What Is ‘Broken Heart Syndrome’?

Research shows a widow’s or widower’s grief can have big effects on physical health, says Next Avenue’s recent article entitled “Broken Heart Syndrome: Illness After Loss.”

Think about George H.W. Bush becoming seriously ill after the death of his wife of 73 years, Barbara, and musician Johnny Cash dying in 2003, just four months after the death of his 73-year-old wife, June.

You probably know some couples married for more than 50 years who end up dying within hours, days, or weeks of each other, even if one spouse was relatively healthy when the first one died.

Scientists explain that grief suppresses the immune system, making it more likely for grieving people to get sick — ranging from a mild illness like a cold to something potentially life-threatening, such as a serious infection. It can also result in takotsubo cardiomyopathy, a condition known as “broken heart syndrome,” in which extreme stress causes part of the heart to temporarily enlarge and fail to pump well.

In 2002, a team of researchers coined the term “psychoneuroimmunology” to describe how psychological trauma can have a serious effect on one’s immunity.

This rare condition, Takotsubo, also called ‘broken heart syndrome,’ mimics a heart attack.

For decades, scientific studies have demonstrated a strong correlation between bereavement and a distinct reduction in the immune system.

In 1995, researchers demonstrated what has since become known as the “widowhood effect,” in which widowed spouses are more likely to die after losing their partner.

A 2012 study of widowed people born between 1910 and 1930 found that widowed men have a 30% increase in mortality over their expected rates after a wife dies.

Janet Lord, who led a British study on the topic, told The Telegraph, “There are a lot of anecdotes about couples who were married for forty years when one of them passes away and then the other dies a few days later. It seems there is a biological basis for this. Rather than dying of a broken heart, however, they are dying of a broken immune system. They usually get infections.”

Reference: Next Avenue (May 26, 2022) “Broken Heart Syndrome: Illness After Loss”

 

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What Is Better, a Trust or a Will?

Estate plans come in all sizes and shapes. One of the decisions in creating an estate plan is whether a trust should be part of your plan, as detailed in this recent article titled “Trust vs. Will: What They Share (And 6 Ways They are Different)” from Yahoo! Money. Both trusts and wills give control over how assets are distributed. However, there are differences.

A trust is a tool for asset protection during and after life, created by an estate planning attorney. When the trust is created, assets are transferred into the trust, which is a legal entity. If it’s a revocable trust, typically you are the grantor, trustee, and beneficiary. There are also other roles, like the successor trustee, who is the trustee if the primary is incapacitated and the beneficiary, the person who receives the assets. The trustee is a fiduciary and responsible for managing the assets for the best interest of the beneficiary.

There are many different types of trusts, but they mainly fall into two categories:

Revocable or living trusts allow the grantor full control of the trust. The trust assets are outside of the probate estate. Revocable trusts can be changed, assets may be added and beneficiaries can be changed. However, there’s no protection from creditors and no unique tax benefits.

Irrevocable living trusts transfer assets upon death without going through probate. They provide stronger asset protection. Assets in an irrevocable trust are not accessible to creditors and, depending on how they are set up, may place assets outside of the taxable estate.

There are also many specialized trusts. A Special Needs Trust is used to care for a person with special needs, while maintaining their government benefits. A spendthrift trust can be used to leave assets for people who aren’t capable (or interested) in managing funds responsibly. Trusts provide significantly more control over assets after death than wills. They may also be harder to contest after death, since they go into effect while you are living and may remain in effect for many years.

Wills are used to provide specific directions about how you want to distribute assets upon your death. The will goes through probate, where the court determines if the will is valid, if the executor is acceptable and then the will becomes part of the public record. Creditors can make claims against the estate, family members may challenge the will and depending upon where you live, it could take many months or several years to settle the estate.

How are trusts and wills different?

1—Trusts can be more complex than wills and require management. The will goes into effect upon your death, and you can change a will whenever you want. You also can change a trust whenever you want, but only if it is revocable.

2—Trusts go into effect immediately and they need to be funded, so you’ll have to transfer assets to the trust.

3—A trust is a separate legal entity, so assets are shielded from estate and inheritance taxes. Certain trusts do pay taxes, so speak with your estate planning attorney about how this may work for you.

4—Certain trusts put assets well beyond the reach of creditors. However, a trust may not be created solely for this purpose, since it could be deemed invalid by a court. However, in most cases, trusts work well to protect assets to pass them along to beneficiaries. A will offers no such protection, unless a “testamentary” trust is created under the will. This will created trust can operate exactly as an inheritance trust created for loved ones after you die and your revocable trust becomes irrevocable.

5—Planning for incapacity should be part of any estate plan. Once a trust is set up and funded, the assets immediately enjoy the protection by having a successor trustee to be in charge of assets if the grantor/trustee becomes incapacitated. A will only addresses what happens after you die, not what happens if you become too sick or are injured and can’t manage your affairs.

6—The trust is the winner when it comes to control over assets after death, if you want to avoid probate. You can instruct the trustee to distribute funds to beneficiaries only under certain conditions and terms. If you want beneficiaries to finish college, for instance, you can direct the trustee to distribute a certain amount of money only after the person completes an undergraduate degree. You can also use the money to pay for their college education.

For most people, a combination of a will and trust works to control assets, prepare for incapacity and, just as importantly, provide peace of mind.

Bottom line: estate planning is complicated, not a do-it-yourself project and should be done with the counsel of an experienced estate planning attorney.

Reference: Yahoo! Money (June 5, 2022) “Trust vs. Will: What They Share (And 6 Ways They are Different”

 

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Are Vitamin D and Dementia Connected?

A world-first study from the University of South Australia could stop dementia. New genetic research shows a direct link between dementia and a lack of vitamin D, reports Medical Xpress’ recent article entitled “Vitamin D deficiency directly linked to dementia.”

Investigating the link between vitamin D, neuroimaging features and the risk of dementia and stroke, the study found:

  • Low levels of vitamin D were linked to lower brain volumes and an increased risk of dementia and stroke
  • Genetic analyses supported a causal effect of vitamin D deficiency and dementia; and
  • In some populations, as much as 17% of dementia cases might be prevented by increasing everyone to normal levels of vitamin D (50 nmol/L).

Published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, the genetic study analyzed data from nearly 300,000 participants from the U.K. Biobank. They looked at the effect of low levels of vitamin D (25 nmol/L) and the risk of dementia and stroke. They used a measured variation in genes to examine the causal effect of a modifiable exposure on disease—were used to test for underlying causality for neuroimaging outcomes, dementia and stroke.

Senior investigator and Director of UniSA’s Australian Center for Precision Health, Professor Elina Hyppönen, commented that the findings are important for the prevention of dementia and appreciating the need to abolish vitamin D deficiency.

“Vitamin D is a hormone precursor that is increasingly recognized for widespread effects, including on brain health, but until now it has been very difficult to examine what would happen if we were able to prevent vitamin D deficiency,” Professor Hyppönen says.

The findings are incredibly significant given the high prevalence of dementia around the globe the professor added.

“Dementia is a progressive and debilitating disease that can devastate individuals and families alike,” Prof Hyppönen says. “If we’re able to change this reality through ensuring that none of us is severely vitamin D deficient, it would also have further benefits and we could change the health and well-being for thousands.”

“Most of us are likely to be OK, but for anyone who for whatever reason may not receive enough vitamin D from the sun, modifications to diet may not be enough and supplementation may well be needed.”

Reference: Medical Xpress June 14, 2022) “Vitamin D deficiency directly linked to dementia”

 

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