This week, I was listening to the latest episode of This American Life on NPR. In one of the stories, a producer interviews a family member who lives in New York City. Both the man and his wife have been diagnosed with COVID-19…and they have a young toddler at home. The interview shows insight into how difficult this man's life has become in such a short span of time. His wife is so ill that she hasn't left her bed for a week. He has become the sole carer for his daughter, but he is so run down from the virus that he is having trouble meeting her needs. And then there is this moment, toward the end of the interview, that absolutely gripped me. The man broke down, and he shared honestly that he was scared. He said, if all the COVID-19 virus does is make them sick for a few weeks, they can get through it. But what if it turns worse? What if one or both of them don't recover? The man in the interview says that's why he had reached out to the interviewer (I suppose they are very close). He says he hurriedly wrote an email to this family member, making quick decisions about how he wanted his daughter to be cared for and how financial matters should be handled. In short, he was writing his own Will.
I Try to Steer Clear of Scare Tactics
If you have been following my blog for any amount of time, you probably have noticed this about me. As an estate planning attorney, I want you to have all the facts. I want you to know what a comprehensive estate plan can do for you, and I want you to understand what could happen if you don't have one in place. However, I steer clear of the scare tactics that some other estate planning attorneys seem to rely upon. I don't want my clients coming to me from a place of fear. I want clients coming to me from a place of empowerment — making a decision to plan for their family when they are ready. But, we're in a whole new world. At this moment, it's not fear-mongering to say things can change in an instant. It's not overly dramatic to say we just don't know what lies ahead over the next few weeks and months given the COVID-19 virus.
If You Get Sick, You Shouldn't Have to Worry about Making Plans
I'm still not saying it's time to panic. I'm just saying maybe it's time to plan. Creating a plan is like weaving a safety net. You don't want to be doing it when your hands are shaking and something truly scary is looming. You want to weave that safety net now, in moments of relative calm, so if the worst comes, you can focus on getting well, not worrying about “what if.”
If (and I desperately hope this doesn't happen) you get sick, the last thing in the world that you should be worried about is who will care for your children, who will pay your mortgage, how medical decisions will be made. You should know. Never again do I want to hear the kind of panic and uncertainty that I heard in this man on This American Life. I don't want to, but I know I will. Still to this day, 80% of Americans don't have any kind of advance planning in place. It doesn't have to be anything fancy or elaborate, but it does have to directly address your family's needs and it has to work.
Think About What You Would Write in a Hurried Email to a Trusted Family Member
I really just want you, readers of this blog, to know that I am here for you. Right now is a scary time, but that doesn't mean we need to be scared. It does, however, require us to think, to plan, to imagine the future and how our lives may be upended by the COVID-19 virus.
Imagine what you would write in a hurried email to a loved one if you weren't sure what tomorrow would bring. Would you ask them to come pick up your kids? Would you give the usernames and passwords to your financial accounts? Would you want to share some profound wisdom about life, or love, or what kind of people you hope your children become? Think about what you would include. Maybe even jot it down. There. You have your first draft. Really, creating a plan can be this straightforward.
Once you've got this basic outline, reach out to me. We can virtually connect and talk about what it would take to put your plan in place. Let's weave your safety net together. Give my office a call to get started.