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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.


Life is fragile. In a very real sense, each moment we continue to live and to be able to communicate is a gift.

A diagnosis makes us even more aware of the fragility.

With a bit of preparation and a few simple legal documents, you can be in control of matters such as:

  • What happens if you need medical care but cannot speak for yourself 
  • What happens to your assets if you become physically or mentally unable to take care of them
  • What happens to your children if you can't take care of them temporarily or permanently
  • What happens to your pets.
  • What happens to your assets if you die.
  • Funeral arrangements.

These subjects should be a top priority for everyone and particularly for a person who has a wake-up call from a diagnosis of a serious health condition. Thinking about them, and taking the necessary actions, will not make them happen.

In addition to control, planning ahead saves money - possibly a lot of money.

You owe it to yourself and your loved ones to be prepared.

If you do not decide what happens to your assets or to you, and make the proper arrangements, the law will step in and make decisions for you. 

  • With respect to your property, if you don't have a valid will or make other legal arrangements, the law decides what happens to your assets. This is basically a cookie cutter approach that one size fits all. State laws do not take into account what you or any other individual would actually want. 
  • When it comes to health care, the system is geared to keeping people alive on expensive machines for a very long time unless there is proof of a different desire. It is worth remembering Terri Schiavo, the young Florida woman who lapsed into a coma and was kept alive on machines for years while her husband battled the courts (and even Congress) to follow wishes she had expressed orally but not put into writing. 
  • When it comes to funeral arrangements, heirs who do not have direction from the decedent are subject to undue pressure at an extremely vulnerable time. Aside from the unnecessary pressure, there is likely to be a major waste of money.

Do not let the emotions that are bound to surface around this subject keep you from taking action.

Things will more likely go according to your plans if in addition to putting your wishes in writing, you communicate them to your heirs. It also helps if they are advised ahead of time how to enforce your documents, such as How To Enforce A Living Will And Other Advance Directives.

While considering these subjects, also think about creating an ethical will for your heirs, and a business ethical will if you run a business.

Each of these subjects are expanded upon in other sections of this document.

NOTE: Issues relating to end of life are not discussed in this category. If they are of interest, see: Managing Your Care.

What Happens If You Die Without A Will ("Intestate")

If you die without a Will, you are said to die "intestate." 

If you die intestate, your assets will be divided as described by the law of the state in which you live. Instead of your deciding what happens to your assets, the state decides what happens and who is in charge of making that happen.  In effect, the state provides a will for you. 

What are the odds that your assets will pass the way you want - and with the person you would choose to handle your personal affairs?

If you want to learn how your estate would be divided if you die without a Will, check offsite link The site includes an "Intestacy Calculator" which tells you what happens if you die without a will.  All you have to do it pick your state, type in the value of your estate, and answer a series of questions. Use of the calculator is free. (Be aware that while the calcaluator is free, the site encourages you to write a Will using their forms for a fee. Before you take advantage of this resource, read the next section).

To Learn More

Last Will and Testament - An Overview

A Will determines what happens to your assets when a person dies. A Will also describes the person who will administer an estate: collect the assets, pay off debts, and distribute what's left. (This person is known in some states as a Personal Representative and in others as an Executor).
Everyone should have a Will. It doesn't matter whether you're healthy, single, poor, or even whether you have all your financial assets in an entity such as a trust.

You don't need a lawyer to write a Will. However, it is advisable to at least have one look at your Will, particularly if your Will may be challenged possibly because of your health condition or the drugs you take for it or the people or entities to whom you leave assets.

Once your Will is signed in the manner which is required in your state, store it in an appropriate safe place that people can get to easily. Then check at least once a year to see if it needs to be updated.

The documents in "To Learn More" explain in easy to understand terms:

  • What to think about when getting ready to prepare a will
  • How to choose a Personal Reprsentative/Executor
  • How to protect a will against challenges
  • What to pull together if you go to a lawyer to write a will for you
  • Other means of passing on your assets instead of a will
  • Where to store your will

Create A Plan For Your Heirs

Dealing with loss will be difficult enough. There doesn't also have to be anxiety and confusion about how to deal with the practical aspects of your estate. You can help ease the transition if you: 

  • Communicate with your heirs about your wishes.
  • Assign tasks by creating a game plan for each of your heirs.
  • Pull together in one place (in a notebook or separate file) all the information that your heirs need to know. We call the notebook "THE Book."

For information, see the documents in "To Learn More."

To Learn More

More Information

Business Ethical Will List Of Instructions

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Ethical Wills

What If You Become Incapacitated?


While it is not likely to happen to any particular person, any of us could become unable to make our own decisions. It seems to be human nature to think it "won't happen to me." But it does happen. If it happens to you, and if you don't prepare for the situation by executing the appropriate documents:

  • Other people will make decisions about your medical care without your input. You will have lost control.
  • You will leave the people you care most about in the distressing situation of making difficult decisions with no guidance.
  • You could easily end up with the people you care most about fighting among themselves. 
  • You could even end up with a court appointed Guardian to manage your affairs. It may be the person you would choose to make decisions - but it could also be somebody the court favors who doesn't even know you. You have no say in the decisions he or she would make. There is also cost involved, including the cost in getting the person appointed and a fee for services. 

Health Care

The documents which permit you to stay in control of your medical treatment when  you are unable to communicate are known as Advance Healthcare Directives, or more simply as Advance Directives.

Advance directives are accepted in every state, and are available for free.

The three types of advance directives are:

  • Healthcare Power Of Attorney
  • Living Will
  • Do Not Rescuscitate (DNR) Order

With a Healthcare Power Of Attorney, a trusted person is appointed as a health care proxy to make medical decisions for you.  It may be distressing to even thrink of writing such a document, but the emotion has to be worked through to get to the result that you want. Our documents provide information about how to choose such a person and discussions to have with him or her.

A Living Will describes what you do or do not want in specific situations. It is worth keeping in mind that young Terri Schiavo thought about the possiblity of becoming incapacitated and apparently told her husband what she wanted. However, the lenghty battle to enforce her desires was due to the fact that she didn't execute a Living Will or any of the other documents necessary to enforce her wishes.

A DNR lets medical personnel know not to revive a person at the end of life when lungs or heart stop.

Mental Care

The way to stay in control of mental treatment if you become incompetent is to execute an Advance Directive for Mental Health. Depending on the state in which  you live, this may be part of one of the health care documents or a separate document.


You can stay in control of your finances by designating a trusted person as your agent using a Durable Power of Attorney for Finances. Other options to consider:

  • Transfer assets into a trust.
  • Transfer assets into a business entity such as a corporation or LLC.
  • Having a court supervised Guardian of your choice appointed. Unless the court actually appoints a guardian now, your arrangements won't be binding. However, they are likely to controlling for a court unless there is strong reason for the court not to comply with your wishes.

Protecting Your Children

Many parents prepare a Will just to make sure their children are provided for if something happens to them. The person you designate to care for your children is called a Guardian.

A Guardian can also be appointed during your lifetime by going to court.

Find out just what a Guardian does and learn how to identify the right Guardian for your children. If you don't have someone right for the job, there are alternatives to consider such as foster care (even if only on a temporary basis), or adoption. 

Guardianship, foster care and adoption are described in the documents in "To Learn More."


All wills go through a process known as probate.

Probate is the process of proving that a document is your Will. Once a document is accepted as your Will, probate then includes court supervision over the administration of your estate.

Probate can be costly and time consuming. Probate also makes public both the amount of your assets and your wishes.

Probate can be avoided. One of the popular ways to do this is through a Revocable Living Trust. (See "To Learn More.")

Funeral Arrangements

We can all be hit by the proverbial bus. Pre-planning your funeral -- or just making your wishes known -- will save a tremendous amount of money. It will also make things a lot easier for our loved ones at a difficult time.

Please note that the key words are "pre-planning", not "pre-paying."  If you have already paid for a funeral, fine. If not, it is preferable to plan for it but not pay until the time comes. Planning instead of paying makes sure you do not lose money if you move, change your desires or the funeral home goes out of business.

For practical information, see "To Learn More."

To Learn More

More Information

Organ, Tissue and Body Donation Funerals 101

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Ethical Wills

Caring For Your Pets

Pets can be good for your health. If you don't have one, consider getting one. If you have one, make provision if something happens so that you can't take care of the pet.

The document in "To Learn More" describes how not to get infected from pets, how  to travel with them and a good deal more helpful, practical information for living with a pet after a diagnosis.

To Learn More

More Information

Pets 101

Ethical Wills And Business Ethical Wills

An Ethical Will is not a legal document.  Instead, it is a compilation of what is important to you that you want to pass on.

In the case of a simple ethical will, the contents are passed on to your heirs.

In the case of a business ethical will, the contents are passed on to your successors in the business.

There is no set form for an ethical will  It can be in any form that works for you and contain whatever you want.

More information about ethical wills is contained in the document in "To Learn More."

To Learn More


If your estate  in 2011 is more than $5,000,000 it could be subject to federal estate tax. Even small estates may be subject to state estate taxes.

Consider taxes when deciding how to leave your assets.

One common method to reduce taxes is to give gifts each year up to the amount of the annual exclusion. Another is a Bypass Trust which provides a major tax benefit for spouses.

Complex tax planning is beyond the scope of our mission. Speak with a qualified financial planner, accountant or tax attorney to create a situation that minimizes taxes while accomplishing what you desire.