Right now, huge numbers of people are coming face to face with their own mortality, and realizing they need to plan for the worst. This goes not just for those in the “senior” category, but for all of us, no matter our age. We are facing the reality of our mortality, and many of us are doing it courageously by taking this as an opportunity to learn what we need to do for the people we love.
Recently I heard a tragic story from a colleague whose client recently lost her fiancé to COVID-19. Because she wasn’t listed on her fiancé’s health directive and HIPAA waiver, she could not get anyone to update her on his condition once he entered the hospital.
Naturally, she didn’t give up trying to get in touch, and eventually someone told her that he wasn’t in the ICU anymore. She was enormously relieved, but when she hadn’t heard anything else by the next day, she called again for news. Finally, after being transferred several times, she learned that the reason her fiancé wasn’t in the ICU was because he was in the morgue. He’d passed away the day before, and no one had told her. Heartbreaking.
Nobody expects something like this to happen, especially people who are healthy and making plans for their own futures. But sometimes the worst does happen, and if it does, you want the people you love to be able to grieve properly, without leaving them with a mess of confusion on top of it all.
Now, think about your own situation. What will happen to your loved ones, and the assets you’ll leave behind, if you become sick or die?
Without a doubt, you would want to ensure certain people in your life are informed if you have to go to the hospital, and kept up to date on your condition while you are there. You’d also probably want to avoid them having to go through a drawn-out court process to handle your estate after your death, or save them from the fate of not being able to access your assets if you are hospitalized. This article is all about you having the tools you need to make sure everything is in place to do the right thing for the people you love, just in case something happens to you.
The Things You Can Do Yourself
First of all, you need to have a worst-case scenario conversation with your family. A lot of people try to avoid conversations about death, but the truth is, we will all die. It’s better to face that with those that we love, and when the time comes, we will be as ready as we can be.
Create an Inventory of What Matters
A couple of weeks ago, I told you why it was important to have a “personal resource map” to ensure your loved one’s know what you have, where it is, and how to access it if something happens to you.
If you didn’t get a chance to watch the training we created for you on that, you can find that training here. It’s content-packed and will show you what you can do yourself, and when you need to work with a lawyer. We encourage you to watch it and create your own Personal Resource Map for the people you love using the free tool provided with the training.
This is something that you can get started on right now, by yourself, without the help of a lawyer. It is a great resource to leave for your loved ones, so they know where to find everything that is important to you, and to them, if something happens to you.
First, get out your calendar and schedule an appointment with yourself. Set aside an hour to watch the training and then one more hour to take an inventory of everything in your life that is important to you. We’ll guide you through doing that step by step in the training and give you a free online tool to use to create your own family treasure map, of sorts.
Important Note—Your Personal Resource Map will not handle the following:
- A guarantee that your loved ones won’t have to go to court;
- Directing your assets to anyone other than your “next of kin” according to your state’s laws;
- Ensuring health care decisions are made for you, as you want (it’s not a will or a Health Care Directive);
- Making sure your unmarried partner can stay living in your house.
Update Your Health Care Directive
This is extra important if you want your loved ones to avoid the tragic situation that my colleague’s client found herself in. Do NOT delay reviewing and updating these documents.
An Advance Health Care Directive has three parts:
- The Living Will/ Medical Directive, which states how you want decisions to be made for you.
- The Medical Power of Attorney, which states who should make these decisions if you can’t make them yourself.
- A HIPAA Release that allows medical professionals to disclose information to your Medical Power of Attorney/Agent.
You can refer to this article by my mentor for more information on how you can prepare your Health Care Directive for free. (And if you are in Alaska, our state has a form that you can use – contact me directly, firstname.lastname@example.org, and I will send it to you).
You can prepare this document yourself if you choose or a Personal Family Lawyer® can help you with it.
Name Legal Guardians for Your Kids
A very important thing for all parents of minor children to do is name legal guardians for your children. Think about what would happen to them right now if something were to happen to you, for both the long term and the immediate future. We have a website we’ve created where you can name legal guardians for your kids, at no charge here. If you are in Alaska, these tools are a great start and something you can do yourself to get going. However, you will need other legal documents in place for long-term protection of your kids. Set up your call with Liz Smith here if you want to know more.
What You Should Get A Lawyer’s Help With
The goal in setting up your estate plan is, ultimately, to keep your loved ones out of the court process and out of conflict. To do that, you have to keep your estate plan up to date, and ensure you’ve made the right decisions in the estate planning process.
Under the following circumstances, you should not just do planning yourself, but instead have a Life & Legacy Planning Session, during which we can look at your family dynamics, your assets, and the law so you can decide what you really do need for the people you love:
- If you have assets, beyond what you can physically see and touch, and those assets are worth more than $50k;
- If you live with your unmarried partner in a house that one of you owns and the other doesn’t (or even if you own it together);
- If you have minor children and your named guardians don’t live locally to you or if you have not named guardians in your will;
- If you are in a second (or more) marriage;
- If you have complex family dynamics;
- If you have a business you want to continue after you are gone;
- If you know for sure you would want to keep your family out of court no matter what.
All of our Life & Legacy Planning Sessions are happening virtually these days, and we can make the whole process quite easy and affordable for you and the people you love. Give us a call to schedule your Live & Legacy Planning Session, if you are ready to face your mortality courageously.