Friday, February 20, 2015

10 practical things to do when diagnosed with a serious illness

by Lizzy Miles


1.     Obtain an Advance Medical Directive

An advance medical directive is a legal document that indicates to medical professionals who you have designated to make decisions on your behalf, once you are no longer able to communicate your own preferences. 

Chose the person in your life who you feel would best be able to represent your wishes.  Equally important in obtaining the written documentation is to verbally discuss your preferences and philosophies with the person you are designating to make your future health care decisions. 

2.     Obtain a Financial Power of Attorney

A financial power of attorney is a legal document that enables another individual to make financial transactions on your behalf.  Some families choose to have the same person handle both the health care and the financial powers of attorney, while others choose to designate different individuals.

3.     Sign or Review Your Living Will

The concept of a living will is to put your medical treatment preferences in writing.  In the United States, there are different formats of this document with varying levels of detail. 

It is a misconception that a living will is only for people who want less treatment.  The living will document also allows individuals to designate when they do want treatment.

Even if you have living will already in place, it is helpful to review it.  Research has shown that sometimes individuals change their minds from their original choices they made at a younger age.

4.     Create or Review Your Existing Last Will and Testament

The last will and testament is a legal document that designates what you want done with your assets after you die.  Even if you do not feel you have money to pass on, everything you own is considered to be an asset.  Without a will, your assets will be divided up based upon the laws where you live.

A will also supports your loved ones by clearly designating who gets what.  Without a will, if there are multiple loved ones who have an interest in the same items, family tensions can rise.

5.     Review Your Health Insurance Policy

Many health insurance policies have specific sections for issues related to terminal illnesses.  Not all procedures that are ordered by a doctor are covered by insurance.  It is better to ask questions in advance regarding coverage rather than accumulating medical debt that was unexpected.

Another reason you will want to inform yourself of your benefits is so that you can maximize the use of your coverage.  You may be covered for hospice care.  Additionally, mental health coverage, for example, may come in handy if you are having difficulty coping with your prognosis and would like to receive counseling.

6.     Organize Your Electronic Files

Now is the time to organize and document your financial, legal, and personal electronic life for your loved ones.  Keep a spreadsheet of your web addresses, logins and passwords.  Put the spreadsheet where it can be easily found, or give it to a trusted loved one.

7.     Organize Important Papers

Everyone has their own personal organizational system.  Try to compile, consolidate and label important financial, legal, and personal items so that your loved ones will be able to find them.

8.     Teach Others Your Role

In every household, each person has a role that they play within the household.  If you still share a household with others and have a role within that household, it may be time to pass the baton. 

As you receive treatment for your illness, you will may have less energy to do task-related items.  Rather than continuing to try to do everything you used to do, spend the time teaching your loved ones what only you know.

9.     Choose a Guardian

If you are a single parent with minor children, you will want to designate who you would prefer to raise your children.  This will save your loved ones time and money in dealing with the court system to determine custody after you die.

10.  Plan Your Funeral

This may seem morbid, but one of the best favors you can do for your loved ones is to tell them what you would want them to do for your funeral.  Do you want to be buried or cremated, have your body donated to science, or something else?  While this is not any easy discussion to start, it may provide a sense of comfort for your loved ones if you start the conversation. 

Without this conversation, loved ones are forced to make funeral decision in the midst of their grief right after you die.  The emotions of the situation could lead them to spend more money than you would want.


Lizzy Miles, MA, MSW is a hospice social worker in Columbus, Ohio best known for bringing the Death Cafe concept to the United States. You can follow her on Twitter here.

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