful Money Mentality: How to Find Balance in Your Financial Future (Porchview Publishing, 2013) and publisher of the award-winning monthly e-letter, "The View From the Porch."

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