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Horizon Elder Law & Estate Planning Blog

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Handling Estate Planning With a Terminal Illness

More people are beginning to work with a California estate-planning lawyer to develop an estate plan earlier in life. Our clients have expressed the desire to have a plan that protects their family and their property in case of their death. However, what happens if a person is diagnosed with a terminal illness before the individual has an estate plan? Is it too late to meet with a California estate planning lawyer?

Estate Planning After A Terminal Illness Diagnosis

When a person is diagnosed with a terminal illness, it is a stressful and frightening experience. It is easy to become overwhelmed with the need to put affairs in order. A California estate planning lawyer can help. While there may be a sense of urgency because of the diagnosis, we must balance the need to develop an estate plan quickly with ensuring that haste does not lead to costly errors and mistakes. Errors and mistakes can result in making a difficult and heartbreaking situation for heirs even more stressful.

To help make the situation less stressful for your family and ensure that your wishes are carried out, there are several estate planning steps that you should take when you are diagnosed with a terminal illness.

  • Plan for Medi-Cal Contingencies: A terminal illness can move very quickly. Before you are unable to make decisions for yourself about Medi-Cal care and life-prolonging Medi-Cal treatments, create documents that safeguard your wishes. A Living Will or Advance Health Care Directive allows you to state your preferences for life-sustaining treatments and appoint an agent to enforce your decisions. A Health Care Power of Attorney and a HIPAA Privacy Release give another person you trust the authority to make Medi-Cal decisions for you if you are unable to do so. This step is very important if you do not want the court involved to appoint a guardian to make decisions for you.

  • Consider Financial Contingencies: A Durable General Power of Attorney appoints an agent to make financial decisions on your behalf. Again, this is important to have in place in the event you are unable to manage your finances as your disease progresses. Incapacitation does not void a "Durable" General Power of Attorney. This “durable” clause is crucial so that your agent can continue to manage your finances if you are incapacitated. In addition to a Durable General Power of Attorney, you may also want to consider one or more trust agreements. Depending on your situation, you may want to fund a trust to protect your property from creditors, provide for a special needs family member, or provide for minor children. Trust agreements are very flexible, so make sure to discuss this with your California estate planning lawyer.

  • Last Will and Testament and Beneficiary Designations: If you do not do anything else, you need to draft and execute a will. Without a will, California’s intestate laws govern your estate. The state decides who may inherit your property and how the property will be distributed. Intestate estates typically require additional steps, can be costly, and take longer to complete. You can relieve some of the stress your loved ones are under after your death by having a valid will. In addition to drafting and signing a will, you also need to check the beneficiary designations on various accounts and policies. Some assets do not pass through your estate; therefore, you need to name the person you want to receive the asset as your beneficiary. Accounts include pensions, retirement accounts, life insurance policies, and some investments.

Get The Professional Assistance You Deserve

We understand you are going through a traumatic and emotional experience. Contact our office at Horizon Law to discuss your options. Our California estate planning lawyers are here to guide you through the process of setting your final affairs in order.


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