April 26, 2018. A date that I will not soon forget. It was a day that I received a phone call that we all dread could someday happen. There was a voicemail and an email from my company’s front desk to immediately call Nicole at the number given. There was a serious matter going on with my uncle that needed immediate attention. Of course, I dialed the number as quick as my fingers would move. Nicole answered the phone and then asked if I was related to the name she stated. I said yes. After that, the conversation got a little blurry with phrases like “serious car accident” and “turnpike” and “serious injuries”. My ears felt like they were filling up with cotton and it was hard to concentrate.
The only reason the emergency room was able to contact me was that my uncle mumbled my name and place of employment. After all, we live in a world of cell phones – who knows anyone’s phone number by heart? The medical staff didn’t have the cell phone once my uncle got to the hospital. Once I was contacted, I told my dad and his sister, who then told other family members. And through the magic of social media, we were able to post a message tagging my uncle to let his friends know what had happened and set up a CaringBridge site so that everyone could stay updated on his progress. From these people we were able to get phone numbers of critical people, like the guy who takes care of my uncle’s house and the contact numbers of other key people who could provide information.
It was a somewhat of a harried situation but because my uncle had done the work ahead of time, we were able to quickly get to the information necessary to take care of him. Instead of worrying about finances and contacts and legalities, we could focus on supporting my uncle through his recovery. Having gone through this situation made me and a lot of my family members re-evaluate if we had the proper preparations in place if this had happened to us.
Have a Power of Attorney (POA) for your medical and financial decisions in place. You need to have someone who can speak on your behalf for medical and financial decisions in case you are not able to do so for yourself. You can have the same person be your POA for both medical and financial decisions or you can decide to have two separate people for those decisions. However, you want to structure it, you need to get the necessary legal documents filled out and signed so that the POA can be effective during a crisis.
Have an emergency fund in place. There may be expenses that need to be covered in the interim while you are recovering. For example, short-term and long-term disability usually have a waiting period before the benefits are eligible to be distributed. In the meantime, you will have bills to pay and other out-of-pocket medical expenses that are not covered by insurance. You don’t want to have to be worrying about money at the highest point of the crisis period.
Know what your employer covers for short-term and long-term disability. It is crucially important that you know what your insurance policies cover before the event happens. Unfortunately, this doesn’t usually happen. Make sure you know how much and when disability will be paid out and how long the coverage will last. If you don’t feel like the policies your employer provides are sufficient, find additional policies through trade unions, associations, and professional organizations where you can purchase the insurance at lower rates than with an individual policy.
Keep all of your important financial information and phone numbers in one place. This includes bank account numbers, auto, disability, and life insurance policies, cell phone account numbers and any other important financial information you may have. Also include phone numbers of close friends, family and doctors. With cell phones these days, no one knows phone numbers. And if you can’t locate your phone – like my uncle’s and in many car accidents – it will make life a lot easier to have these numbers readily available.
Communicate with your family. This tip is the crux of all the other tips provided in this post. If you have done all the pre-work and have never told your family members, it’s going to be tough for them to find any of the information you gathered ahead of time. At minimum, you should discuss your wishes and location of the information with your medical and financial POAs. Letting your whole family know ahead of time – and being repetitive in communicating these wishes – will prevent any confusion when a crisis does occur.
What have you done to prepare financially for a medical crisis?