Finding Stability

Writing a Will Gives You and Your Family Peace of Mind

By writing a will, you can rest assured your family is aware of your wishes, and they won't have to worry about being burdened with difficult decisions.

After a diagnosis of cancer, you have a lot on your mind and complicated decisions to make. Writing a will is another thing to tackle, regardless of your prognosis. You can do this along with your advance directives, which include a living will and health care power of attorney.

As with many decisions you make while you battle cancer, writing a will and providing advance directives is mostly for the benefit of your loved ones as well as your peace of mind.

Setting Up Your Will

Your care team may first suggest you complete a living will, which details what care you do and don’t want to receive at the end of life. It saves your loved ones from having to make difficult decisions if you’re unable to make your own medical choices. You also want to name someone as your agent for health care decisions. This person will speak for you if you can’t speak for yourself.

Your last will and testament is a legal document that details your wishes for what happens to your possessions and finances after your death. You don’t need to have a lawyer draft the document, but you may want to, particularly if your estate is complex. Check the laws in your state to find out what makes a legally binding document. (LegalZoom is a good resource.) You will need a lawyer if you choose other estate-planning options, such as a living trust.

AARP recommends you have at least two witnesses sign the document who aren’t beneficiaries in the will. You can find templates online, as Nolo outlines, to help you find the right wording. If you don’t have a will, your property becomes intestate upon your death, which means that the laws of your state will decide who gets what. This can be a hassle for your family and lead to arguments among your heirs.

Considerations for Your Will

First, you need to name an executor. This is the person who executes your wishes. In many cases, this is a spouse, partner or adult child. You may also name a lawyer if your estate is more complex. You also want to provide your executor with the power to pay your bills and handle debt collectors. This can be especially important for your family because you may have major medical bills. Naming a lawyer as your executor requires compensation, and you can designate whether you’ll pay a family member for holding this role, notes U.S. News & World Report.

If you still have young children at home, you may need to name a guardian for your children in your will, too. When you do have people in mind, make sure to discuss the matter with them before putting it in writing.

In your will, make sure you designate who gets what. Be specific here, down to sentimental heirlooms and photographs. If you choose to leave nothing to someone, be sure to explicitly state that as well. Because a will is often impersonal, U.S. News says many people choose to leave behind personal, written letters to family members.

Keep your will in a safe place, and update it regularly. It’s a relief for you and your family to write down your wishes, but they aren’t set in stone. You can revisit your will and make changes over the years.

UVA Cancer Center has resources that help you sort out your financial concerns and questions.

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Patricia Chaney
Patricia Chaney