Each personality type is going to be reflected in how a person responds to the diagnosis of a terminal illness. Some individuals are “taskers” and they will set to the agenda of putting all the tasks in place. Others may turn more to the social and emotional side and value every moment with family and friends with little regard to the details. Whatever your situation, it will be necessary to tackle multiple details and planning. Determine who is the best person that can help. It may be a trusted friend or advisor. You may also consider turning to an experienced financial planner. Reviewing your assets and options and seeking their judgment can be invaluable in helping you make the best short term and long term decisions. What are the tasks?
Tackle the legal aspects. Having a current will is critical to ensuring your wishes are carried out and is a valuable gift to family in preventing uncertainty and family disputes. In addition, to having a will there are other documents you will also want to make sure you have in place. They are:
A Living Will, which records your wishes regarding the measures that should be taken to extend your life.
A Medical Power of Attorney, which empowers a trusted individual to make medical decisions for you when you’re unable.
A Medical Privacy Release, which gives health care permission to keep named family and friends informed about your medical situation.
A Power of Attorney, which lets you identify someone else to manage your financial affairs in the event you’re incapacitated.
A Five Wishes document may also be considered. Five Wishes is the first living will that talks about your personal, emotional and spiritual wishes as well as your medical wishes.
In addition, to these documents, although we are linking pages of sample documents, we highly recommend you consult with a trusted estate attorney to ensure the documents are accurate and valid (most documents we linked are the State of Colorado), as well as depending on your assets, hobbies, or situation they may have suggestions for additional documents such as a trust or ways to reduce estate tax liability.
Leave your “Wishes” in a letter of instruction. This will be another invaluable gift to family members. While grieving they will know exactly how to carry out your wishes. This letter should include:
Your wishes regarding funeral arrangements, including songs, readings, who you wish to give a eulogy, etc. Although often it is thought “I don’t want a funeral” a funeral is for those who remain and studies have shown this to be a vital part of survivors receiving the support they need to process their grief.
A listing of all your financial accounts, insurance policies, corporate benefits including restricted stock options, pension accounts. If you have paper stock or bond certificates, deposit these into a brokerage account. If you have “stashed” money, deposit it into an account or leave record of its location. If you have anything of value, such as a collection, consider having it appraised and either gift it (with legal advice) or liquidate.
If you have a safe deposit box, the location and key.
The names and phone numbers of your attorney, tax professional, financial advisor, employee benefits manager.
The location of your will and other legal documents
You may consider drafting letters to friends and family, leaving them a legacy of forgiveness and encouragement.
Review your financial picture and meet with your advisors. Educate who will be assuming these assets and make personal introductions to those you trust. You may consider changing the investment objectives which may include a change in assets.
Review your beneficiaries. Request a copy of the current beneficiary designation on each account as well as any life insurance policy to ensure it is accurate and reflects your current wishes. Do not assume these are correct. Leave these designations with your legal documents.
Check your eligibility for government benefits. You are likely to qualify for Social Security Disability, Medicare or Medicaid. Apply for Social Security Disability Benefits Ensure your social security and military service records are accurate.
Leave record of your military service and if you wish to receive military benefits. Following are links to common military benefits. In addition, funeral directors can help in the administration of these benefits provided they have military service records.
Military Burial Benefits
Ordering a Headstone for a Veteran being buried in a private cemetery
Leave your family a legacy with instructions for a Presidential Memorial Certificate
See if you can buy more life insurance. Generally, a terminal illness would preclude life insurance but you may be able to purchase more through your employer’s open enrollment period. You may also check the options on existing policies that may allow you to increase your benefits regardless of your health. Check for insurance benefits available for credit cards and mortgages to see if you may qualify for insurance that would pay these off. Some credit unions offer basic amounts of life insurance without qualification.
Consider taking an advance on life insurance benefits. If you are anticipating financial hardship, you may be able to access a portion of your life insurance benefits now.
Start planning your care options immediately. The futher ahead planning is in place the less stress it puts on everyone. How much care will family or friends be able or willing to provide? Will you need a third party bill paying service? Will you be able to afford at-home care? Visit assisted living facilities in advance if anticipating their need. Draft a budget and a plan.
Be aware of tax deductions. Non-spouse care givers, such as a child, may be able to claim the person as a dependant if they provide more than half of their support and satisfy other dependent status rules. Even where caregivers share responsibility, such as among siblings, tax deductions may be available, if, as a group they provide over half the support. You’ll want to consult with a tax professional regarding your options.
Seek a non-profit support organization for the illness you suffer. In example, if you have been diagnosed with ALS you would contact the ALS Organization. Tremendous resources, information and support can be gained. Generally, there are more than one, so don’t just stop at one.
Consider Government Clinical Trials Find information on eligibility to participate in a study, risks and benefits of study participation, the informed consent process, and questions to ask when considering whether to participate in a study.
Consider making pre-planning funeral arrangements. Before making any decisions on preplanning or prefunding funeral goods or services, or signing a preneed funeral contract, we urge you to ask any and all questions you may have regarding the planning process. Here is a link to the National Funeral Directors Association Bill of Rights.
If you have financial resources and you wish to reduce your estate tax liability, you may consider taking advantage of a tax free gift exclusion by the Internal Revenue Service which allows individuals to gift $14,000 tax free per individual per calendar year. This amount increased in 2013 from $13,000 to 14,000.
Create a “support” system. This may be connecting to a pastor or priest or a trusted friend. Ask them if you could meet with them regularly to seek comfort, advice, and support. You may also seek comfort and expression through journaling.
Be your own counsel. No one, including your physician, religious counselor, spouse, or friends can understand 100% what you want and need. It’s surprising that some people seem to “bully” with advice when they learn of a terminal illness. We should remember to avoid accepting someone else’s authority in place of our own powers of reason. You can, and should ask for advice but ultimately you should decide.