Preparing for a Major Illness: How to Get Your Affairs in Order
A major illness or injury affects more than your health. Getting your affairs in order helps protect your assets and your loved ones.
If you’ve never had a serious accident or illness, count yourself lucky. You might also think about how you’d handle it if you did. Would you be ready for it? Would your finances be looked after? Would your family be taken care of?
A lengthy treatment involves more than just a hospital stay and recovery. It also requires a great deal of planning beforehand to ensure that other issues don’t arise. The emotional and physical tolls are enough by themselves. You don’t need other problems cropping up when you’re least able to fix them.
Here are the major issues you should think about in advance – just in case. Having an advance directive in place is especially important before you undergo any major surgery.
Paying for your care
Hospital stays and treatments are expensive. Even with comprehensive health insurance, you could still end up owing a bundle. Failing to plan ahead could lead to bankruptcy.
That’s why you should try to figure out your financial obligations beforehand. Talk to a billing agent at the hospital or clinic you’re using. Find out how much your insurance will cover and what you’ll have to pay. In most cases, you’ll only get a ballpark estimate. But don’t worry, this should be enough to help you start planning. Other issues to consider:
- How much will special equipment and in-home nursing cost you?
- How much will your disability or long-term care insurance provide (if applicable)?
- Can you qualify for Social Security Disability Income?
- Should you borrow money to cover your medical bills?
- How much will Medicare or Medicaid pay (if applicable)?
- How will you afford long-term care if needed?
Making your wishes known
It’s also important to set up advance directives. These documents explain the kind of care you want if you’re unable to make your own decisions. Two of the most common are living wills and do-not-resuscitate orders (DNRs). You can also appoint someone to serve as your medical proxy. This person will act on your behalf to ensure your wishes are carried out. Finally, you should stipulate whether you want to become a tissue and organ donor.
Managing your estate
The last thing you need is to lose your assets during an illness. With proper planning, you can safeguard your estate while you are ill or recovering. But you probably should consult a qualified estate planner beforehand. And the greater your assets are, the more important this becomes. An estate planner can help you with such matters as:
- Preparing your will
- Setting up a living trust
- Paying your debts
- Filing and paying taxes
- Setting up powers-of-attorney for your appointees
Planning for your dependents
If you have children or disabled dependents, it’s a good idea to make arrangements for their care should you ever become unable to look after them. Start by identifying responsible loved ones willing to serve as their guardians. You can grant them custody with a temporary legal guardianship.
It’s also important to set aside whatever assets you can for your dependents. A will covers them in the case of death, but a healthy trust fund should suffice for the duration of an illness. Finally, don’t forget to find someone who will look after your pets, too.
Communicating with your employer
An extended illness can lead to complications at work. But you do have certain rights. The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) allows you 12 weeks of unpaid medical leave each year, provided you have a serious health condition. Even so, you should talk to your employer first. If possible, try not to surprise your boss and co-workers with an extended absence.
- Explain your situation to your supervisor. Try to provide an estimate of how long you’ll be out.
- Meet with your human resources (HR) representative. Find out your company’s specific leave policies.
And depending on the circumstances, you may decide to leave your job or retire. If so:
- Arrange to start receiving your pension.
- See if you qualify for Social Security benefits.
- Learn what your COBRA coverage rights are.
Taking all these steps may take time, but you’re better off doing them now than when you’re facing a major illness. Taking care of them as early as possible will help give you peace of mind. That way you can focus on what’s most important of all – getting well.