I started writing this blog post a couple of months ago before the health issue that I’ve been dealing with for a few decades became a more near-term focus. I hope that it can be helpful to our clients and friends who have faced or are facing personal or family health issues of their own.

I have a kidney disease known as IgA Nephropathy. I was diagnosed at age 13 and had been monitoring the condition with my doctors for the last 30+ years and living a pretty normal life. As my kidney function continued to drop, we prepared for and I successfully received a kidney transplant at UCLA on January 30, 2019!

Three Legal Strategies When Facing A Major Health Event

You and Your Family Need to Know

It’s not surprising to know that receiving a health diagnosis or learning that you need to undergo major surgery can cause substantial disruption in your day-to-day life. During this time, the last thing you may want to think about is estate planning. Although you may have many things going through your head at the moment, now is a crucial time to make sure your estate plan is in order. Proactive planning can help put your mind at ease and let you focus on your treatment. Let’s review your estate plan together to make sure each of the following important components is up to date and reflects your current goals and wishes.

In the lead up to the surgery, my wife expressed to me that she didn’t feel confident in her understanding of our financial assets, our estate plan or where key digital and physical documents were located.  Apparently, the cobbler’s wife has no shoes!!!

We set up a meeting with my wife and I and our team at the office to go over her areas of concern and make her feel more comfortable that if the surgery or recovery went sideways that she would understand the plan and the people and advisors that could be there to help her.

Healthcare Documents

Your healthcare documents include your powers of attorney, advance directives, and HIPAA authorization. These documents let you appoint someone to receive information about your medical condition and to even help you make medical decisions if you’re unable to do so. You probably already know which of your loved ones you’d like at the helm if a situation arises. But whoever you’ve chosen needs to be given the explicit authority to act so that you can rest easy knowing they’ll be there to make decisions if you need them. When there is an opportunity to plan in advance (like I have with my upcoming surgery at UCLA), I recommend that clients consider filling out the institution’s proprietary form (https://www.uclahealth.org/Workfiles/site/AdvanceDirective_English.pdf) because the institution will be more familiar with their own form.

Financial Power of Attorney

While a healthcare agent or proxy can make decisions on your behalf in medical scenarios, a financial power of attorney concerns your money, investments, bills, and taxes. Although it relates to different decisions, it is just as important a designation. Having this document in place can give a trusted person (such as a spouse, child, or friend) the authority to help you with your finances and property so these issues don’t have to be a distraction while you focus on your health. The financial power of attorney applies to any assets that are not titled in the name of your living trust – typically checking accounts, retirement accounts, credit cards, etc.

Updated Trusts

An up-to-date estate plan which is aligned with the full scope of our clients’ assets lets you focus on your health while your successor trustee/agent under power of attorney handles the affairs of your estate plan. In this case, you’ll still receive the benefit of your trust, but your successor trustee will manage the trust on your behalf.

For example, my wife Kristie and I are co-trustees of our trust. Therefore, during and immediately following my surgery, while I am “incapacitated,” Kristie will have full authority to make financial decisions regarding our trust assets (e.g. house, brokerage accounts, etc.). It’s important that I have confidence in my trustee!

A little planning goes a long way when it comes to medically-trying times. As busy as you may be when you’re handling your own medical issues or the medical issues of a loved one, even one conversation can be enough for us to define and implement the estate planning documents that will help you feel more prepared for whatever comes next. Please reach out to us if you have any particular concerns about an existing medical issue or upcoming procedure.


Curtis Kaiser
Kaiser Law Group