woman with chronic illness

Why Chronic Illness Has To Be Considered During Estate Planning

Whether you are suffering from a serious illness at the time you begin planning your estate or are diagnosed after the task has been completed, the fact that you have a chronic illness is relevant to the process. This is why it is vital to share this information with your estate planning attorney.

Many issues relating to your illness — such as its symptoms, treatments, and prognosis — may alter the way documents are drafted and decisions are made. To make certain everything goes smoothly, and that you and your family are well-protected, it is crucial to have an estate planning attorney who is not only knowledgeable and skilled, but compassionate.   

The Prevalence of Chronic Disease

You may be surprised to learn that over 130 million people (40 percent of the U.S. population) live with chronic diseases like cancer, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s, rheumatoid arthritis, and Alzheimer’s. Whether or not cognitive impairment is a symptom of your illness, or may be as it progresses, it is essential for your estate planning attorney to be made aware of the problem. Following are some of the ways your diagnosis may necessitate altering parts of your estate plan so your assets can be used and protected most effectively.

How a Dedicated Estate Planning Attorney Can Make a Difference

Whether you have a chronic illness or not, you will require the same array of estate planning documents, but an alert estate planning attorney will tune into precisely the ways in which these documents must be constructed to accommodate periods of ill health and potential further disability. 

Though none of this is easy to hear, it is possible that, even if you are gainfully employed now,  you may become unable to work at some point in the future. You may even require long-term nursing care. Frightening though this may be, some of the sting should be removed by knowing that you are adequately prepared. An experienced attorney will tailor your plan to ensure that:

  • You remain entitled for government benefits should you need them
  • Your assets will be shielded in a trust that can provide you with funds to keep you comfortable even if you are receiving (notoriously low) disability income
  • Your wishes about your medical care during flare-ups will be precisely followed
  • Your privacy while you are acutely ill will be protected
  • Your desires concerning end-of-life care and organ or tissue donation will be clearly stated and followed by your team of medical professionals
  • Your wishes surrounding burial or cremation, memorial services, and distribution of your assets will be executed according to your stated preferences

How Specific Estate Planning Documents Will Be Affected by Chronic Illness

Your keen estate planning attorney will know that all of the following documents must be constructed early on and kept up-to-date on a regular basis:

HIPAA Release Forms

HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) release forms are designed to keep your health information confidential. Many individuals prefer to keep their diagnosis under raps for a number or reasons, such as:

  • Their desire to keep working without commentary at the workplace
  • Their wish to maintain an image of physical strength and mental fortitude
  • Their desire not to discuss their illness with acquaintances or colleagues
  • Their feeling that being classified as a “patient” will lower their ability to cope

Although some people feel comfortable being open about their health issues, those who do not have a legal right to their privacy. What a HIPAA release form does is authorize only those you designate to have access to your health information and to the medical professionals who tend you. 

Advance Directives (Living Will) and Chronic Illness

Your Advance Directives, also know as a living will, addresses your desires about healthcare issues, including:

  • What steps should be taken to preserve your life when your prognosis is grim (e.g. intubation, feeding tube)
  • Whether you want an autopsy to be performed to clarify the cause of death
  • Whether you want to donate your organs or tissues after death

Health Care Proxy and Chronic Illness

Becoming so sick that you can’t make your own medical decisions is a possibility for everyone, but those with chronic illnesses live with an increased risk of being in this situation. By designating a health care proxy (giving a trusted “agent” the power to make medical decisions for you if you are unable to do so), you ensure that your healthcare decisions will be made by someone you have complete faith in.

Power of Attorney

This document designates who you want to handle your legal and financial matters if you are unable to do so. Your estate planning attorney will help you determine how much control you should give to another at your current stage of disease progression.

Revocable Trust to Deal with Chronic Illness

While revocable trusts are commonly used to avoid the delays, costs, and public disclosure of probate, they have another purpose for patients with chronic illnesses. That purpose is to safeguard the succession of financial management. In some cases, for example, a revocable trust can require a professional care manager or trust protector to assess your health and/or finances on a regular basis to provide an extra layer of protection.

Contact Our Experienced Estate Planning Attorneys Today

At Surprenant & Beneski, P.C., our law team always has your best interests at heart. We are all too familiar with the challenges facing those who have chronic illnesses and are well-prepared to pay careful attention to your particular estate planning needs. We have the tools and strategies to protect you, your loved ones, your assets, and your future —  and are fully committed to doing so.