Breast Cancer Awareness Month is known for raising awareness of the disease, the importance of screening and early detection, and supporting the women and men who are battling it. But it is critical that those with a breast cancer diagnosis and survivors have their estate planning in place.
Although most breast cancer cases are diagnosed at the localized stage and have a 99% five year survival rate, any breast cancer diagnosis still strikes fear into the heart of the person receiving it. If you are the patient, all you want is to get better. If you are a spouse or family member, your priority is supporting your loved one. Legal issues may be the last thing on your mind, but planning is a critical component of getting the care and support you need.
Why an Estate Plan is Important for Cancer Patients
Many people put off estate planning because it requires thinking about their mortality; that can be even more true for people with a cancer diagnosis. But the reality is estate planning is not just about what happens after you die; it’s about providing for your needs and ensuring that your wishes are met while you live—including while you are receiving treatment for breast cancer or any illness.
A big part of estate planning is incapacity planning: putting in place documents like a durable medical power of attorney, durable financial power of attorney, and a Patient Advocate Designation (PAD). A durable financial power of attorney gives someone you choose (your agent) the power to take care of your financial needs if you are unable to—paying bills, making bank transactions, and so on. In other words, it allows them to take work off of your plate so that you can focus on what matters: getting treatment, resting, and healing.
A medical durable power of attorney empowers the person you designate to communicate with your doctors, access medical records, and, if necessary, make health care decisions on your behalf. Having this document in place provides you with peace of mind that someone you trust can advocate for your medical needs the way you need them to.
Of course, making a last will and testament or trust is also a part of the estate planning process. Although creating these documents can be an emotional process, every client we work with has said that having them done is an enormous relief.
What Happens if You Don’t Have an Incapacity Plan?
Not having an estate plan and incapacity plan in place creates unnecessary stress when your attention should be on healing. It’s possible that your loved ones will not need to make any major decisions or transactions for you during the course of your illness. But if they do, and they do not have the legal authority to do so, they may need to go to court to obtain legal guardianship over you in a process called lifetime probate.
That process is costly, stressful, and can be avoided altogether if you plan ahead. It’s likely that you would prefer your loved ones to be able to focus on your needs and care—not going to court. Preparing an incapacity plan is a gift not only to yourself, but to your family.
Who Needs to Have an Incapacity Plan in Place?
We can’t emphasize this enough: incapacity planning is not only for those who are facing breast cancer or another serious illness. A serious illness, injury, or accident can happen to anyone at any time. The best time to create powers of attorney, Patient Advocate Designations, and other advance directives is well before you need them.
In fact, we regularly remind people that once you turn 18, there is no one who has the legal authority to make important decisions for you unless you give it to them. Don’t count on your young age insulating you from the need for incapacity planning.
In summary: if you’re facing an illness, you need an incapacity plan. If you’re currently healthy, you still need an incapacity plan. And if you are worried about the cost, you may be surprised to learn that it is less than you think—and definitely less than the cost of lifetime probate.
Getting Started with Planning.
The best time to discuss estate planning with your loved ones is yesterday; the second best time is today. Talking about putting a plan in place is definitely easier to do when you—or your family members—are not confronting an illness. But for many people, a diagnosis is what jolts them into action.
Whatever your circumstances, there is no better time to get started on an estate plan and incapacity plan than right now. The first step is to reach out to an experienced, compassionate estate planning attorney who is sensitive to your needs and has the skill to address them.
The knowledgeable estate planning attorneys at Barron, Rosenberg, Mayoras & Mayoras work with clients regarding durable financial powers of attorney, Patient Advocate Designations, and other estate planning documents. Schedule a consultation today by calling (248) 213-9514 in Michigan or (941) 222-2199 in Florida to learn how we can assist you. You can also use our simple online contact form.