How Does a Breast Cancer Diagnosis Influence My Estate Plan?

October 9, 2020

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and all over the world patients and survivors are honoring loved ones affected by this disease. According to the National Breast Cancer Foundation, breast cancer is the most common cancer in American women, and every two minutes a woman is diagnosed. A diagnosis of breast cancer will affect every aspect of your life, not just health issues. It will affect finances, life expectancy, insurance coverage, and estate planning. While comprehensive proactive planning to address some of these issues before a specific diagnosis is received would be ideal, the reality is that too few of us address these matters until the reality of cancer occurs.

Age is a leading risk factor associated with the disease. Did you know that two out of three women with cancer are diagnosed after age 55? This means that those women born between 1946 and 1964, the entire Baby Boomer Generation, are included and at an elevated risk. This however does not in any way exclude other women because it is estimated that over 252,710 American women will be diagnosed with breast cancer and over 40,000 women will die from this disease.

With these types of real-life scenarios, we cannot stress enough the importance of an up-to-date estate plan. An estate plan gives women and mothers of all ages, regardless of whether or not they are facing this difficult diagnosis, the opportunity to put their wishes in writing. Here are common estate planning tools that will provide any woman with peace of mind.

  • A Last Will and Testament (“Will”) is critical for anyone with young children because you can designate a person (or couple) you trust to be the guardian of your children in case you pass away. You can specify who your children should live with and who is in charge of their financial needs.
  • A Revocable Trust (also known as a living Trust) allows Baby Boomers to guarantee that their accrued wealth will be passed down to their desired beneficiaries. It is a document that clearly spells out who you wish to inherit your assets (your money, your home, your bank accounts, life insurance policies, etc.) This type of document is far preferable to a Will because it avoids the lengthy court-supervised probate process. This is especially preferable for anyone that owns real estate such as their home or investment properties.
  • Durable Power of Attorney is a crucial legal document that functions while you are alive and allows you to select a person (the “agent”) to “step into your shoes” in case of your sudden illness or incapacity. The agent will be able to make legal and financial decisions and conduct transactions on your behalf. The Power of Attorney document ends when a person passes away. Note that if you created this document prior to October of 2011, it is time to update it as the laws in Florida have changed.
  • A Health Care Surrogate used to be an afterthought, but the global pandemic has certainly put a spotlight on this document. A Health Care Surrogate, also known as a Health Care Proxy or Health Care Directive, allows you to plan for difficult medical decisions. It allows you to name someone (the “agent”) that will make health care decisions for you in case you are unable to make them yourself. This prevents disagreements within the family as to who should make these critical decisions. Such decisions include consenting to certain medical procedures, seeking a second opinion, obtaining medical records, or transferring you to a different medical facility. If you do not prepare a Health Care Surrogate document, and become very ill or treatments become overwhelming, and you cannot make your own medical decisions, then the healthcare facility will follow Florida law to determine who is responsible for your healthcare decisions.
  • A Living Will allows you to state your wishes about your end-of-life medical care. This allows your health care surrogate to best carry out your health care wishes regarding life sustaining procedures. Living Wills include a set of legal instructions about the treatment you wish to receive. You can revoke or revise a valid Living Will at any time.

Note that a solid estate plan can also take into account tax considerations. You can support reputable non-profit organizations and at the same time lower your tax liability. These tax-exempt foundations offer numerous ways to give, including tribute or memorial giving and even one-time contributions. Many survivors of breast cancer remember all that helped them along the way and sometimes like to leave a donation to a charity of their choice (through their Will or their Trust).

While proper planning cannot improve your medical outcomes, it can ease a range of burdens, protect your loved ones and more. A breast cancer diagnosis might suggest accelerating planning. We can work on your timeline to make sure you and your family have all the legal strategies in place immediately. If you or someone you know is battling breast cancer, or any other illness, contact our law firm at (954) 251-0332 or for a free phone consultation. OC Estate & Elder Law has attorneys that speak English, Spanish, and Russian.