July 1st, 2019 by Craig Meadows, Founder of Surviving Day One
Being diagnosed with a terminal illness is one of the most devastating pieces of news someone can receive. It’s completely natural for strong emotions to take over during this time, as well as for practical matters to fade into the background. However, there are many arrangements and practicalities that, if not addressed, will cause further difficulty and pain to your family after passing. In this article, we’ll discuss some of the most important factors to consider. For specific information regarding estate planning in California, check with your attorney or visit the state’s Department of Justice website.
Settling Your Assets
You probably know that you need to write a will if you don’t already have one, but this can be a daunting task for someone with no legal knowledge. There are many guides available online to help you through the process, like this one which explains what to include, what to avoid, and the different resources available to help you nail the format.
A simple option for transferring your money is creating a payable-on-death account. This allows you to bypass probate court by simply agreeing to transfer a bank account directly to a family member upon your death. However, according to the Balance, a POD account alone is not usually enough for effective estate planning. Chances are, you will need a last will and testament for more complex assets.
Hopefully, you will have invested in life insurance before your diagnosis in order to protect your family’s financial future. However, there are forms of insurance that can help support your family even after you have been diagnosed with a terminal illness.
For example, burial insurance can help cover funeral costs, but it can also be used for things like paying outstanding debts and lingering medical bills. This is a smaller payout than what regular life insurance will provide, but it can be a significant help for your loved ones.
Power Of Attorney
If there is a chance that your illness will at some point leave you incapacitated or unable to make decisions for yourself, you need to sign a power of attorney. There are many types of POA, not all of which may be relevant to you. In particular, you may want to look into healthcare power of attorney, which gives a loved one the right to make medical decisions on your behalf, and a durable power of attorney, which allows the POA to remain in place for longer.
Make sure your family knows your preferences for end-of-life care. Setting out your expectations as early as possible means that there can be no confusion, and prevents you from having the conversation at the hardest possible moment. The Conversation Project is an amazing resource that aims to facilitate the conversation about end-of-life care between loved ones — check out their conversation starter kit to open up an honest discussion.
In particular, you will need to fill out an advanced directive, also known as a living will. This is the document that clearly outlines your wishes for end-of-life care. These vary by state — you can download your state’s form by clicking here.
Estate Planning Attorney
While you can write your last will and testament and could simply fill out a living will by yourself, but that isn’t usually the best course of action. For example, if you have considerable assets, like real estate or a large retirement account, you are probably better off creating a living trust than a will to help avoid probate costs. For obvious reasons, it is recommended to leave the management of these documents to an estate planning attorney. This has to be someone you trust completely, so do your research on how to choose the best one. Ask for recommendations, read reviews, talk to several lawyers, and contact the state bar association to verify the lawyer’s track record.
These practical matters can seem distant or even unimportant when you are dealing with the emotional upheaval of a terminal illness diagnosis. However, the earlier you address them, the easier the transition will be for both you and your family. Facing these issues head-on not only ensures that your wishes are known and respected, but it allows you to focus on making the most of your remaining time with your loved ones.
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