Estate Planning & Late in Life Medical Challenges

Getting older comes with worries about physical and mental health, and at some point (sooner, rather than later) we all need to plan for our later years. While most people think estate planning is deciding what to do with your belongings after your death, the most important component of estate planning is actually how to handle your matters in the later years of your life. This is especially true in cases of dementia and other degenerative diseases.

Estate Planning Concerns for Alzheimer’s and Dementia Patients

Dementia, Alzheimer’s, and related illness are typically degenerative, meaning they worsen slowly over time. This does not just take a huge emotional tax on the patient and family members, but there is a major financial toll as well. It is important to create an estate plan that provides not only for the medical expenses attendant with these diseases, but also the quality of life expenses which are inevitable.

Early Planning is Critical

It is crucial to arrange estate planning and other provisions as soon as you suspect that you or a family member is developing Alzheimer’s, dementia, or a related illness. You just cannot know how quickly the mental capacity of the person suffering will decline, and for the wishes of the patient to be honored, mental capacity at the time the estate plan was executed cannot be in question. To ensure you or your loved one has a say in the future, it is therefore imperative to get started sooner rather than later.

Powers of Attorney

Some of the most important decisions that need to be made are those related to the medical treatment of the patient in the future. A healthcare power of attorney, or healthcare proxy, needs to be drafted, and the patient will need to designate a trusted person to make future medical decisions, when the patient is no longer able to do so. Choosing someone in advance helps avoid costly future guardianship proceedings.

Protecting financial assets is another major concern facing dementia and Alzheimer’s patients in Iowa. The mental progression of these conditions is usually faster than the physical deterioration, meaning specialized care might be required long into the future. This can deplete all existing finances, and proper plans must be put in place to prevent a possible inheritance from being wiped out. You will also need to designate a trustworthy person to hold a financial power of attorney, for the same reasons you need a healthcare proxy. The two roles can be filled by different people; someone you trust to make your future financial decisions does not have to be the same person you trust to make your future health decisions.

Guardianship and Conservatorship

If you do not have an estate plan in place naming who you want to have decision making authority for your future medical and financial planning, then you may be facing a situation where guardianship or conservatorship is required. Guardianship and conservatorship are the outcome of court cases which arrange for a person or a company to make your decisions.

In a guardianship, a person or corporation is appointed by the court to act as a “guardian” and make personal decisions for the “ward.” In a conservatorship, a person or corporation is appointed by the court to act as “conservator” of the estate and make decisions about the assets of the “ward.” In other words, a guardianship is the court-appointed equivalent of a health care power of attorney, and a conservatorship is the court-appointed equivalent of a financial power of attorney.

Whitaker Hagenow & Gustoff Can Help

Many of our estate planning attorneys not only maintain positions of trust in the Iowa legislature and government, but also have thriving estate planning practices in Cedar Rapids and Des Moines. Our skilled estate planning attorneys understand how frightening, stressful, and gloomy issues relating to planning for dementia and Alzheimer’s are to you and your loved ones. We will help you plan for a time when you can no longer advocate for yourself, and do so with empathy. Call or email us today for an initial consultation.


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