Diehl Martin

Legal Matters for Pancreatic Cancer Patients

Many pancreatic cancer patients do not survive very long after diagnosis. The reason is because sometimes the symptoms are confusing for doctors, pancreatic cancer is not all that common, and so it is not suspected until things have progressed too far along to do much. Many of us are not diagnosed until stage IV, and by then the prognosis usually is not very good. As a result many families have to deal with what to do with a family member who is quickly dying. While the need for medical attention is obvious, there is a parallel need for legal paperwork to be completed before the patient has a chance to pass on.

I am not a lawyer, and this is not legal advice. What I write here are my observations, as the result of having to go through this quickly after my own case of pancreatic cancer was diagnosed. Note that details will vary from one jurisdiction to another, so you will need proper local legal advice as to what is required to do this in your location. Where I live, there are three major pieces of paperwork which needed to be properly completed and witnessed, in order to be effective:

1. Medical Power of Attorney / Living Will

The  Medical Power of Attorney / Living Will provides the authority for someone else to make medical decisions for the patient, especially in the case where the patient is unable to do so, for instance if the patient is unconcious. It also may state the circumstances under which the patient wishes to be treated, and to what extent. This is where the patient and the family state their agreement as to what is allowed to happen, and which person is allowed to make the final decisions concerning medical treatment, including when it may be halted. In my case, my wife and I both have medical power of attorney documents for each other.

2. Durable Power of Attorney

The Durable Power of Attorney provides for someone besides the patient to handle non-medical legal matters on the patient's behalf. This is necessary because bills still need to be paid, documents still need to be signed, and legal matters attended to even while the patient is unable to do so. This document is critical, in that it forces you to consider who you will trust with everything you own. Please understand what I just said. This document is absolutely necessary, and can also be dangerous if the wrong person is given the power of attorney. In my case, my wife and I both have durable power of attorney documents for each other.

3. Will

The Will is the simplest means in most jurisdictions for the patient to tell the executors and the state what should be done with what a person owns when he has passed on. This document requires some thought, and a simple will may not be the best way to do this. (For instance, my dad handled his extensive estate through a trust rather than a will.) You really do need legal help to guide you through not only the possibilities, but also the process by which estates are dealt with in your jurisdiction. Whatever you do, though, you do not want to have to deal with an estate where the deceased has not stated his last wishes in a proper legal form. That is called being intestate, and the result is that the whole matter is typically resolved by the courts, through a process called probate. This is to be avoided if at all possible, if for no other reason than it takes many months and costs real money, and drains the estate, even should there be no other issues at stake.

Now, let me bring up one rather unseemly matter. Many families do not do well when someone is very sick or passes on. One person will say that “grandpa” would have wanted everything possible done for him, and the next will say that, no, “grandpa” said he didn't want to be kept on life support. From what I have seen, the majority of cases end up with severe arguments over such matters. Now mind you, this is while the person is still alive. It can get worse once the person passes on, and it comes time to divide the estate. In order to solve these matters in advance, everything needs to be properly put in writing, legally signed, witnessed, notarized, and completely made certain. It may sound like a terrible thing to have to do when one is very sick (and it is) but it is the only way that such things may be firmly established before the state. It would be better if we all took care of these documents while we are well, but they tend to be put off until the need arises.

In short, if you or someone in your family is diagnosed with cancer, it is time to make sure that all of the legal documents are properly drawn up to handle the situation. Do not put it off, as sometimes we cancer patients do not last very long. The patient needs to sign these documents, and so you must do it while he/she is still able to do so. 

My cancer blog may be found here: http://diehlmartin.com/cancer.html

Diehl Martin passed away in October 2007. If you need to contact someone, please contact Monica Martin.

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