Estate Strategies: Dealing with terminal illness in the family

Editor's note: Ryan Wilson has been recalled to active duty with the Navy for a year. During his absence other members of his firm, Fraser Trebilcock Davis & Dunlap, P.C, will continue his column. We wish him a safe return.

Imagine that a family member has only months to live. Immediately, you want to comfort and support him or her.

When a loved one's family is struggling with the emotional issues associated with end-of-life, it's easy for them to overlook some important things that can be taken care of prior to death. Needless to say, it may be very difficult to address some of these matters.

Often, in these situations, your family member feels very vulnerable. When the matter of finances and estate planning are brought up, your family member may even start to believe all the family cares about is his or her money. So, you need to tread carefully when you approach and discuss end-of-life matters. Each situation is different.

What kinds of issues should be addressed in the final months and days?

* Get financial details in order.

* Gather specific information about life insurance, annuities, pensions, government benefits, investments and real estate.

* Make sure beneficiary designations and titling are correct.

* Make plans for creating needed liquidity to pay for final expenses and to take care of those left behind.

* Get estate distribution details together.

* Make sure all will and trust documents are up-to-date and legally adequate.

* Consider gifts to family members during lifetime to remove uncertainty later.

* Make sure proper plans are in place for the transfer of closely held business interests.

* Make final arrangements.

* Pre-arrange or pre-pay funeral.

* Make the arrangements about disposition of remains known.

* Consider a memorial fund.

* Seek to resolve unresolved family issues.

* Create a "forgive" and "seek forgiveness" checklist.

* Write or record messages for family members.

* Handle the details for health and end-of-life care.

* Monitor health insurance and government benefits.

* Make wishes about end-of-life sedation, life support and feeding/hydration known.

* Create needed power of attorney documents.

* Address spiritual issues.

* Identify the clergy the person wishes to see during the end-of-life process.

* Discuss potential spiritual activities the person wants to engage in.

The tasks and action steps described above are not a complete list of all the things that must be done when dealing with end-of-life. The checklist is meant as a general guide to which each should make his or her own order of priorities, and add or omit tasks that are more or less relevant to the dying person's particular circumstances.

Bottom line. Try to deal with these important matters as soon as you can when dealing with a terminally ill family member. It will likely save time and reduce legal problems and stress after the person's death. However, if your family member's mental capacity is questionable, make sure you consult with an attorney before taking any action.


This article is intended as a source of general information. If you have questions regarding this article, please contact Wilson at (517) 377-0897 or

© 2011 Fraser, Trebilcock, Davis, & Dunlap PC

Published: Tue, Nov 1, 2011