The other day, I was asked by a doctor what are the top legal steps a Fairfax estate planning lawyer would advise patients to take after they have been diagnosed with cancer. The answer that I gave to him really applies to anyone that is diagnosed with a serious illness or life-threatening condition. As I explained to the doctor, there are four main areas of concern that patients should address when getting their affairs in order. Here is a brief outline of what we discussed.
1) Who will manage your finances?
When dealing with a serious illness like cancer, there may come a time where you are too sick to manage your financial affairs. This could be temporary, such as being unable to handle your bills following a particularly rough round of treatment, or long-term if your condition declines. In either scenario, you will want to legally appoint someone else that can speak for you and make decisions on your behalf if and when you are unable. A Fairfax Estate Planning lawyer can help you create a Power of Attorney that will give someone you trust the ability to handle a number of financial issues in your absence, including:
- Bill Payments and Banking
- Pension Issues
- Tax matters
- Real estate matters
- Government Benefit Claims (including Social Security Disability)
- Insurance Issues
2) Who will Manage Your Medical Care?
Just as you must name someone to oversee your financial affairs if you cannot speak for yourself, you will also need to legally appoint someone who can oversee your medical affairs as well. This person is known as the Health Care Agent, and may be be the same or a different person than whom you’ve selected to act as your Power of Attorney. When necessary, the health Care Agent will handle the day-to-day decision making regarding your medical care including (but not limited to):
- Medication administration
- Blood and blood products
- Diagnostic tests
- Long-term care (i.e. nursing home assistance, home health care)
- Hiring and firing medical personal
- Determining who can (and cannot) visit you during your hospital stay
- Getting court authorization to obtain or withhold treatment if your wishes are not honored by a doctor or other healthcare professionals
3) Create Instructions to Manage Your End-of-Life Care
Creating an Advance Directive (Living Will) allows you to indicate the type of care you would like during the course of your treatments, at the end of your life. The main point of this document is to guide your Health Care Agent and loved ones through the tough decisions they may face as your condition progresses. By providing these instructions of what type of treatment you do, or do not want in advance, you will take a great burden off of the shoulders of your distraught and grieving family.
4) Get Your Estate Plan in Order
Even if your diagnosis is not terminal, it’s still a wise idea to take a fresh look at your Estate Planning documents (or create these documents if you do not have them). Cancer is unpredictable and your health status can change rapidly. It’s important to ensure your legal affairs are in order to spare your family from additional burdens if your illness takes a turn for the worse and you ultimately pass away. When tackling your estate plan, there are a few key areas to pay close attention to:
- Make sure your beneficiaries listed on accounts such as life insurance policies or 401(k)’s are still those you want to receive your property.
- Make sure the bequests are the correct amounts or percentages.
- Make sure the Executor of your estate is still the person you want to act for you.
- Make sure you have designated a Guardian for your minor children, if you have any.
- Make sure you have considered having a Special Needs Trust prepared if you have a child with special needs.
- If you have online accounts, you can include what you want to happen to those digital accounts as part of your estate plan.
If you have received a diagnosis of cancer and have additional questions about how to get your legal affairs in order, please feel free to contact the law office of Sheri R. Abrams at (571) 328-5795 to schedule an appointment.