2890 N. Main Street, Suite 206 • Walnut Creek, CA 94597

Family History of Debilitating Disease? Is Your Estate Plan Up to Date?


If you are over the age of 50, chances are that someone in your family or friend has been struck by a debilitating disease.  Some of the most debilitating diseases in the U.S. include rheumatoid arthritis, schizophrenia, muscular dystrophy, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), cystic fibrosis, Parkinson’s, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, Alzheimer’s and dementia.  Some of these conditions attack our physical well-being, leaving our minds intact. Others assail our mental abilities and leave our bodies intact.


The scientific and medical communities still do not know everything there is to know about these conditions. Some maladies travel in family bloodlines. Others strike randomly with no rhyme or reason. All of them have no regard for age as most of these conditions can invade very young people.


It is a fact that the U.S. population is living longer and people with debilitating diseases are growing at significant rates. These people face a number of demands that can take a sweeping toll on their health and finances. A person’s life can be completely altered in just a few short months as the disease progresses.

Recent studies suggest that 40% of older adults have not even thought about advance health care planning and as many as 90% have not written down one word about their own end of life care. It is also estimated that 25% of all elderly Americans lack the capacity to make medical decisions at the end of their own life.  This is why everyone should have an up to date estate plan or at least have medical and financial powers of attorney in place.

Some people today still think that a sickness (like Parkinson’s) somehow disqualifies them from estate planning or advance health care directives because of the onset of the condition. That is not true. The commencement of the condition is irrelevant. One can be in a debilitating situation yet still be competent to author estate planning documents. Legally speaking, a person is competent to make estate documents if that person understands what those documents are and their effects, the nature and extent of their own property and the names of the people named (or not named for disinheritance purposes) in those documents. It is only when a person does not comprehend those elements that competency may be lacking. Even a person having just been diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s disease or some other form of mental deterioration can be competent at that stage to make estate planning documents.

If there is a pattern of debilitating disease in one’s family, that is all the more reason to put an advance health care directive (aka medical power of attorney) in place. That way a person can have some say over their medical decisions even after their competency dwindles. A financial power of attorney, will, trust and related documents can be put into place at the same time.

What are some of the benefits of having an advance health care directive in place?

  • You ensure that your family, friends and doctors are aware of your health care preferences.
  • Your health care decisions are respected.
  • You alleviate stress, anxiety and depression – not only for you but also for your family and loved ones as well.
  • You take away the burden of having family members or loved ones making decisions that you are not rational enough to make.
  • You attain peace of mind.

With the addition of a complete estate plan (trust, will, power of attorney and other related documents) you then know that your plans for what you want to have happen will actually happen.

No one likes to think about being hit with a crippling medical condition but as with most things in life, advance planning can be critical. As John Lennon once sung: “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”