Smart Money Tips

What You Can Do to Prepare for a Health Care Emergency

I can’t stop thinking about a sweet woman I know who’s now in the ICU. She’s not elderly. She is young, talented, and beautiful, in her mid-30s, with a husband and a young child. 

Just a few weeks ago, she had emergency open-heart surgery after discovering an aortic aneurysm. During her recovery, she endured a hemorrhagic stroke which required surgery to repair the brain bleed, remove the clot, and relieve the pressure on her brain and brain stem. Her family’s world was upended over the course of a few days. 

At home, she has a beautiful 18-month-old daughter and a husband who is now responsible for her healthcare decisions, communicating with family, managing their household affairs, and dealing with an emotional, unexpected, and tragic family crisis. 

The friend, mom, and empath in me is beyond heartbroken for this family and praying for a full recovery. The financial planner in me must run through the financial and administrative needs of the family and wonder…

  1. Does her husband know how to access their financial accounts and pay their bills?
  2. Does he know which bills are automatic and which need to be paid manually?
  3. Does he have access to passwords and documents needed to handle everything now?
  4. Did he know where their healthcare proxy and living will forms were? Have they discussed her wishes and preferences?
  5. Does he recognize that he must communicate with her employer, health insurance company, short-term disability company, and perhaps even her long-term disability company?
  6. What about everyday things amidst all of this? Like reordering staples and restocking diapers – is that done automatically or via trips to the store?

Life can change so fast.

While we worry about planning ahead and struggle to keep pace with such busy days and weeks, one event can change everything. 

It makes me ponder if I have prepared my husband well enough should a sudden health calamity strike. What about the reverse? Am I ready to handle everything if he suddenly falls ill? 

What about you? 

Would your ‘person’ know what to do? What about your backup person? Do you even have a backup person?

The thing is, the more our lives are handled online and with so many accounts spread all over the place, the harder it is for someone to understand what needs to be done in case of a medical emergency, or worse. 

I work with so many great individuals and couples who don’t simply want to grow their net worth as much as possible. They want to provide better lives for their loved ones. There comes a point in so many people’s lives when they simply do not have the time and energy to manage everything on their own. Understandably, they seek the help of experts – whether it be a financial planner, lawyer, doctor, tax advisor, or some other professional. 

One of the primary goals is just to simplify everything.

Making it clear where to go online to access key accounts and what our daily and periodic tasks are can go a long way toward preparing for low-probability, but high-impact crises.

Meanwhile, it’s common for middle age to be a time of particularly high stress. Raising a family while caring for aging parents all while your career is at its max degree of responsibility leaves little time to think about so many of the ‘what ifs.’ Still, it’s exactly then that an emergency can have the most drastic consequences. 

The good news is that just a few hours marked on your calendar can help ensure all the bases are covered. A financial advisor can be your coach to help you make the right decisions and prepare for dire straits like that young woman is going through today. 

Four easy steps you can take now to organize your affairs and prepare in the best and most prudent way possible: 

1. Establish a living will and advance healthcare proxy, designate beneficiaries, and complete other documents

Your ‘important documents’ go a long way toward organizing all of your financial and administrative affairs. 

A living will, or directive, outlines your medical care decisions and preferences. You can name a healthcare proxy whose responsibility will be to make medical decisions on your behalf within a medical power of attorney document. Additionally, you can create a durable power of attorney (POA) to handle your financial affairs if you are not able to.

Naming beneficiaries is maybe the easiest task of all. Simply log on to your financial accounts (your 401(k), IRAs, brokerage accounts, etc.) and complete the short form. A checking or savings account can also have a “Payable on Death (POD)” feature that works similarly. An account’s beneficiary form actually supersedes the will in many cases.

You can also establish a revocable living trust and work with an attorney to draft the language that suits your wishes and intentions.

2. Gather and store important documents in one accessible place. 

Even if you do not have all the important papers listed above completed, you can simply take what you have and put it in safekeeping. What’s more, it does not take a lawyer to record key information such as your full legal name, social security number, legal residence, date and place of birth, names of your children, employment information, names and phone numbers of close friends, relatives, doctors, among others. 

Your financial accounts and information should also be on hand for your ‘person’: Investment and retirement accounts, Social Security and Medicare details, insurance information, bank accounts, tax return documents, debts, home and car deeds and titles, credit cards, and the like.

You can put it all in a spreadsheet or even just a notebook in a safe deposit box. Be sure to make it an annual to-do to make updates, too.

Yes, it’s a lot to gather and track. But the more you tackle today, the easier it will be on your loved ones in the event of an emergency. And as you go through life, keeping things simple with your accounts becomes all the more important.

3. Talk to your ‘person’ so they know what to do. Write it down. Record it even.

A chat over lunch or coffee is enough. You don’t have to tell them all your life details or divulge confidential information. Just be sure they know their role – where to go and what to do – if you are unable to care for yourself. A relative or friend is most common, but if you do not have a few individuals in mind, speaking with a financial planner can help.

4. Get help from your doctor.

Making health decisions is probably the most stressful part of an unexpected calamity like my friend is going through. Doctors can help you understand what needs to be done based on their experiences. Simply asking during your annual wellness visit may help clarify uncertain areas of concern. You should also give consent to your doctor or lawyer to talk with your ‘person’ or caregiver if you become incapacitated.

Next steps

Your task this week is to think about and identify who needs to have access to your information and how you plan to have that information organized and available if/when that unfortunate time comes. 

While it may be difficult and uneasy for you to put yourself in that young woman’s shoes, preparing for devastating circumstances is a necessary part of the financial planning process.