Once the initial shock of a bad diagnosis has passed, says CNBC in a recent article, “When end-of-life planning is suddenly a lot closer than you thought,” you’ll need to take action so that your loved ones aren’t left with an expensive and stressful situation. It won’t be easy, but it is necessary.
First and foremost, consider the implications to YOU and your loved ones of the progression of the disease with which you have been diagnosed. Do you have enough assets to provide for care if your home? If so, will that be medically feasible throughout the duration of your suffering? If so, what will that look like as the disease progresses? If not, what are your options? What types of facilities are licensed to care for people with needs you do or will have given your condition?
For many conditions, the progression of the disease can be predicted. The failure to plan for the period when you won't die is failing to plan for what may be the hardest part of the journey. This is precisely why my firm brought a medical social worker on staff to assist our clients in preparing themselves and their loved ones for the inevitable decline of progressive disease. Take advantage of the burgeoning field of life care planning to make a very difficult time a bit easier on you and your loved ones.
Now to the more standard financial and legal issues that most people discuss. One way to get organized is to set up a ringed-binder notebook so you can easily add information. This will allow you to have all the information in one place. Therefore, your family won’t stress about trying to find things.
If you don’t have an up-to-date will, make a list of your assets, such as your financial accounts, real estate and retirement accounts. You should also make a list of personal belongings and who you’d like to have them, because this isn’t spelled out in a will.
Next, be sure to designate beneficiaries on your financial accounts. Many brokerage firms allow you to attach transfer-on-death instructions to your non-retirement accounts. Transfer-on-death deeds can also be used on real estate in 27 states. While that now is allowed in California, the well-intended but incredibly poorly drafted California law concerning transfer-on-death deeds is such a mess that using it is not at all a good idea -- unless you know for certain that your heirs will not want to sell your house for at least three years (which they will not be able to do because they cannot get title insurance until three years after death if you use a California's transfer-on-death deed), and do not mind personally assuming full responsibility for all of your debts.
You should next list your liabilities, such as your home mortgage, loans, credit card debt, and your insurance policies for health, home, and autos. Create a contact list of people your family can reach for help, like your attorney, CPA, insurance agent, and financial advisor.
If you already have an estate plan in place, it can be a good idea to consult with an attorney experienced in estate planning, if you’re hit with some dire news. That may alter some of your thinking.
Keep all your passwords in the binder. You should also monitor your pension and Social Security benefits, since there could be survivor benefits. Your binder should always include a copy of the previous year’s tax return.
Make arrangements for your pets, so that they do not end up in kill-shelters. If you own a home, create a list of all service agreements, like landscaping and utilities.
Finally, write a legacy letter, instructing your heirs as to what you would want for your funeral arrangements and how you would like your personal belongings to be distributed. Speak with your estate planning attorney to have this information incorporated into your will.
Reference: CNBC (July 18, 2018) “When end-of-life planning is suddenly a lot closer than you thought”