We originally put this post together back in April 2020. It was clear, almost as soon as this pandemic started being talked about in the states, that folx should be getting their sh*t in order and making sure they were covered in the case of emergency and/or hardship. Unfortunately, it’s been worse than any of us expected. It’s also lasted much longer than any of us hoped (with, frankly, no real clear end in sight). So, fast forward almost a year, and we’re here to be that annoying thorn in your side and remind you to do the work and make sure you have your ass(ets) covered in case of an emergency.
Back in the day, APW had a series called Tiny Steps to Adulthood, where we went over exactly how to do all sorts of adult things, like get life insurance, deal with married taxes, manage your money, and get renters insurance. (I have referred to these posts many times over the years.) We were planning to re-launch that series under the title “Do This One Thing.” Then… pandemic.
While we haven’t created those bite-size posts. (You can add that to the list of 2020 dreams that haven’t happened, but just might happen in 2021), we are here today to tell you what to do so that you can get your affairs in order now. Because… pandemic. So today we’re going to talk about what we all need to get taken care of right now (even if we can’t do it perfectly, or notarize it right this second). We’re going to discuss medical care wishes, wills, and powers of attorney.
We should all have these things done already, life comes at us fast. Many of us don’t, however. Myself included. (Complete honesty time… I wrote this post nearly a year ago, and I haven’t finished all the things I told you to do. But, I will, right…. NOW.) In the words of Glennon Doyle (possibly my favorite author and Instagram follow of all time), “These things will be hard, but you can do hard things.” So let’s get started.
Double (Will) Trouble
If you’re here, reading APW, there’s a chance that you’re currently wedding planning, pre-engaged, or recently wed. In all of these cases, getting these pieces in order may be even more important than at any other time in your life. Perhaps your wedding has been delayed because of this pandemic. As always, we are so sorry. Maybe you decided to elope or have a zoom wedding to make sure the legal pieces were in place before your bigger celebration to come. Depending on your situation, all of this information we’re about to share is just that much more vital. If you want your partner to have the right to help you, make decisions for you, and manage your affairs in case you become ill or worse, you need to get some things down on paper. Now is good.
Let’s Talk About Death, Baby
As a VIP member of the Dead Parent Club (x3), I am more well versed in all of this than I’d like to be. And while I know that talking about death can be a really uncomfortable conversation for a lot of people, I’m not going to tiptoe around it. Things are unstable in our country and our world, and we all need to get our sh*t together. So while I’m telling you all what to do, I’m literally making my to-do list at the same time. I’m in it with you. What exactly should you do? How should you do it? And how can you complete it while sheltering-in-place and staying safe? Let’s do it together.
First up: Your Medical Care Wishes
I think folx often think about a will as the top priority. I have to tell you, from experience, having the Advance Healthcare Directive (sometimes also called a Living Will, a Medical Power of Attorney, or a Healthcare Proxy) of a loved one in hand when shit hits the fan, makes the worst of times so much easier. (Not better, just easier.) I know thinking about being incapacitated is uncomfortable and unpleasant, but from what we’ve learned in the last 10 months, COVID-19 has no ‘type.’ Young, old, healthy, underlying conditions… we’re all susceptible and should be prepared. We’ve all heard the horrifying stories, or know someone, who was generally healthy and then suddenly… wasn’t.
When my mom died, nearly eight years ago, there was no pandemic. She was, however, having surgery. The hospital required her to prepare an Advance Directive, and no exaggeration: it was the best last gift she unknowingly gave me. I knew, without a doubt, in her own handwriting, what her wishes were. When she fell into a coma two days after surgery, I knew exactly how to proceed. Even as a shaky scared 24-year-old with no plans to lose her mom after a relatively routine surgery.
You can learn, right here, more about Advance Directives, and create your own Advance Directive quickly and easily. Look, in a perfect world, this should be notarized or witnessed. If you can’t make that happen right now (thanks, social distancing), at least your wishes are in black and white. There are even a number of places online where you can get your document notarized over the computer. Check out: Notarize or Notary Live. But this is a pandemic, and what’s going to matter to you, your loved ones, and your doctors is knowing what your wishes were. So get them down on paper.
You should also consider a DNR Order if that is your wish. DNR stands for “Do Not Resuscitate” and is a document that puts in writing your wishes about how much intervention you would like used in keeping you alive. This will dictate if you want things like CPR performed if your heart stops beating, if you want to be placed on a ventilator, and other life-saving measures. LegalTemplates.net has a free DNR form that you can use. They also have links to the state-by-state laws that apply to DNRs. I think some of us have always thought of a DNR as a thing that only old people need. That’s just not the case. The statistics on folks living through resuscitation, and living through it in a non-vegetative state… are grim. So, in Pandemic Times and always, you should make decisions for yourself about how much effort, time, money, and machinery should go into keeping you ‘alive,’ and mostly what ‘alive’ means to you. Because to me, the bar is pretty high on what I consider a life. Read more about DNR Orders, and why they’re important, here.
Next up: The Will
This is the one we probably have all thought about doing, talked about doing, but just haven’t done. (And lucky for you, we have a long detailed APW article on the subject written in less depressing times, all about wills. So if you’re about to start one, go give it a read.) And here is where I’ll note: IF YOU HAVE MINOR CHILDREN IT IS VITAL THAT YOU HAVE A WILL. You want to be able to give your preferences to the court and your families, after your death, on who you want your children to be raised by. If your biological family isn’t a suitable option when it comes to raising your children, this is extra important.
I remember my parents talking about wills so many times when I was younger. Somehow they always ended the conversation with something like, ‘We don’t own much, so we don’t need one, right?’ Wrong. In your will, you cover a lot more than just where your favorite vinyl records should go after you pass.
Things that will be included in your will:
- An Executor: someone who will manage your affairs after your passing. This is different from a power of attorney, which we’ll cover next (though, it could be the same person.)
- Beneficiaries: who gets your favorite vinyls, your money, your home, etc. (Also, alternate beneficiaries, just in case).
- Guardianship: for your children and animals in the case of your passing. Note that given that we are currently in a pandemic, it’s wise to provide a first and second choice here.
There are a ton of quick and easy ways to make a will these days. (Note: you’re looking for a ‘last will and testament’ as opposed to a ‘living will’ which is the healthcare directive we talked about above.) One of our favorite options is LegalTemplates.net—they have a 7-day free trial, and after that, you can pay by the document, or get a low-cost annual membership and handle all your adulting in one place. Other options include LegalZoom, Rocket Lawyer, Trust & Will, or write your own. Again, this is something that generally needs to be notarized to become fully binding. However, over 50% of states honor holographic wills (AKA, wills written in your own handwriting, and signed by you). And even if that is not the case in your state, it’s better to have your will down in your handwriting than have no will at all. (Dealing with probate is fun for exactly nobody.) Again, there are sources like Notarize who can help with online notary services—which is beyond helpful in these times. And, in most states, a self-proving affidavit will do the trick. So, there are zero excuses. Do some research on the laws where you live, and get a will put together today. You won’t regret the peace of mind that comes with this.
In The Meantime: The Power Of Attorney
For clarification’s sake, there is a difference between an Executor and a Power of Attorney. An Executor is a person you choose to handle your affairs after your death. A Power of Attorney (or Attorney in Fact) will handle your affairs while you are alive but unable to take care of business yourself. This means helping make medical decisions if you’re incapacitated, managing your finances and affairs if you’re stuck in a hospital, etc. (Note: there is a difference between a Medical Power of Attorney and a Durable General/Financial Power of Attorney. Pro-tip: Do both.)
You can head over to LegalTemplates.net to find the forms for your state, fill it out, and call it done. Some of us (ahem, me) have family members and legal next of kin who are simply not viable options to take care of our affairs… this is what makes us so good at picking kick-ass partners. Make sure your partner (or your best friend, or whoever you choose) has the right to take care of whatever comes their way.
Put it away safely
Get yourself a fireproof document safe, make sure your people know how to get into it, scan a copy and protect it by a passcode, and ask a friend or trusted family member (the executor of your will is a good option) to store a copy outside your home. Do whatever you need to do to ensure that these documents are accessible, safe, and ready for use in case of the worst possible emergencies. Oh, and while you’re at it, make a quick list of your bank accounts, passwords, and any other vital info that someone might need if you were unable to speak and help. Lock it up. Don’t throw away the key. Feel some peace. You did it.
Keep it up to date
I know, I know. I’m jumping the gun… I just convinced you to do the thing in the first place! Well, I would be remiss if I didn’t remind you that you should also check in on these documents every once in a while and update them if needed. Did you get a pet, have a baby, buy a house, get out of debt and accumulate a solid savings account? All of these would be solid reasons to update. Or perhaps the person you at one time considered a safe bet for executor has hit some life snags that leave you questioning their abilities… just me? Well, that’s another good reason. So, put your papers away, but set a recurring reminder in your calendar every year or two to check in on them.
Tell us, APW—did you already have all these things done? Are you going to do them right now while you’re home anyway? Imagine how good it will feel to check these forever tasks off your list. I’m off to do it right now.