Documents to order affairs after a cancer diagnosis
Home My StoryLiving with Cancer Getting Affairs In Order

Getting Affairs In Order

by Maggie Jones

Wow, I started this post June 2019. I’m just getting ready to publish it January 2023.

Since I’m doing so fabulously it isn’t morbid at all to celebrate that my affairs are officially in order. Brad and I set up a living trust a couple years before my diagnosis so most of the ordering was just moving all my personal assets to the trust and making sure he was added to all of my bank accounts.

The one tricky bit was dealing with my self-directed individual retirement account (SDIRA). Back in 2017 I was itching for a renovation project to call my own. I had a dream of totally off-grid cabin in the desert but no way to finance it. Until the move to Hong Kong, Brad and I kept separate finances and all my personal savings was in my 401k. A change of jobs in 2016 let me roll that 401k over into an IRA which I could then transfer to a Self Directed IRA which would invest in an LLC wholly managed by me. The LLC then bought the ruins of a cabin on 5 acres near Joshua Tree and fixed her up rather nicely.

It was a very complex (but very legal) scheme [lol, remember, I wrote this in 2019]. I wanted to unwind it before Brad had to deal with the mess. It started with selling the cabin (for sale by owner), closing escrow from Hong Kong (a quick visit to the US Consulate the day after radiosurgery), closing out utilities and cashing deposit return checks from overseas (photocopies work for mobile deposit), dissolving the LLC in California (paperwork, paperwork), transferring funds from the bank to the SDIRA custodian (wires), transferring funds from the SDIRA custodian to a new Vanguard IRA, closing the SDIRA account, and moving the Vanguard IRA into the trust. I’m thrilled to say that is officially done. I can’t imagine Brad having to go through all that having to pull up my death certificate at every juncture.

For those looking to mitigate the potential burden on love ones, my advice is below. Please weigh the service you’re doing for your loved ones with any negative feelings that will cause you. I see this a tidy bit of housekeeping that should be done whether I’m hit by a car tomorrow or after succumbing to cancer. Please don’t proceed if you see it as deciding you’re going to succumb to cancer.

1. Have a will and advance directive

A will and an advance directive are two different legal documents that serve distinct purposes.

A will is a legal document that details how a person’s assets will be distributed after their death. It also allows the testator (the person who makes the will) to name an executor, who is responsible for carrying out the instructions of the will. A will typically comes into effect after the testator’s death.

An advance directive, on the other hand, is a legal document that outlines a person’s wishes for their medical care in the event that they become unable to make decisions for themselves. Advance directives can take several forms, such as a living will or a durable power of attorney for health care. The purpose of these documents is to ensure that the person’s wishes for their medical treatment are respected, even if they are unable to communicate them. An advance directive typically comes into effect when a person is unable to make decisions for themselves, and not necessarily after death.

In summary, a will deals with the distribution of assets after death, while an advance directive deals with medical treatment decisions while the person is alive but unable to make decision for themselves.

2. Even better, have a living trust outlining your medical wishes

A living trust is a legal document that allows a person to transfer ownership of their assets to a trustee during their lifetime, rather than waiting until their death as in the case of a will. The trustee is responsible for managing and distributing the assets according to the instructions outlined in the trust document.

One of the main differences between a living trust and a will is that assets placed in a living trust do not need to go through probate, the legal process of distributing assets after death. This can save time and money, and it also keeps the details of the trust private, unlike a will which becomes a public record once it goes through probate. Additionally, a living trust can also be used to manage assets for beneficiaries who are unable to manage them on their own, such as minor children or individuals with special needs.

You certainly don’t need to be wealthy to create a trust. Brad and I created our living trust when we far from wealthy and had just sunk what money we had into a house that we purchased in probate after the owner had died. The probate process was a long, drawn out processed that was painful for the heirs. On the bright side (?), we got a deal.

Note that our attorney also included our advance directive and final expense wishes in the document.

3. Organize important documents, such as insurance policies and financial accounts

Some of these might include:

  1. Will or trust, as above
  2. Advance directives, as above
  3. Life insurance policies
  4. Retirement accounts including 401(k) or IRA statements
  5. Deeds and titles proving ownership of real property, such as a house or land.
  6. Investment accounts
  7. Bank accounts like checking or savings
  8. Powers of attorney – These documents allow a person to appoint someone else to handle their financial and legal affairs if they become incapacitated.
  9. Tax returns for the past 3 years
  10. Wishes for funeral and burial arrangements

Most importantly – make sure the appropriate person knows where to find them.

4. Make a document with all passwords and make sure the appropriate person knows where to find it

On which note, I have a way for Brad to access my important passwords. I’d recommend the same in a way that keeps the information confidential for now.

5. Designate someone to hide your porn

Joking. Unless you’re into really weird stuff that would shame your kids. Then maybe this applies. Your OnlyFans password doesn’t need to be a part of #4 [This Joke added in 2023 just for you!]

6. Consider adding your heir/ executor/ financial partner to your bank accounts

If this makes sense. I’m sitting here four years after “getting my affairs in order” and a little annoyed that I can’t buy Brad a present without him seeing it now that he has access to my accounts.

7. Review and update these documents and plans periodically

Of course, like me, you have a long life ahead of you after doing this bit of financial tidying up. It’s a good idea to revisit your efforts and make updates as needed. I’m opening a new account for presents for Brad.

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