Financial planning is a slightly different topic than the costs of cancer treatment. There has been a great deal written about co-pays and deductibles, and the generally rising costs of insurance and of medical care. As individuals and as a country, we have to look hard at these problems and make some tough decisions. Today's topic here is totally an individual one: Having been diagnosed with cancer, how do we think about our financial future?
To begin, it makes a difference how old we are when cancer enters our lives. If you are already retired, you have made a number of planning decisions and, hopefully, are on track with your needs and expenses. If you are younger and working, you need to decide how to allocate funds for retirement vs. how to enjoy your life to the fullest now. I have known many people who reduce their contributions to 401Ks and pension plans for the first year or two after cancer. They feel that they want every possible dollar to enjoy their time. After a while, they settle back into a savings mode.
I had a patient a few years ago who was a successful financial planner. After her own diagnosis and treatment, she developed a specialty working with those who had a serious medical diagnosis. Her basic theory is to plan a year at a time. Make the savings and spending decisions for that year, and then revisit them 12 months later. It is possible that your priorities will have changed over that time. As an aside: even with a cancer diagnosis, you may well be eligible for Long Term Care insurance. They likely will be a waiting period after the diagnosis, but then it becomes possible to purchase it.
This is an article from the New York Times which describes the decisions of a couple where the man was diagnosed with ALS. I found it very interesting and surely stimulated me to think more/think again about my own planning.
Planning for a Future in the Face of Terminal Illness
By PAUL SULLIVAN
PATRICK SKELDON, a commercial airline pilot, started having trouble walking in the autumn of 2003. His
doctor thought he had a vitamin deficiency and prescribed supplements. When those didn’t work, the doctor
referred him to a neurologist. The next year, he was told he had amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, more
commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. He was 59.
The prognosis for A.L.S. is generally rough. The A.L.S. Association says the average life expectancy is two to
five years; only 10 percent of people live more than 10 years and 5 percent live longer than 20.
But Mr. Skeldon, who retired in 2005, and his wife, Deborah, looked at the diagnosis pragmatically: How
could they pay for care for him and still have savings left for her retirement?
What the Skeldons accomplished as a result might not seem like much of a silver lining in the cloud over
them. But finding a way to manage Mr. Skeldon’s care in the face of a debilitating and costly disease has
given both of them some comfort.
“We kind of lucked out,” Mrs. Skeldon said. “It’s eight years later.”
As people live longer with terminal diseases, the costs associated with their care rise. The risk is often not
just that there will not be enough money to provide that care, but that a surviving spouse will be left alone
and destitute. With advisers cautioning that terminal care expenses could easily rise to $1 million or more
for the last years of life, they say there are simple and sophisticated strategies to make the most of the money
at hand for those with savings and foresight.