No word invokes more fear than the word cancer. When this devastating disease invades a person’s household, it can be paralyzing. I know this from personal experience. Five years ago my son was diagnosed with pediatric brain cancer. By the grace of God, he is still with us today.
This personal tragedy has made our family stronger and has taught us many important life lessons. But what is more, is the fact that it has helped me become more aware of everyone else’s personal battles with this disease, and the havoc that it wreaks on all families. I am deeply aware of the family, medical, financial, and sometimes life ending tragedies that this disease can weave into a person’s life.
As we grow older as adults, one of the biggest fears that all of us have is this–is that back pain or stomach ache an early sign of cancer, or did I just sleep wrong?
While everyone does what they can to treat and beat the disease medically, one of the things that often times gets overlooked or completely forgotten about is the legal health of the patient and the family. When cancer strikes, it is counter intuitive to say: “oh no, I need to go see my lawyer.” While that is true, here are the Top 5 reasons you should visit a lawyer when a cancer diagnosis hits home.
1. Cancer Treatments May Cause A Person To Be Unavailable To Handle Their Personal Business. Oftentimes cancer treatments send a person to an urban center far away from home. With lots of days and sometimes months away from home, who is going to sign your farm service agency paperwork, tax returns, write checks, or handle any other dozens of business items? Without a durable power of attorney, a spouse or other family member will be unable to sign financial documents for you on your behalf. Do you really want to have to go to the bank to handle a business matter, when you are experiencing pain or nausea from treatment?
Unfortunately, periods of complete incapacitation or other disability may have you unable to perform these business tasks. In these situations, a power of attorney becomes critical. To learn more about all of the benefits of a power of attorney, please consider reading this prior blog article.
2. Having A Will Is Important. It goes without saying that the one thing anyone immediately thinks of when a cancer diagnosis hits is this–am I going to die? While there are many benefits to having a well drafted last will and testament, having a will helps ensure that your assets go to where you want them to go, that the right person is in charge of your estate, and that your children are cared for if you have minor children.
These estate planning conversations may also help you consider other items like putting a spouse on an individually owned account or maybe changing a life insurance beneficiary. If a person’s death could cause a surviving spouse to have to probate, you may consider changing ownership status on items to keep that from happening. Discussion will also be had about potential tax considerations.
3. Asset Protection Strategies Should Be Considered. Health insurance companies are getting better at avoiding payment for medical bills or leaving huge gaps in coverage if you should happen to receive treatment at an “out-of-network” facility. When you are fighting cancer, you want the best. You shouldn’t have to decide where to treat based upon who your insurance company is in alignment with. Unfortunately, that decision could leave a mountain of unpaid medical bills.
While it may be too little too late, especially if the bills have been already incurred, once a diagnosis strikes it may be time to shift assets into a limited liability company or into some other kind of vehicle. These simple steps may help better protect your family. Of course, there must be careful consideration of the Uniform Fraudulent Transfers Act to ensure that these steps are taken in advance of medical expenses being incurred.
Other asset protection strategies may involve your parents’ estate plans. If they are getting closer to death, they may want to consider placing any of your future inheritances into an appropriately drafted trust. This will keep your inheritance from being attacked by medical creditors.
4. A Supplemental Needs Trust Should Be Established In Some Cases. Often times “beating” cancer isn’t as simple as just taking treatment and being cured. Sometimes it involves a lifetime chronic condition or may include several relapses. Because of the toxic treatments involved, especially for children, a cancer victim may not ever be able to work again, and may have to receive public benefits. In those cases, you will want to be certain that your parents or other generous family members do not directly bequeath you assets. Instead, you will want them to consider placing your assets into a supplemental needs trust.
Simply put, a supplemental needs trust is an instrument that allows a trustee to manage your money for you, inside a trust vehicle that still allows you to stay eligible for governmental assistance. A supplemental needs trust will “supplement” your lifestyle and includes purchases for things like tickets to the movie and supper at a restaurant.
5. Taking Action Is Healing. You are likely to beat your cancer. You probably won’t need any of the tools discussed herein. But, remember this — cancer is an emotionally exhausting disease. By taking the steps to do the things necessary to protect your family’s financial well-being, will give you added piece of mind as you go through the process.
It is often said that beating cancer can be attributed to state of mind. But how can you have a strong state of mind, if you do not have any peace of mind? The items that will be discussed during a thorough planning session will bring about a great sense of peacefulness. The value of this cannot be overstated.
I once read on a t-shirt: “Cancer Sucks.” No one can say it any better than that. But it doesn’t have to suck so bad. As a part of the weapons in your arsenal against this disease, consider handling your personal financial and estate planning matters. This often overlooked step is invaluable for more than five reasons.
An attorney is the last person you want to visit with when dealing with any form of cancer. But you may consider placing it to closer to the top of the list. If you need help getting through this difficult time, feel free to call or e-mail us. We like helping people.