October 23, 2020
Eddie Van Halen, Cancer, and Money Discussions
Guys, this is a difficult post. It was hard to write, and it may be hard to read. Specifically, if you have recently lost a loved one to an illness, you may want to skip this post. That said, because these topics are taboo, we don’t talk about them enough.
On October 6, 2020, Eddie Van Halen, the legendary musician and co-founder of Van Halen, died after a very long battle with cancer. He was 65 when he passed in Santa Monica, surrounded by family and friends.
As has been reported in the press before, Eddie was battling cancer for well over 10 years and his passing reminded me of how hard it is to talk about death when someone has a serious illness. People also avoid talking about money, and few people want to talk about both.
When someone is diagnosed with cancer, for example, the focus is almost always on treatment and recovery. Rarely is there any discussion of what happens if the treatment doesn’t work. There seems to be an unspoken belief that if we don’t talk about it, it won’t happen.
Not talking about death isn’t limited to family and friends, however. In fact, there are many doctors that shy away from talking about dying until the very end, too.
Given this strong reluctance to talk about both money and dying, how can a financial planner help you deal with the financial and emotional issues that go along with a family member’s serious illness? Here are some suggestions:
Do Your Own Research
Don’t expect someone facing a serious illness to give you an accurate prognosis of their disease, as they are often in denial. And while it might sound silly, don’t be afraid to turn to the internet for more information.
Specifically, consider visiting the National Institutes of Health (http://www.nih.gov), which has statistics on every disease imaginable.
Learn to Interpret What Doctors Say
For example, when a cancer patient is told chemotherapy has a 25% chance of working, the average patient hears “working” as being cured. Working actually means there is a 25% chance of the tumor shrinking.
Often the chances of being cured are far less than 25%, and the physical effects of chemotherapy can be devastating to one’s remaining quality of life.
Learn About Options
Specifically, find out early about options for palliative care. This is multidisciplinary care focused on treating the symptoms of treatment, relieving suffering, and improving the quality of life. Because of denial and unwillingness to talk about what happens if they don’t get better, many patients never get into palliative care, or get into it way too late. Similarly, far too many patients wait too long to get into hospice care.
Talk to Your Financial Advisor – Important
Share your money concerns with your financial planner. Anxiety over having enough money to pay for care and the resulting effect on the family finances are two of the top concerns patients have. Interestingly, most financial advisors focus instead on whether advance directives, estate documents, and funeral plans are in place. Studies show that the majority of cancer patients are more concerned about paying for treatment than their own health. Likewise, financial stress can have a large, negative impact on people already under tremendous physical stress.
In addition, make sure you call your financial advisor’s attention to signs that a person’s illness is advancing. These can include a shortened attention span, not remembering details of conversations, word-finding difficulties, inability to multitask, mental fuzziness, and depression. Ask advisors to deal with these symptoms. That may look like meeting early in the day, addressing the most important issues first, keeping meetings short, including family members as appropriate, and putting action items in writing.
Realize that sharing your emotions is part of financial planning. Serious illness affects people in many different ways, but the underlying concerns are always emotional. Discuss those concerns with your advisor and work together to create a comprehensive plan addressing both death and recovery. Remember that preparation for a negative outcome does not reduce the risk of cure.
Our job as planners is to help clients prepare for the future, including the end of life. When that future becomes now, don’t hesitate to ask for the planner’s emotional support, as well as financial advice.
This commentary on this website reflects the personal opinions, viewpoints and analyses of the Gainplan LLC employees providing such comments, and should not be regarded as a description of advisory services provided by Gainplan LLC or performance returns of any Gainplan LLC Investments client. The views reflected in the commentary are subject to change at any time without notice. Nothing on this website constitutes investment advice, performance data or any recommendation that any particular security, portfolio of securities, transaction or investment strategy is suitable for any specific person. Any mention of a particular security and related performance data is not a recommendation to buy or sell that security. Gainplan LLC manages its clients’ accounts using a variety of investment techniques and strategies, which are not necessarily discussed in the commentary. Investments in securities involve the risk of loss. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.