Could You Make Ends Meet If You Were Suddenly Disabled?

Becoming disabled is not a worst-case scenario, but it's one that can wreak irreparable havoc on your finances. You may have little to no control over whether or not a disabling illness or injury will impact your life, but you can prepare for the what-if. If you don't, you could find yourself — and your loved ones — facing financial ruin should the what-if become reality.

We all need to ask ourselves: Could we make ends meet if we were suddenly disabled?

Build your emergency fund ASAP

Ideally, you should have at least six months' worth of salary in an emergency account, but even three months' worth can be a big help when you're facing a disability. Even if you can go back to work eventually, you'll probably be out for some time — first in the hospital, and then recovery time at home, which may be an extended period depending on the severity of your condition. If your emergency fund is currently running on empty, now is the time to focus on beefing it up. Illness or injury could happen at any time, to anyone. (See also: 7 Easy Ways to Build an Emergency Fund From $0)

Identify other sources of income or savings

If you don't have a lot of money in your emergency fund, maybe there are other sources of income or savings that you can rely on. Do you have valuables that you can sell? Can you downsize to put cash in the bank? Will your disability allow you to get a new job based on your skills and limited mobility? Do you have stocks or bonds you can cash in? None of this is ideal, of course, but it may prevent or at least hold off mounting debt while you recover or figure out how to best move forward based on your disability.

Disability insurance is a must

If you're gainfully employed, I highly recommend that you get disability insurance — while you are still healthy and able-bodied — even if it's short-term. Short-term disability insurance will pay roughly half your salary while you're out of work. Short-term disability duration can range, but the maximum amount of time is generally a year.

If you can get long-term disability through your employer, even better; that will protect you after the short-term expires, paying around 50 to 70 percent of your normal salary until you can return to work or for the amount of time stated in your policy.

If you're not sure what kind of disability benefits you may need, talk it over with a financial adviser or planner. You may also be able to get coverage for the eventuality that your spouse has to quit their job to become your caregiver.

Disability insurance may not seem necessary when you're young (I was invincible in my 20s, too), but you could wind up in major financial trouble later in life, especially if you're starting your career with very little money in the bank. (See also: 4 Things You Need to Know About Disability Insurance)

Social Security Disability may be able to help

If you didn't invest in a disability insurance policy before the injury, you can file a claim for Social Security Disability benefits and see if you qualify. Just don't count on it right away. This can be a very long, tedious process, and many claims are denied the first time they are filed. If you are denied, you can file an appeal. A lawyer may be able to help you expedite the process, though it will come with the added expense of legal fees.

Consider your loved ones, too

You don't want to burden your family with taking care of you if you can help it. Preventing them from having to make financial sacrifices on your behalf is another case for investing in disability insurance.

Your loved ones' lives can change drastically along with yours in the event of a disabling illness or injury. They may have to quit a job to become your caretaker, sell or modify their home, or make various other types of serious financial sacrifices. You can lessen that risk with proper planning. Quality of life is even more important when faced with a disability — for all those impacted, not just the injured individual — and it's your responsibility to take care of yourself while you're still healthy and ensure you have a plan.

The reality is, you can't assume that your loved ones will be able to drop everything and make financial sacrifices for you. Illness or injury can be a very stressful situation in anyone's life, and if you can lessen that stress ahead of time, you owe it to those who would be tasked with your care.

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Could You Make Ends Meet If You Were Suddenly Disabled?

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