Sally sat in the chair, her mind reeling. It couldn’t be true. Sure, she’d been having some problems, which was why she had gone to the doctor’s office. If she was honest with herself, she’d admit that she’d been putting it off for awhile. Even so, the news still came as a shock.

Disbelief quickly moved to panic. There were so many things she hadn’t done, so many things that needed to be done, and the sand was now running through the hourglass. What was she going to do?

When faced with a diagnosis of dementia or a terminal illness, there are many things that need to be done. Family and friends need to be told, and care arrangements have to be made. It would be very easy to put off creating or updating your estate plan in the face of these seemingly more urgent tasks. It would also be the wrong choice.

With a terminal illness, your health is declining rapidly. You may not have the energy to work on your will and trust later; towards the end, you may not even have the ability. You also don’t know when the end will come, even with a terminal diagnosis. I had a friend whose father was diagnosed with Stage IV cancer. He told everyone that as soon as the whole family was together, he was going to go over the finances and the locations of all his important accounts and documents. He died of a pulmonary embolism the next day, shortly before his daughter’s plane touched down.

With dementia, your ability to think and process is declining, but the rate of decline will differ from person to person. The problem here is that, as soon as the word “dementia” is raised, your ability to create or update your estate plan will be called into question. Accusations of undue influence could be raised against the people taking care of you. If your estate plan is litigated in court, your team will have a harder time proving that you had the ability to make the changes you did.

Which leads us back to the question: What should you do when diagnosed with dementia or a terminal illness? While you certainly shouldn’t neglect notifying loved ones and arranging for your care, your estate plan should still be high on your list. You want to complete it as soon as possible, while you have the energy and mental ability to do so. Don’t put it off until the last minute; that last minute can pass you by while you’re busy with other things.

If you need help reviewing, updating or creating your estate plan, you are welcome to email me at