What Financial Steps Should You Take When Your Spouse Receives a Cancer Diagnosis?

When I was 43 years old, a lot of things changed very quickly. 

My father passed away from Alzheimer’s, I opened my own financial planning practice and – within two years – I was diagnosed with stage 3c ovarian cancer. 

You quickly learn that the stages of cancer represent your life expectancy. Now I had to tell my mom and husband we had another long stretch of unknowns and uncertainty. The crux of that uncertainty was the time between diagnosis and developing a treatment plan. 

In all likelihood, you know someone (or are someone) affected by cancer. In 2023 alone, an estimated two million people will be diagnosed with cancer. When you receive that dreaded diagnosis, it can be tough to know what’s next.

In my situation, once we had a plan in place, I felt much better. It didn’t solve everything, but it made a difference. 

If your family is facing a similar situation, it’s important to have a plan. We’ve outlined our top tips for getting started below, including resources available to help you and your family move forward confidently.

Your Spouse is Diagnosed with Cancer – Now What?

A spouse’s life-altering diagnosis is tough to grapple with – but creating a plan for the future can help you and your family stay focused. Here are five steps you can take to keep your finances and wellbeing on track.

1. Give Yourself a Moment to Breathe

Before you jump into financial questions, take a moment to breathe and make sure your family is okay. 

A cancer diagnosis for your significant other can be earth-shaking, and can affect every area of your life. Talk to your family about what you are going through and what you need. They will feel good that you are sharing and not burdening yourself. Plus, people want to help you – let them!

A great way to keep the emotional toll of a cancer diagnosis under control is to create a self-care plan. Regular self-care practice can boost your happiness and reduce the effects of anxiety – so don’t backburner this one. That could include a standing appointment for a massage, acupuncture, meditation or other activity that gives you time to focus on yourself. 

Additionally, it’s important to identify your areas of support early on. Many people find emotional support through friends, family, churches or local support groups. 

You may also find resources for support through the professionals you work with who have experience in dealing with cancer diagnoses, such as your attorney, financial advisor, insurance agent or hospital staff. Often, these people can point you toward resources or offer first-hand advice. 

2. Consider How You’ll Cover the Costs of Treatment

Everyone knows that medical costs in the United States are beyond reason – but that often becomes a harsher reality for families facing a cancer diagnosis. The National Cancer Institute estimates the average cost of treatment the first year after a diagnosis sits at about $42,000. And while insurance often helps cover those costs – you still have to meet your deductible and make up for any loss of income due to treatments. 

Also keep in mind that the length of treatment for your spouse can vary. One course of chemotherapy takes an average of three to six months – but some cancer treatments can take months or even years to complete. 

Ask your hospital for a cost estimate and get in touch with insurance to see what your out-of-pocket expenses might look like. Then, consider where you’ll pull money from to cover those costs – retirement funds? An emergency account?

If you’re unsure, it’s a good idea to contact your financial advisor and discuss next steps. 

3. Update Your Estate Plan

Just as with any major life change, you’ll need to revisit your estate plan.

That could include updating your: 

  • Will 
  • Power of attorney (POA)
  • Healthcare POA
  • And more

You’ll want to make sure everything is in place in case of an emergency where you or your spouse lose the capacity to make big decisions. 

And if you haven’t done so already, now is the time to create a health directive, which outlines what you’d like to happen in many medical situations. You can also check to see if your trust has a cognitive decline clause or assigns different people for different POAs – instead of just one person making all the decisions. Your estate planning attorney and/or financial planner can help lend clarity to each of these documents and their real-life consequences.

4. Check in with Your Spouse

A cancer diagnosis can be very isolating for you and your spouse. Take this time to come together, assess and share what your spouse needs from you and what you need from your spouse. 

It may be helpful to set aside one night per week to spend together just checking in. In the interim, let family friends help out and lighten some of the burden of household tasks (like dishes and laundry) or errands, like grocery shopping. 

5. Apply for Financial Assistance

Many programs, like the American Cancer Society, provide assistance to those with cancer diagnoses that can’t continue working, need help with housing or even require transportation to and from appointments.

From dental costs to internet bills – there are a variety of programs available to help you manage your finances during this time. The following pages are great places to start your search:

A cancer diagnosis for your spouse can be emotionally and financially draining. With these five steps in place, you’ll be better prepared to handle the coming treatments (and their associated costs).

Move Forward with Clarity

We’re here to help answer all your financial questions – in the good times and bad. Click here to connect with a member of our team and get started today.

Latest Posts

The Millionaire-Next-Door’s Guide to Safeguarding Wealth

The Millionaire-Next-Door’s Guide to Safeguarding Wealth

After years of hard work, smart savings decisions, and a commitment to living below your means, you’ve finally reached that coveted “millionaire-next-door” status – but now what? When your net worth crosses the million-dollar threshold, you’re in the top 3% of all...