This is a post that confronts some of the realities of death. Skip this, or save it for later, if your brain isn’t able to deal with it at the moment.
Deaths from Covid-19 have topped 1000 in the U.S.. We continue to hope for the best, but the virus is not under control, and we don’t know how many people will be impacted until it is. We need to be aware that some current projections show the number of covid-related deaths could grow to well past a million.
Perhaps you will not be personally unaffected; you and your family may remain healthy. I certainly wish that for you. But the virus affects different people in different ways, and we can’t know who it will hit the hardest. If you’re feeling overwhelmed with worry, taking some concrete steps to protect your family in your possible absence may help.
In the five suggestions below I’m going to refer to “your person”. Your person might be your spouse, your adult child (or adult children), your sibling, your best friend, your lawyer — your person is whoever you plan to assign dealing with your will, and your belongings, if you were to die.
Five concrete steps you can take to get your affairs in order:
1) If you don’t have a will, now is a good time to create one while you and your person are still healthy. There are options for creating wills online. You could try Do Your Own Will for a free option, or try Legal Zoom for a paid option. Try not to be intimidated — online services say the average time it takes to create a will is 15 minutes.
Please remember: each state has its own laws regarding what makes a will a legally binding document. You may need to print out your online will and sign it in front of two adult witnesses. You may need to get it notarized. In some states, you may be able to write a handwritten will, called a Holographic Will, that is considered a legal document. You can look up your state guidelines here.
If you need a notary, but can’t get to one because you are under stay-at-home guidelines, Notarize offers online notarization.
Even if you don’t have access to a lawyer or notary at the moment, and have to delay that part, writing/typing out your will, signing it and dating it, will give you some really good peace of mind until you can make it an official legal document.
If you do already have a will, now is a good time to review it and update it if needed.
2) Assign a Power of Attorney. This is a simple task that shouldn’t take you much time. You can find a power of attorney form for your state here. This allows someone to make legal decisions for you (medical or otherwise) if you become incapacitated.
3) Consider an Advance Directive and/or a DNR. An advance directive is a legal document that explains how you want medical decisions about you to be made if you cannot make the decisions yourself. It only applies to health care decisions and does not affect financial or money matters. AARP offers free Advance Directive forms by state.
DNR is short for Do Not Resuscitate. A DNR gives instructions that you don’t want CPR if your heart stops beating. Sometimes a DNR also prevents other medical interventions. If you like, you can include a DNR order as part of your Advance Directive.
Be aware, even with planning, some of this may be out of your hands if you need care but ventilators or other equipment are not available.
4) Order a fire proof box. Keep copies of important papers, like your will, and a printout with your essential passwords, inside. Make sure your person knows where the keys to your fireproof box are.
Side note: We like to keep our passports, birth certificates, social security cards, marriage license, and backup photo hard-drives in our fireproof box too.
5) Think for a minute how you want to approach passwords and logins for your accounts — bank accounts, social media accounts, airline miles accounts, any online accounts.
Passwords can be tricky — the average person has 90(!) online accounts, and passwords can change frequently. Trying to keep track of all passwords and login names, and communicate those to your person, can feel overwhelming.
One way to simplify is to consider that most passwords can be reset via an email account. So if your person has access to your email account (or accounts plural if you use more than one), they should be able to access most websites you’ve registered with by making a forgotten password request.
Another option: If your person has access and the login for your laptop, your browser (Chrome, Safari, Firefox, etc.) has likely saved most or all of your usernames and passwords, and your person will be able to look up those saved passwords in your browser settings.
The idea is to give your person access to a main hub — like your laptop or your email accounts — and they can access needed passwords or reset passwords from that hub. That way, you won’t have to constantly be updating your person with your changing passwords. Once you decide on your “hub” option, print out the essential login info and put it in your fireproof box.
Your turn. Which of these tasks do you find most intimidating? Have you found online services or resources related to these tasks that have been helpful to you? Know other good options that will help people complete these tasks when they can not leave the house? Do these kinds of tasks calm your mind, or make you more worried? Is there anything you would add to this list?