Putting our affairs in order: lessons learned

By Cancer Foundation on September 7 / 2017

[Cancer Coaching, Caregivers, Families, Uncategorized]Comments

Coffee cup and notepad with pen on wooden table

As Cancer Coaches, what matters to YOU matters to us.

And many of you have expressed that what matters to you is getting your affairs in order – for some, it’s important because it means one less source of anxiety on their cancer journey, for others, it means one less worry for their loved ones.

Marion 230pxSo we’ve invited guest blogger Marion Jean Hall, a caregiver and client of the Cancer Foundation, to share her lessons learned as she gets her own affairs in order.

How I got started

In 2014, when the doctor told my husband to “put his affairs in order,” I had to face the fact that I would soon be losing my beloved husband of 35 years. His metastatic kidney cancer had not responded to treatment and he was dying.

My husband had always been very well organized and kept on top of our household finances. Even so, during his remaining days, I had a lot of administrative work to do. Among other things, I had to change the ownership on his car to my name; I had to correct a bank error to make sure that his RRSP clearly showed me as the beneficiary; and I had to find a notary who would come to the hospital to get his signature on papers related to our cottage in Quebec. I also had to make sure I had all his important passwords. I resented having to spend time on these matters when I really wanted to be with my husband in the hospital, and, soon afterwards, at the Elizabeth Bruyère Palliative Care Centre.

My husband’s parents and grandparents all lived into their 80s and 90s, so neither of us expected him to become ill and die at the age of 63. Looking back on that sad and stressful time, I realized that I had little information to guide me in putting his affairs in order.

Assuming that other people might face similar situations, I spoke recently with the Ottawa Regional Cancer Foundation. I offered to do some research, and their staff encouraged me to write short articles to help other caregivers.

How my focus has evolved

As I began reading websites, books and other materials, I discovered many things I could do now to put my own affairs in order while I am still healthy. I am determined to make things as easy as possible for my son when my time comes, as it will, sooner or later.

I am actively working to get my own affairs sorted out and, at the same time, provide useful tips to others who might wish to do the same.

Lesson 1: How to consolidate information and documents

If you are looking for a way to keep track of your important personal information and family documents, consider Your Virtual Shoebox Guide: Keeping track of your personal and household financial documents. It is an excellent interactive tool published by the Canadian Life and Health Insurance Association Inc. You can print this document and use it to list your insurance policies, bank accounts, investments, mortgages, health records and will and estate information. You can find it online at https://www.clhia.ca/

The Virtual Shoebox Guide is located in the Consumer Information section of this website, under the heading ‘Glossary, Guides and Information Booklets’.

Lesson 2: If you are not getting on with this important work, figure out what is stopping you

When I first saw the Virtual Shoebox, I could see that it would be very useful to my son if I ever became incapacitated in some way. However, I found myself reluctant to fill in all my personal details as the website suggested.

Why was I hesitating to complete this sensible first step?

The answer: Security.

To quote the most important paragraph on the first page of the Virtual Shoebox Guide:

“YOU MUST STORE THIS DOCUMENT IN A SAFE PLACE. Lost or stolen information may allow for identity theft or financial theft. If the document becomes lost or stolen you must take immediate steps to protect yourself by advising relevant authorities including your bank, credit card company and insurer.”

I could not think of a safe place to keep the completed document where it would be easily accessible by my son if he needed it.

I visited a local locksmith to explore options for an in-home safe, but found the cost prohibitive. Then I consulted my local bank branch. I soon decided that it would be economical and practical to give my son formal access to my safe deposit box at the bank, and to keep a copy of my Virtual Shoebox there. With the security question resolved, I have now compiled my personal information using the Virtual Shoebox format and it is safely stowed at the bank. I plan to update it from time to time.

Lesson 3: Motivate yourself

Our modern lives involve many account numbers and financial records. Compiling your personal information is a lot of work, even with the useful format provided in the Virtual Shoebox Guide. Be prepared to spend some time and effort gathering your important information and documents.

Remember that you would not want to have to do this job in a crisis.

Think of how helpful this information will be to your loved ones if stressful circumstances arise. Get the job done!

What next? Advance Care Planning resources

Another important aspect of “putting your affairs in order” involves setting up a Power of Attorney so that someone you know and trust will be equipped to make health care decisions for you if you become incapacitated.

In the next article in this series, I will talk about the excellent resources I have found to help you describe your health care preferences in a way that will be easy for your substitute decision maker to understand.

Many thanks to Heather Jamieson, for editing this article and providing helpful suggestions, and to Chantal Renaud, for her excellent translation into French.

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