Addiction is a huge problem in Canada. How big? Between January 2016 and June  2020, there were more than 17,602 apparent opioid-related deaths in Canada, and this represents only a fraction of the overall problem of opioid addiction.

When you add an addiction to other drugs, as well as other types of addiction (e.g. gambling), the pervasiveness of this problem starts to become painfully clear.

Amid this enormously complex social dilemma, one of the heartbreaking challenges that families face is how to manage their finances when a family member is suffering from an addiction.

In this article, we shed light on this sensitive topic and highlight some strategies that may help with managing this situation.

Starting with open and honest communication

One of the biggest challenges related to addiction is that it tends to live in the shadows. The stigma surrounding addiction often silences the very people who are most in need of help, whether that’s the person with the addiction or their family and friends.

A key to overcoming this stigma is the creation of safe spaces for honest discussions. No judgment, no shame – just open conversations.

Some grandparents are becoming parents again. They have taken on the responsibility because the kids are no longer around ― they have overdosed, they have run away, or they are not fit. Their retirement plan is all of a sudden destroyed.  All of a sudden, they have to pay for college, and the cost of college is a pretty big shock compared to when their kids were growing up. When we look at increased withdrawals or spending habits, or unexplained lifestyle changes, one can see they are not thinking clearly, that their judgment is cloudy. They’ve got a lot of other things going on.

Given the financial implications that addiction can have on a family, financial advisors can play a role in having these difficult conversations. Sometimes there are financial red flags such as unusual withdrawals that can alert us to a possible problem; other times it might be just a feeling that something in the family dynamic is a bit off.

Either way, we can help by gently probing for answers and offering thoughtful support. Although addressing the actual addiction goes well beyond our scope of training or licensing, we may be able to recommend appropriate professionals and resources.

Mitigating harm with practical solutions

One area where we can provide direct assistance is in helping families manage their finances in a way that can mitigate the harmful impact of addiction.

For example, consider a family with a teenager who is struggling with addiction. If this teenager is set to receive a large inheritance upon reaching the age of majority, there can be serious concerns about what may happen if they suddenly have access to a large sum of money.

In this case, there are ways for the family to manage the disbursement of this money in a controlled way, including but not limited to:

  • Trusts – Trusts can be useful as a means of managing assets on behalf of an individual with an addiction and controlling the flow of money to them. While a family member can serve as the trustee who manages the trust, this can lead to tension in the family if the trustee has to make contentious decisions. Appointing a corporate trustee is sometimes a better alternative as this can help to separate family relationships from trust business.

  • Annuities – Annuities are another option for controlling the disbursement of money to a family member with an addiction by setting up fixed annual payments. Although they are less versatile than trusts, annuities can be more cost-effective.

 

As every family has unique circumstances and financial needs, we can work with them to understand the challenges they are facing and propose a customized strategy to protect their financial well-being while minimizing harm.

Getting help from a trusted advisor

Across Canada, hundreds of thousands of families grapple every day with the stress and anguish of seeing a family member suffering from addiction.

What’s crucial for these families to understand is that they are not alone and that help is available. Updating a trusted advisor about addiction in the family may involve uncomfortable conversations, but it can also be the catalyst that leads to positive changes and eventual solutions.

InvestmentNews did a survey in which 36% of the advisors who were polled said that their clients have been impacted by the opioid epidemic. Let me tell you why that number is very low and underreported: Clients are not telling their advisors that they are going through an issue. Going through addiction and substance abuse is so full of shame from the stigma. The only way to tackle a problem as pervasive as addiction is to work together. So let’s start the conversation.