The diagnosis of a serious illness is devastating for any family, but being better prepared for the road ahead, and the end of the road, can substantially benefit the individual and their family on an emotional, spiritual and financial level.
To begin with, the onset of a serious illness can present some pressing needs, not least if the individual is unable to continue to work and/or needs care and support. Welfare benefits are available where qualifying criteria are met, and additionally, there are several charities that are established to provide help where they can. Macmillan Cancer Support is one such example and their website (Macmillan.org.uk) has an excellent financial support section which includes benefits checkers and calculators. It is also worth talking to the Citizen’s Advice Bureau.
Many charities, such as FACT Cancer Support, have been established by families and survivors who have personally experienced the issues that the diagnosis of a serious illness can bring. Make contact with as many relevant charities as possible, like Leukaemia Care – whilst they may not be able to offer financial support, they are there to help you and your family and can do so in many ways.
Talk to an Independent Financial Adviser at an early stage. They will be able to refer you to a suitable solicitor and, if suitably experienced, will be well positioned to offer support and put strategies in place that could help everyone involved.
Later on, I would advise you to embrace the elephant in the room sooner rather than later and take the time to discuss all eventualities and preferred arrangements. My advice is not to just focus on ‘the obvious’, but encourage all friends and family to do the same – it’s a morbid subject, often avoided, but regardless of each individual’s life expectancy, discussing the most basic funeral wishes of your loved ones, let alone the finite detail, can not only remove a lot of unnecessary stress, it can also be therapeutic and potentially save a lot of money.
Having got that out of the way, let’s move onto Wills and Lasting Powers of Attorney. Get these sorted! Talk to anyone who has had to organise a funeral for a relative from scratch with little knowledge of the process, or the deceased’s wishes, and most will tell you they wished things had been different. The same goes for people without a Will and often, also, where there is no Lasting Power of Attorney in place. The potential benefits of having these documents in place are significant and will save loved ones a lot of unnecessary anguish, at what will already be a very distressing time. So again, regardless of your state of health, or life expectancy, get these things in place.
There are often many other things that can be done to potentially make the best of a bad lot. For example, there are special rules applying to certain pension arrangements which, with the right advice and action, could potentially change a retirement income that unfortunately might not be needed, into a very substantial cash sum. The money could ensure the individual achieves the best possible end of life experience and care, and also gives them the option to leave a substantial legacy, which otherwise would have been swallowed up by the pension scheme.