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This Thanksgiving, be thankful for good health, but also be prepared

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We all know that Thanksgiving is a time to give thanks. It kicks off a season of giving that lasts through the New Year. This year I would encourage you to give special thanks to your family’s health.

In my role as a financial planner, too often I see families not prepared for illness, even though it is inevitable for many of us.

To help, I have prepared some important advice. Please make sure you discuss these three things this week, if you haven’t already:

Plan for illness.
If the breadwinner in the family becomes ill, it is obviously a major concern. This issue is heightened for those that are single, divorced or widowed. For many families, they are in two-income households and they think they are better prepared, as they can depend on the other to step in help when needed. Even in these cases, the couples are not as prepared as they think for the significant other to be sick and out of work.

Many do not consider the potential loss of wages that can happen for both individuals. It is ok to think, ‘We can get by on one salary,’ but what if both you and your spouse have to be out of work to help you or the loved one when leaving the hospital? How long can there be no source of income?

Additionally, the costs for outside assistance can be exorbitant. One skilled-care professional, like a nurse that is needed around the clock (that is not covered by insurance) can chew right through a family’s investment savings in a very short period of time.

If taking care of the spouse within the family is the plan to save on expenses, are you prepared for caregiver burnout and the strain it can put on relationships? Many have not thought these realities through.

The National Alliance for Caregiving and the AARP Public Policy Institute put out the report: Caregiving in the U.S. 2015. I highly recommend reading the executive summary. These organizations estimate that 43.5 million adults in the United States have provided unpaid care to an adult or a child in the prior 12 months.

If your family is not already providing unpaid care, that will likely change down the road. The executive summary of the report ends with this advice: “Encourage families to proactively plan for and discuss aging and health/disability, including plans for future care and scenarios where the current unpaid caregiver may no longer be able to provide care.”

Have a healthcare proxy.
Do you have the paperwork hospitals need to have the right person make decisions for you when you cannot make them yourself? Most people are unprepared.

Even if families have the right paperwork, the vast majority have not discussed what to do in the case of serious illness. If you are making decisions for someone that is incapacitated, do you know the wishes of that person before they can no longer communicate? Also, have you prepared the person that would be making decisions on your behalf to what you would want in different scenarios?

An eye opener for most parents is that when their children are over the age of 18, the hospitals will no longer take instructions from a mother or father, if they do not have the proper paperwork.

Build a support system.
As a financial planner, I obviously believe you need someone helping your family prepare for your future, by creating a plan and getting the proper legal documents in place. I recommend using a Certified Financial Planner®.

Also, think of who else can help. Who can be a shoulder to lean on? Who can help administer care in a crisis? Who can help with simple chores like laundry, taking kids to events and more? Who can help you get your mind off a depressing situation that can wear on inner strength and emotions?

There are advocate groups and some nonprofit organizations that might be able to provide assistance, but likely you will need friends and extended family to pitch in and help.

The better informed you are, the more prepared you will be. Make this topic one that you pay attention to and one that you learn more about.

If you are lucky to have a family where everyone is in great health, consider helping others in these situations that really need support. They will greatly appreciate it, you will build strong relationships and you can learn a great deal of information to better prepare your own family.

Final thoughts
The holidays are meant to be a time of joy and happiness, but also take this time when you are with family and friends to have the important conversations to prepare for taking care of each other.

Somewhere in between the travel, football, turkey, laughs, naps and shopping, carve out some time to discuss these three things above. Most are reluctant to have these discussions, but trust me… You will be better off for it in the long run.

I wish you and your family much to be thankful for this Thanksgiving!

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Barbara Shapiro is the President of HMS Financial Group located in Dedham, Massachusetts. She is a CFP®, Certified Divorce Financial Analyst and a member of the Massachusetts FPA. She is also co-author of He Said: She Said: A Practical Guide to Finance and Money During Divorce.

Her firm specializes in comprehensive financial planning with a subspecialty in divorce that assists clients’ transition from marriage to independence with peace of mind and confidence. Learn more at HMS-Financial.com.

HMS is a Registered Investment Advisor. Securities offered through Cadaret Grant. Member FINRA, SIPC.HMS Financial Group and Cadaret, Grant are separate entities.

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