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Information about all aspects of finances affected by a serious health condition. Includes income sources such as work, investments, and private and government disability programs, and expenses such as medical bills, and how to deal with financial problems.
Information about all aspects of health care from choosing a doctor and treatment, staying safe in a hospital, to end of life care. Includes how to obtain, choose and maximize health insurance policies.
Answers to your practical questions such as how to travel safely despite your health condition, how to avoid getting infected by a pet, and what to say or not say to an insurance company.


Now is the time to plan ahead for the possibilities, including being unable to work, "just in case."  The sooner you begin to plan, the greater the chance of having appropriate health care, and of continuing your standard of living, if you become disabled.  

If you are working, consider the following:

  • Examine your benefits.
  • Get an advisor at work..
  • Do what you can to increase your earnings -- or at least your Real Earnings.
  • Keep funding your retirement plan.
  • Look for co-workers or other people who are on, or who have been on, disability.

If you are not working, going to work is the easiest way to obtain the insurance you need, and at a reasonable cost.

Insurance you should try to obtain, in order of priority according to David Petersen, a financial planner who created the concept of financial planning for people with a life changing condition: Health Insurance, Long Term Disability Insurance, Long Term Care Insurance, Life Insurance, Denta/ and Vision Insurance. For information about each, click here.

Of course, everyone should:

  • Prepare financially for possible rainy days ahead.
    • If you think you might need to stop working (go on disability), now is the time to take stock of your finances so that you can maintain your lifestyle even if your income decreases. 
    • Our article and calculator located at Financial Planning For Disability will help you estimate what your income and expenses will be if you become disabled. The article will also direct you to other information that can help you avoid not having enough money to get through a period of disability.
    • If your income or assets aren't what you would like them to be, do what you can to increase your income. You are protected if you want to change jobs or get one if you're not working. You may even be able to stay at your current job, if you have one, and increase what we call your Real Earnings
    • For additional information, see:
  • Take care of your mental health.
    • There is a direct link between mental health and physical well being and the ability of your body to heal.
    • High levels of stress can hurt your body's ability to function properly.
    • Being diagnosed with a serious, possibly terminal or chronic, medical condition can be as stressful as losing a partner, family member or other major life event.
    • Consider seeking assistance in dealing with the changes going on in your life. This could be an excellent time to schedule at least a few visits to a therapist or other counselor just to make sure you are dealing with your emotions and the changes you are going through in a manner that is as healthy as possible.
    • Also keep in mind that if you want to leave work because your health condition makes you "disabled", disability can be mental (such as a deep depression that prevents you from doing your job) as well as physical, or a combination of the two.  
  • Have property and casualty insurance to protect against unbearable financial losses to your home and automobile.

Regardless of our health, we all need to consider what would happen if we become incapacitated or die.  Remember Terry Schiavo? She was the young Florida woman whose saga on life support was all over the news because she hadn't expressed her wishes in writing in case she became incapacitated. She and her family could have been spared all the expensive, time consuming results if she had executed an Advance Healthcare Directive.

If you haven't put these affairs in order, now is the time. The same is true for the passage of your assets to your heirs.  Do you have a Will? If so, is it up-to-date? Is it challenge proof? To learn more, see: Health Care Power Of AttorneyAdvance Health Care DirectivesWills 101Estate Planning.

If there is a possibility your medical condition could affect your ability to work in the next twelve months or less, and you're working, read about planning in the short term. 

If you don't have an idea about the potential progress of your condition, speak with your doctor. Keep in mind that we're talking about what could happen statistically based on past experience -- not what will happen to you.  

If You Are Still Working

While you are working is an excellent time to start planning for the possibility that you may become disabled and unable to work.

Examine Your Benefits

Benefits at work can be the bedrock of planning for anyone with a serious medical condition. Now, well before you may need to rely on them, is the time to make sure you have the right benefits in your package. If you don't have the right benefits, you will have time to get them.

To find out what benefits you already have, see your Employee Handbook. If you don't have one, look to see if one is on the company's web site. If not, ask for a copy from your employer. To see what benefits you should try to get, see: Benefits At Work.

If you have not disclosed your health condition at work (in which case we advise you read our article about Disclosure), consider a reasonable cover for the request, such as telling your employer that you have an obnoxious (friend)(family member) who is (an insurance person)(a financial planner) who is insisting on reviewing your benefits for you with the hope of selling you something.

Focus on obtaining the benefits you need to pay your medical bills, give you a regular income, and protect what you have accumulated over the years, in that order. Insurance coverage to meet these needs that is purchased individually generally requires medical underwriting. You may not qualify because of your health condition.

If your employer doesn't offer the benefits you need, this may be the time to consider changing jobs to an employer that does offer what you want. You are protected against job lock by the Americans with Disabilities Act so a new employer cannot ask about your health condition, and by HIPAA to be sure there are no gaps in your health coverage during a job change if you follow the terms of that law.

To learn more, see Seeking New Employment, HIPAA.

Get An Advisor

If you haven't already, search out at least one person at work who is in a position to give you advice to help you get what you need from your employer and to decide when to take different actions, such as going on disability.

To learn more, see Advisor.

Look for Co-workers Who Are Or Have Been On Disability

In addition to an advisor, keep your eyes open for other people in your company who go on disability or who have been on disability.

Speak with them about tips they learned about your employer and various personnel from their experience of going on disability.

  • Did your employer stick to the rulebook or go beyond it, or have trouble even meeting the minimums?
  • If your employer went beyond what is required by law or the benefit plans, what were the circumstances? Are they similar to yours?
  • How can you get the same treatment?

If you haven't disclosed your health condition at work, you don't have to disclose it to find out about another person's experiences. If you do disclose your condition to a co-worker, let each person you speak with know that you haven't told your employer or other co-workers, so they don't inadvertently say anything if they speak with other people at work. Unlike your employer, there is no legal requirement for co-workers to keep your health condition a secret.

For more information, see Americans With Disabilities Act.

Increase Your Earnings Or At Least Your Real Earnings

Do whatever you can to increase your salary, your Real Earnings (what you really earn per hour versus what you think you earn), and job status.

More money will likely give you a greater amount of assets in case you need to live on them. Greater job status will possibly provide additional benefits.

To learn more, see Real Earnings.

Keep Funding Your Retirement Plan

It may sound counterintuitive, but now is the time to put as much money as possible into your retirement plan -- especially if your employer matches your contributions.

  • Taxes will be postponed until a time when they might be lower than when you're working.
  • Money will be there to withdraw if you become disabled, probably without penalty.
  • Money in a retirement plan is exempt from creditors.
  • Any contributions your employer matches serve as an increase in your compensation.

See Retirement Planning for more about saving for retirement and to get a better understanding of your particular plan.

If You Have Disability Insurance 

Check the benefit amount to see if it is sufficient for your needs if you become disabled. Keep in mind that if the employer pays the premiums, disability income is subject t to income tax. (It is arguable that if you at least pay the premium for the last year before becoming disabled, the income will not be subject to income tax).

If the benefit is not sufficient, ask your employer if you can increase the amount of the benefit.

If You Have Life Insurance

Find out if you can increase the death benefit. Even if your beneficiaries do not need the increased amount, if your life expectancy becomes shortened, you may be able to sell the policy and get the proceeds while you are alive. The process is known as Viatical Settlement or Life Settlement. For information, see the documents in "To Learn More"

Look For Mental Health Assistance

Even if you have never needed professional assistance with psychological issues before, you should know that a major life change, such as moving from employment to disability, can have dramatic effects on your psychological health and may require some short term counseling.

Plan for it when reviewing your benefits package. For more on the psychological impact of leaving work, see Planning for the Possibility of Disability in the Short Term.

If You Are Not Working And Are Part Of An Economic Unit

If you are not working and are part of an economic unit (either a marriage or other family type relationship based on caring), there may be no need for planning if you have health insurance coverage through your spouse or partner as well as economic resources.

Even if you have health insurance, think about how solid your relationship is. The more solid, the less need to secure health insurance on your own.

If you don't have health insurance, or if it isn't good enough for your needs (see Evaluating a Health Insurance Policy), get health insurance on your own. To learn about health insurance available in your state, see: offsite link

If you choose to go to work to obtain health insurance:  Ideally, look for an employer that also provides long term disability and life insurance and contributes to a retirement fund.  To learn about seeking work, click here.

If You Are Not Working And Are On Your Own

If you're not working, and are on your own, if you have enough assets to see you through the rest of your life, including access to health care, then there's no need for planning. However, for the rest of us (and even wealthy people who want to retain their assets), consider going to work for an organization that at least provides excellent health insurance benefits. If you can also get health insurance and long term disability insurance through work, so much the better.

For information, see: 

What Insurance Should I Try To Obtain If I Don't Already Have It And Am Not Rich Enough To Pay For My Medical And Living Needs On My Own?

In no particular order, following are insurances to consider:

Health Insurance

Health Insurance provides access to health care without bankrupting you.

If you have health insurance:

  • Does your plan provide what you need? Does it allow you to go to the doctors to whom you want to go? Review our section on health insurance for information on Evaluating Health Plans.
  • Thanks to today's laws, once you get employer based health insurance you are able to keep some form of health coverage under COBRA and COBRA-like state laws, for up to 29 months as long as you pay the premiums for it. If you are "disabled" as defined by Social Security when you leave work, at the end of the 29 month period, you qualify for Medicare. If you don't qualify for Medicare, HIPAA also makes sure you can convert your group coverage into individual health insurance.

If you don't have health insurance:

  • There are other ways to obtain health insurance in spite of your health condition.

NOTE: Thanks to a federal law known as HIPAA, if you have health coverage at work, you can probably change jobs and not be subjected to a new pre-existing condition exclusion.

To learn more, see: COBRA, How To Obtain Health Insurance, HIPAA.

Life Insurance

Life insurance is no longer only for the people who are left after we are gone. Life insurance, even group life insurance, can be a valuable asset if you become seriously ill because life insurance can quickly be converted to cash while you are still living. It can make a major difference in your lifestyle should your health take a turn for the worse. Plus, when purchased through an employer's plan, life insurance is usually very inexpensive

For more information, see New Uses of Assets -- Life Insurance.

Long Term Disability Insurance

Next in importance to health insurance is a steady source of income if you are unable to work. Trying to get by on just what Social Security pays can be difficult. Having a disability policy that adds just a few hundred dollars a month to Social Security can greatly improve your quality of life.

Readily offered by many large employers, Long Term Disability Insurance is also available regardless of your health condition when offered by an employer -- although as you'll read in Long Term Disability, you usually need to be covered for twelve months before it would cover your current condition.

Long Term Care Insurance

Long Term Care Insurance is not commonly found in employers' package of benefits. However, if your condition is such that it could lead to full-time care in an assisted living facility or in a nursing home it can be as important as health insurance.

Care in a nursing home that is not geared toward curing you is called "Custodial Care." Health plans and Medicare don't cover it. Other than long term care insurance, the only source of coverage for custodial care is Medicaid which can require you to use up most of your assets and income first with some exceptions. There are methods for qualifying for Medicaid.

More employers are including Long Term Care Insurance in their package on an elective basis, either as part of a Cafeteria Plan or as individual coverage paid by payroll deduction. Check out our unbiased information on Long Term Care insurance and see if it is a coverage you need to include in your package.

To learn more, see Medicaid, Qualifying for Medicaid, Cafeteria Plans, Long Term Care Insurance.

Dental and Vision Insurance

Although not nearly as important as health insurance, these coverages will do a lot to improve the quality of your life. They often accompany health insurance in an employer's package of benefits.

To learn more, see Dental Insurance, Vision Insurance.

Review Your Property And Casualty Insurance

Insurance is to protect against the unbearable loss -- whether of your property such as your home burning down or because you become liable to someone else, such as through an automobile accident that's your fault.

To learn about the different types of property and casualty insurance, how to decide what's right for you, and how to save money when purchasing it, see: Property and Casualty Insurance.