Financial Planning for the Terminally Ill

| June 2, 2013 | 0 Comments

Preparing for the Worst

Unfortunately, this seems to have become a theme for me lately as a colleague and a client both recently asked me to help them prepare for an imminent death in the family. Estate planning in general is a complex, difficult and often emotional process. Having to rush the planning by doing it in the midst of a serious illness can compound and exacerbate an already difficult process at the worst possible moment, so it’s always best to plan ahead.

When you know that the end is near, it’s a good idea to review your plans to ensure that nothing is amiss and things will happen more or less as you expect. For example, I was recently asked to review the estate plan of a couple who have been married for 25 years. It is a second marriage, and she told me her husband is terminally ill and she didn’t trust her stepson with money because of past drug problems. As I reviewed her estate, I realized she had named this stepson as co-executor and co-trustee of her estate, placing him in a position to make financial and medical decisions on her behalf if she were ever incapacitated. She was horrified.

The list of things that should be reviewed is extensive and grows as your personal finances become more complex. The basics, however, include:

Copies of all statements and documents. Do you have a current list of all assets and liabilities? Do you have all necessary information for them (account numbers, institution name, etc.)? Make sure you have copies of insurance policies, deeds, etc. Make sure you or somebody you trust knows how to get to any hidden assets, especially safe deposit boxes.

Review your estate documents. This should seem obvious after the story I related above. If you are unable to follow the legalese, have an estate specialist review them with you to make sure you understand what will happen and how your planning will affect your assets. If you don’t have an estate plan, you should seriously consider it. Even a last minute will can save you time, money and difficulty.

Check that assets are properly titled. If you have a trust, ensure that your major assets have been transferred into the trust. Check that you know how an asset’s titling will affect its ownership when your loved one passes away. Never assume that something will transfer the way you want unless you’ve reviewed it with a professional.

Review your beneficiary designations. This may be hard for the healthy spouse to do on his or her own without a power of attorney for financial affairs, but you should at least try, if only to find out what you don’t know or can’t access. I’ve seen cases where divorced ex-spouses or even deceased parents were still beneficiaries on life insurance and retirement accounts, so cleaning this up can be important. Make sure that the beneficiaries of these assets are who you want them to be.

Review special bequests. Do your heirs know which of your valuables are going to whom? Discussing this with them ahead of time or laying out your wishes in writing can head off family grief and strife later on.

Is there enough cash on hand to pay the bills? What will happen to pension, Social Security and other payments after death? Is there enough cash on hand to pay the bills for a few months while any cash flow issues are taken care of?

Clearly, this is only the beginning. I’d be happy to share out full list with you if you need it. Nothing can prepare you for the passing of a loved one, but careful planning ahead of time can help ensure that emotional distress isn’t compounded by financial hardship and chaos.

This column is prepared by Rick Brooks, CFA, CFP®. Brooks is Vice President for Investment Management with Blankinship & Foster, LLC, a wealth advisory firm specializing in comprehensive financial planning and investment management. Brooks can be reached at (858) 755-5166, or by email at Rick and his family live in Mission Hills.

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