On the turn if a dime all three of these families’ lives changed.
Jo is a 25-year-old construction worker with a wife and 2-year-old, who fell off his roof, broke his back and has a closed head injury.
Janie is a 45-year-old married banker with three teenagers who was diagnosis with breast cancer.
Jack is a 58-year-old married small business owner with grown children diagnosed with early onset dementia.
All three of these individuals were healthy active members of our community, with health insurance, jobs, mortgages, car payments, and small savings. They were living comfortable lives.
Their life changes are not so uncommon and could happen to anyone of us. Although the diagnosis and family demographics were different, there were many similarities to the outcomes. None of them had a medical power of attorney, will, disability or life insurance or had discussed estate planning. None of these families discussed what would happen if one of them suddenly became disabled and lost their income and insurance; they had no plan for how the bills and medical expenses would get paid. They didn’t have conversations with their spouse, children and other family members about what it would look like if the family member had to become a primary caregiver, which put a strain on the new roles.
All three families acquired substantial medical bills, travel expenses, and credit card debt. The spouses all lost the newly disabled spouse’s income. One of the three spouses had to quit their job to take care of their spouse, so they lost both incomes. Two of the three families filed bankruptcy; and one had to sell their home and move in with family members. Two of the three were not approved for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) on the first try and had to go into the appeals process. One of the relationships ended in divorce.
I met with my financial advisor on Wednesday this week, we were talking about long-term care and how many community members do not plan for a disability. We talked about how more and more young people do not have the simplest of planning completed like assigning a medical power of attorney. It is estimated one in four 20-year-olds will have a disability before they are 67.
Currently almost half of adults indicate they can’t pay an unexpected $400 bill without having to take out a loan or sell something and 52% of people do not have enough savings to cover three months of lost income. I really reflected on the community members I work with and what their situations are, most are very low income and living in poverty and don’t have the means to save, but there is the opportunity to plan.
Most of us don’t want to think about becoming disabled, it is easier to not talk about the “What if’s,” but I would say most of us don’t want to lose all that we have worked so hard for.
Becoming disabled and having medical treatments and expenses are out of our control. What we do have control over is planning and protecting our assets and loved ones. It is important to get your legal and financial affairs in order before a crisis happens. We have insurance on our homes, cars, and personal belongings, but many do not have insurance on their income. Talk with an insurance agent about what short term and long term disability and life insurances policies are available. Have those hard conversations about caregiving and discuss each family member’s wishes if they do become disabled. Educate yourself and do your research on what support and services are available ahead of time. Life can change on the turn of a dime, planning and preparing now may be a little uncomfortable, but that will only last a short while, not having a plan could lead to lifetime of stress and disparities.
The names and employment of the community member of were changed in this column; the life events are true reality.
Amy Rowan, is the care coordinator manager for Tri-County Health Network.