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?
19 thoughts on “Feeling Anxious? Let’s Take 5 Steps to Get Our Affairs in Order”
Sobering, but IMPORTANT! Good advice any time.
I was telling my husband that if our kids all weren’t in their early 20s, I would be most concerned about naming guardians for them. Because esp in this situation, I think a family needs layers and levels of guardians, because what if your first choice person dies? This is all truly so unprecedented and awful.
I did tell our young 20-something kids that they all need wills too, especially for personal directives and enduring powers of attorney, not just for medical decisions but financial decisions. By the way, Notarize appears to be swamped, they have an announcement on the website, “Due to a surge in demand, we’ve temporarily suspended single-document notarizations. We’re working tirelessly to serve you again ASAP.”
I have three kids 7 and under and this was very important to us- to assign a guardian, especially as we didn’t want either of our parents to be the long term guardian (due to age and health), so we wanted it to be spelled out. We used an attorney who specializes in wills (even though we have attorneys in the family, and I was very grateful- the attorney knew all about the state laws that would pertain to our will. Worth every penny.
Hi JEH! Per a suggestion from my sister, we are also working on “current state” docs for each of our three kids (under 12): personality summaries, likes/dislikes, strengths, sort of our spiritual parental insights and what kind of parenting styles work best for each person, and how they respond to different situations. Also including a daily schedule for our littler ones, so that whomever takes over (haven’t figured that out yet–husband is stalling b/c he is in denial and won’t have the conversation) is equipped as much as possible/set up for success to help our children in a dire time.
Here’s another step. Write letters or notes for your kids, and spouse/partner.
Coincidentally, I sat down and wrote my Will yesterday! My father passed away suddenly last year *without* a Will, so it’s been something I’ve been thinking about for a while. Since I don’t have a spouse or children to defacto inherit, I reached out to different family members to see what they might be interested in. I asked them to just hit on the my email and jot down five (more or less) things that quickly came to mind, just to give me some ideas. It actually was really lovely to learn what things have sentimental value and memories for other people! Made me feel like I have less ‘junk’ and more treasures than I thought — LOL! Overall, it turned out to be a much more enjoyable experience than I expected.
That was “hit REPLY on my email”, but a word dropped due to format… sorry if that middle sentence was confusing! (assuming anyone else reads this – HAH!)
I love this idea and hope to use it. I have two boys so there are so many things on mine they won’t want but I have 3 sisters and they all have daughters that might want some of my things.
Oh I hope you do reach out to the girls! I bet it will start some lovely conversations. :) Of course, I reminded everyone that I’m planning to live to age 120, so it will be a looooong time before they get anything. Though maybe I’ll decide to purge in 30 years? LOL!!
My addition: consider long-term care insurance. In our mid-50s, with grown kids, we began researching the matter a couple of years ago. Cost of long-term care (even if needed only during an extended illness or surgical recovery) are increasing at an alarming rate, and I can only imagine what ramifications the virus would have. Our policies become death benefits to named survivors should they not ever be used before our passing.
Also: consider giving annuity-type life insurance policies as gifts for important milestones. We gave these to our kids upon their college graduations. They have decent cash value at maturity in 15 years, or can be converted to another type of life coverage or investment.
What a time of taking stock.
We have a digital file with a list that starts out literally with steps for when one of us dies – 1. call this person as they can come over immediately to be with you 2. call this person and they will catch a flight, etc. Then it has a detailed list of where the important stuff is from passports to online accounts, wills & powers of attorney.
We went through what would we need to know if someone died – who do we report it to first, where do we file for death certificates, how many copies are needed. I wrote all of that in the file, including websites for the local authority. I called up our bank and said if I die how does this work – who does my husband or child call? Same with life insurance, or retirement accounts. They walked me through the process, gave me the phone number that handles it and what info my next of kin would need and also verified who are the listed beneficiaries to make sure those were updated. I imagined what would I need if I were the survivor or if I’m the one who passes and having all of that compiled into one place is reassuring to me.
Apart from that logistical stuff we included final wishes for funerals & anything we really wanted or did NOT want in hopes that the more we have documented the less stressful it will be for those we leave behind.
We still have more to sort and update now that our kids are becoming young adults and our country of residency may be changing, so I appreciate your post as a reminder for us to review this.
Thanks for this, Heidi. It’s fabulous.
This is so smart! I’m going to keep this entire post – such good information and ideas.
Thank you for this wonderful post! My husband and I own an online estate planning company called Easy Legal Planning (www.easylegalplanning.com), so we know how absolutely important it is to have this planning done. We have been helping doctors all over the country this week quickly get their documents in order, and are so happy to be helping during this unprecedented time. If anyone wants more information, we would love to help and you’d be supporting a small business (but one that has helped thousands over the past 15 years in all 50 states so rest assured you are in good hands). Thank you for posting about this as it is often not something that exciting to talk about, but absolutely vital to complete. Thank you!
For passwords, use a password storage app (I use LastPass) and you can designate someone to be your person who can access in case of emergency or death.
Shannon, I came here to say this, so glad you beat me to it!
I second LastPass–it keeps all your passwords for you and then you designate who can log in. We use it for our whole family. It’s crazy how many accounts you have and passwords, trying to keep it all secure but also not get locked out!
Yes, I was going to suggest the same. That’s an easy way for your person to manage in your absence.
Gabrielle – I love these suggestions. Some of these are things I need to do anyway. This situation is a good reminder that there’s no time like the present.
You may want to check out how long your fireproof box is still safe in a fire. We found out, in the recent Goleta, CA fire that even a fireproof safe is not fireproof. My daughter’s in laws lost everything in their fireproof safe in that fire. So just be aware.
We used a local law firm that does everything online/ by phone/ by Skype/ sends a courier to your house… at 50% of the cost of any other quotes we got. They were great— it made it so easy that at 47, we finally got our act together and did a Living Trust (which is basically what you have to have in California if you don’t want to pay a fortune in probate). We don’t have any kind of affiliation with them— my husband is a teacher and I’m a doctor.