Your Cancer Answers -- Jennifer Davis

Jennifer Davis

QUESTION: What is the importance of estate planning and advance health care directives for cancer patients?

Estate planning is important for everyone, but it can be especially important for cancer patients. Some people think estate planning is only for the wealthy, but this is not the case. In fact, estate planning is an important part of every person’s overall financial strategy.

Estate planning is simply having a plan in place that addresses how one wants their estate, including assets, pensions, real estate and more, handled in the event of incapacitation or death.

The first step is to draw up certain legal documents and a clear financial plan. Dealing with a diagnosis of cancer is a life-changing event for the patient and the patient’s loved ones. A big part of getting and staying healthy involves decreasing stress. From the first day the diagnosis is confirmed, or suspected, there are decisions that need to be made on a regular basis. Estate planning can help reduce a lot of that stress.

Even if you took care of your estate planning years ago, your trust/will/advance health care directive should be reviewed periodically, especially after a life-changing event such as a cancer diagnosis.

Another important document is the Five Wishes Living Will that talks about your personal, emotional and spiritual needs as well as your medical wishes. Written with the help of the American Bar Association’s Commission on Law and Aging, as well as the nation’s leading experts in end-of-life care, this document allows you to specify your wishes if you get seriously ill. This can be thought of as a real gift for those you love.

A full estate plan may include the following: creating medical power of attorney documents and advance directives to physicians that appoint a trusted person or persons to speak for the patient if he or she is unable to do so, even temporarily; specifying the patient’s wishes about medical care and treatment, in writing; review of all assets including retirement accounts, investments or bank accounts; discussion of a plan and drafting of one or more powers of attorney so day to day business can be handled; helping the patient make a list of instructions and organize information so that he or she can concentrate on recovery.

With careful planning and support, everyone can achieve a feeling of well-being, even while confronting a life-threatening illness.

Michael Hardy, a local estate planning attorney, will offer practical information at no charge and answer questions on Feb. 27 at 5 p.m.  at the Mission Hope Cancer Center Conference Room in Santa Maria. Hardy will provide detailed information on reducing stress through effective planning. The discussion will include a variety of topics, such as taking care of yourself and your family; taking care of your property; writing your Five Wishes Living Will document; pros and cons of living trusts; how to select an executor; and other information.

Space is limited, and reservations are required. Call 805-219-4673 to reserve a seat.

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Your Cancer Answers is a weekly column produced by Marian Regional Medical Center, Cancer Program. Have a question? Email it to