Put your affairs in order

Making sure your affairs are in order is probably one of the last things on your mind when you are about to undergo major surgery or trying to survive a critical illness. Having recently been there myself, I know that spending time with those close to you or just simply looking after yourself are probably much higher up on your to do list. Two years ago, before I underwent surgery, my physician indicated I should declare my wishes regarding organ donation and quality of life in the event my family needed to make a life-or-death decision on my behalf. He also told me to bring my power of attorney for health care with me to the hospital.

As we counted down the days until surgery, I had a great deal of difficulty focusing on anything complex. I cleared my schedule and set about organizing my papers and shredding everything that was no longer needed. I started to get my affairs in order. 

Pre-estate planning documents
Often, people only think about a will when it comes to estate planning. But you can also prepare pre-estate planning documents to reflect your instructions if you are unable to make decisions for yourself regarding your nances or personal care.

In most provinces, you must complete two separate pre-estate planning documents in addition to your will. Your will does not take effect until after your death; these pre-estate documents have no effect after your death. Personally, I hoped they wouldn’t be needed but I had to be prepared.

For me, this meant updating my own family personal inventory form so my appointed power of attorney or the executors of my estate would be able to find all my assets, account numbers and other information to simplify their job. One of my surgeons also reminded me to make sure that my family knew my wishes regarding organ and tissue donation, just in case.

Understanding insurance benefits
It’s important to know what insurance benefits and coverage you have – and ensure you have the coverage in place before you need it. Moreover, it’s imperative you make sure the person acting for you knows where to find your policies. Since I didn’t expect to be off my feet for more than six weeks, I didn’t plan on qualifying for a claim under the income replacement – or disability – policy. But one complication led to another, and I ended up on total disability for a few months.

Under certain circumstances, a life insurance policy may pay benefits if you become ill. If you are totally disabled and your policy has a disability rider, the insurance company may pay the policy premiums. If you’re terminally ill, a life insurance policy may pay out a living benefit, rather than just a death benefit after proof of death. This living benefit is really an advance of some of the death benefit funds.

When you’re ill, it’s important to understand your medical options and have doctors you trust. But it’s equally necessary to have your affairs in order so your family and friends will have the tools they need if they end up having to make effective decisions on your behalf. 

When health becomes a concern
A major illness can drain your strength and make it difficult to sort out your financial matters. Here’s a checklist of issues to focus on when getting your affairs in order.

• Update your power of attorney documents (or proxy or representative agreement), if needed.
• If your will is not current, update it.
• Review your individual and group insurance benefits under life, disability, critical illness, group and/or long-term care policies.
• Arrange for help, if needed.
• Tell those close to you how important they are to you.