Getting Your Affairs in Order When You’re Terminally Ill

If you receive the diagnosis of a terminal illness, likely the last thing on your mind is estate planning. But taking the time now to get your affairs in order can provide you and your family some peace of mind.

What to do first

Here are some (but by no means all) of the steps you should take if you or a loved one has a short life expectancy:

Gather documents. Review all estate planning documents, including your will, living trust and health care power of attorney. Make sure these documents are up to date and continue to meet your estate planning objectives. Modify them as appropriate.

Take inventory. Catalog all your assets and liabilities, estimate their value, and determine how assets are titled to ensure that they’ll pass to their intended recipients. For example, do you own assets jointly with your ex-spouse? If so, title will pass to your ex-spouse on your death. There may be steps you can take to separate your interest in the property and dispose of it as you see fit.

Review beneficiary designations. Take another look at beneficiary designations in your IRAs, pension plans, 401(k) plans and other retirement accounts, insurance policies, annuities, deferred compensation plans and other assets. Make sure a beneficiary is named and that the designation continues to meet your wishes.

Review digital assets. Ensure that your family or representatives will have access to digital assets, such as email accounts and online bank and brokerage accounts. You can do this by creating a list of usernames and passwords or by making arrangements with the custodians of these assets to provide access to your authorized representatives.

The next steps

We can help you through this difficult time. Working together, you can gain peace of mind that your family will be taken care of per your wishes.

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