You Just Found Out You Have a Terminal Illness… Now What?

terminal illnessIf you are reading this because you recently found out that you have a terminal condition, such as cancer or ALS, let me first say how sorry I am.

I still remember the conversation with my sister telling me that my Mother had terminal cancer. My Mom couldn’t or wouldn’t process the information from the doctor, so my sister made the call. It was a tough conversation with lots of tears. It created a lot of uncertainty and questions, such as “how much time does she have?” and “what can we expect in the coming months?”

I can’t even begin to imagine the thoughts that must have been going through my Mother’s head when she received her diagnosis. Up until the day before she died, she still refused to acknowledge the inevitable.

And if you recently received news that you or someone you love has a terminal condition, I imagine you are going through many of the same emotions and feelings.

What To Do If you or a Loved One Finds Out They are Dying

The first thing you should do if you find out that you have a terminal illness is to try, as best as possible, to relax and breathe.

There are a number of free resources available to patients with terminal illness, as well as their families. Simply google “[terminal illness] support groups” and a number of options will pop up, or click on one of the links below:

I highly recommend that you reach out to others for help. Whether you are the patient or a close family member, a terminal illness is an extremely stressful and heartbreaking period to go through. You should not go through this alone.

Legal Steps to Take After Learning You Have a Terminal Illness

As I mentioned in a previous post, you need to make sure that you have a health care power of attorney and a living will (aka advanced directives) properly executed.

These are extremely important documents that allow you to appoint someone to make your healthcare decisions in the event you are unable to make or communicate your decisions on your own. If your condition deteriorates quickly and your death is imminent, then your living will can take over for your health care POA and you can remove the burden of making difficult end of life decisions from your health care agent.

We also recommend that you have a durable power of attorney in place so that your family can manage your finances if you are unable to as a result of your illness. But keep in mind, a durable financial power of attorney terminates upon your death, so you will need to have a trust-based or will-based estate plan in place that deals with how you want to pass along your assets and personal belongings after you are gone.

Prepare an Inventory of all Your Assets

I talk to a lot of people who are financially organized, or so they would believe.

They have their finances arranged in such a way that everything gets taken care of each month, and they know where all their accounts are and what each of their passwords is.

The problem is, they are the only one that knows this information. If you asked their spouse or kids, they wouldn’t have a clue.

If you find out that you or someone you love has a terminal condition, you need to start making an inventory of all the financial and other assets that you or your loved one might have.

What should this list include?

  1. Bank Accounts (including personal and business accounts)
  2. Retirement Accounts
  3. Life Insurance Policies
  4. Real Estate
  5. Vehicles
  6. Businesses Owned
  7. Other Investments and Accounts
  8. Money Owed to You (i.e. mortgages or promissory notes)
  9. Safe Deposit Boxes
  10. Mortgages owed
  11. Credit cards
  12. Automobile loans
  13. Student Loans
  14. Other Liabilities
  15. Location of important documents (will, trust, social security card, birth certificate, etc.)
  16. A listing of all your digital assets, including usernames and passwords (Facebook, twitter, Gmail, bank accounts, etc.)
  17. A listing of all your email addresses and passwords
  18. Cell Phone carrier
  19. Recommended Funeral Home
  20. Other Important information

Sound daunting? It doesn’t have to be. We’ve put together a spreadsheet you can use to gather all this information quickly and easily. Just click here and we will email it to you.

Update Your Legal Beneficiaries

We always recommend frequently (at least once a year) checking and updating the beneficiaries on your life insurance policies and retirement accounts.

This is important because these accounts are not covered under your typical estate plan. In other words, if you wanted to leave everything to your spouse, but your life insurance mistakenly lists your parents as your beneficiaries, then your spouse would not receive those proceeds.

Sit Down With an Estate Planning Lawyer to Review Your Options

When you or your family is ready, you probably should sit down and talk to an estate planning lawyer about what is going on and what you want to happen after you or your loved one passes on.

As an estate planning lawyer, James Hart is happy to schedule a time to speak with you for an initial wealth planning session to discuss your current plan, or even help you create a new plan. If you or a loved one has a terminal condition, we will not charge you for this initial meeting.

To get on our calendar, simply call our office at (919) 460-5422 or fill our online contact form.

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