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A terminal diagnosis is a lot to take in. You’ll be faced with all kinds of emotions and have to overcome several obstacles - and some of the biggest will be around money. Just remember, coping with the news is a process, not an event.
Unfortunately, financial strain can be a huge source of stress for terminally ill people and their families. Several researchers call this stress financial toxicity and have found it to be more common in those with serious illness (and their loved ones) than the rest of the population.
Economic stressors are, unfortunately, a reality of life. By understanding the specific financial issues you’ll be facing after being diagnosed with a terminal condition, you can mitigate their effect. The list below is intended to help you do just that and hopefully lower the toxicity level.
Depending on your prognosis, you may have to or want to give up your job immediately. This can mean that a significant portion of your monthly household income will be lost.
With less money coming in, you might need to rethink your expenses. That can mean lifestyle changes for you and your family. Your priorities will probably shift too, so it’s important to look at your expenses and decide what you still want to spend money on.
Selling some of your assets can be a good way to bring in more capital. The amount of money you need will depend on how much of your illness costs you’ll have to cover, what your lifestyle is like, and what you want to do in the time you have left.
When considering your assets, you must think about what you want to leave behind. If you sell your properties now, you won’t be able to leave them to people in your will. Think carefully about the costs and benefits of keeping or selling each part of your total estate.
The United States government has programs in place to provide financial aid to terminally ill individuals. Claiming these funds is your right, but the process can feel daunting and exhausting – so don’t be afraid to ask for help.
Visit the Social Security Administration’s website to apply for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and/or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) depending on what you qualify for. You can also apply for Medicaid here, and for Medicare with your county or state’s Health and Human Services Department.
List your deductibles (how much you have to pay for your care before your health insurance begins to pay out), your copayments (how much you cover for each service) and your coinsurance costs (how much you pay for a service that your insurance covers after you’ve paid your deductible).
Having a clear idea of costs gives you the information you need to make other financial decisions. For example, you might not want to sell all your assets but, after seeing your medical expenses, you might realize you have to.
Commodes, adjustable beds, walking aids, wheelchairs, stairlifts, drip stands, and other medical equipment might soon take up space in your house. Often, this equipment can be rented for a small fee rather than bought, so you have to see exactly what the costs involved are.
Additionally, you must think about transport and whether your car is designed to cope with your changing needs. The vehicle must be able to accommodate any equipment you require, such as wheelchairs and ramps, or oxygen tanks, so you might have to make adjustments there.
Whether to take care of or spend time with you, it’s likely that the other people in your household will be missing work or, if they’re younger, school. Make sure you understand the financial impact of this too.
In addition to your partner’s income dropping, consider the tuition costs of your children. For example, if one of your kiddos is in college but takes a leave of absence to come home while you’re ill, you may well be able to get at least some of the semester’s fees back.
As you become frailer, the best care option might be to go into a hospice. However, once again that will be determined by the cost, your available resources, and financial priorities. Will it be better in your situation for your partner to keep working while you go into hospice care, or for your significant other to leave work and take care of you at home?
If you haven’t given much thought to how much funeral expenses cost, you should do so soon so you can get your affairs in order. Funeral expenses include cremations, services, hearses, viewing facilities, and several other items that you may not be aware of.
Of course, funeral planning can include the details of the ceremony itself. Though this is often a painful exercise, it can be very beautiful and therapeutic when done with people you care about. They may want to place an obituary after your passing and these costs could be considered when weighing up finances.
Finalize your will once you’ve decided how you want to manage your money for the duration of your illness so that it’s done and ready when the time comes. This is not only practical; it can give you great peace of mind.
The life insurance policies that you have in place could make a big difference now. For example, your husband or wife might be able to stay home with you instead of going to work, living off your savings, if you know they’ll get a large insurance payment when you die.
Discussing death with your family and friends is not easy, and you’re likely to have many more talks than just one. Think through the financial aspects as much as you can, and as calmly as possible before you bring them up with your significant others. And do it sooner rather than later - as emotions continue running high, you’ll be glad you have everything in place.
This article was contributed by Ellen Klein.
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