If anything can go wrong, it will - Murphy’s Law
My Scottish grandparents had lots of favorite sayings. Two that often come to mind are, “Hope for the best, but plan for the worst,” and “Murphy may have been an Irishman, but he wasn’t half wrong.”
The Future is coming, whether or not you prepare. Best plan what you can.
When I was expecting my second child, my firstborn was not quite five. She was very excited about the new baby, and even told people she was getting a baby brother or sister for her birthday. Then a few months before our son was born, I started getting calls from the nursery school that my daughter was sick and had to be picked up. I would arrive to find a weepy, feverish child with a tummy ache, but by the time we arrived at home she was cheerful and wanted to go outdoors to play.
After a couple of these episodes, we visited the pediatrician. He ruled out any physical cause for her ailments, and then asked me to leave the room for a moment. When I returned, he sent a happy child off with the nurse to pick out a sticker for her good behavior, and explained to me that she was simply concerned about where she would go when I was at the hospital having the baby.
There had been lots of talk about Daddy being there when the baby was born, and about what we would do when the baby and I came home, but we hadn’t firmed up which of two generous couples who had offered would have the pleasure of our little girl’s company while we were away – and so we hadn’t yet discussed it with her.
That night at dinner, we asked her if she had a preference about which friends she would stay with. She chose the family with children, and we called and finalized the arrangements right then. The next day on the way home from nursery school, we dropped off her overnight case and sleeping bag so everything was ready whenever she arrived. Problem solved. We had a plan.
We all get in the habit of preparing for the little things. Things like having a stash of canned goods if you live in a climate prone to power failure, or having a backup adult listed at school in case you can’t get there to pick up your sick child. Or having an unused credit card or special savings set aside for emergencies. But there are a few more daunting things that we should also really think about. Things like retirement, or medical proxies, or who gets the kids if the worst happens.
You can trust me when I say that absolutely nobody (except maybe attorneys and financial planners) wants to think about these things. I love it when someone tells me they’re “not good at” pondering stuff like their own dotage, death, or disablement. I always wonder who, exactly, they think is.
Nobody likes to contemplate deferring current wants and needs to set aside for a rainy day. Nobody wants write a will, a Durable Power of Attorney, or an organ donation card. But here’s the thing… once you do these things you have a little peace of mind you didn’t have before. And once you tell your loved ones what you’ve done, you give them peace of mind as well, and may even inspire some of them to do the same.
There are several types of planning that can be started any time in adulthood. All of them are easier to begin the younger you are, and will probably evolve over time. None of them gets easier as you get older. I’ll dedicate posts to each of them. Attorney assistance is preferable, but not necessary for most. Whether you’re twenty or seventy, you’re a grown-up, so here’s a little preparation to-do list for you.
Pull up your big kid panties, and let’s get started:
1) Medical Stuff. This is the one I want to focus on in this post, It’s increasingly critical as we get older, but can affect us at any age at all.
If you were in a car accident tomorrow and were left in a coma, who would you want controlling your medical care? Does that person know how you’d like things handled? If you filled out an organ donor card, did you tell anyone? If you don’t want to donate your organs, did you tell them that? If you have special medical conditions, do you wear a bracelet or have you told those close to you? Do you have medical insurance? Does your family know how to access it for you?
Medical emergencies don’t only happen to the elderly. Honestly, your loved ones should have some direction from you, so they aren’t burdened with the fear of doing the wrong thing, and don’t end up arguing among themselves. Make the decisions, and then let at least two people know that they’re in your “chain of command,” and give them copies of your written executed documents. If you later marry, divorce, move, etc., you can always make changes and share those new forms, but there’s no good reason for just skipping this.
Here’s how it works. Each state or country has its own requirements, but in general you will need a state-approved form called a Medical or Health Care Proxy, Advance Care Directive, or some similar name. On that form, you will state your wishes in some detail, appoint your proxies (there may be requirements for who you can select, depending on where you live), sign and usually have notarized, or at least witnessed. Then you should get executed copies to your proxies, and let your loved ones know who they are.
Most hospitals and surgical centers will require these forms before performing surgeries. My mom did her first Advance Care Directive when she had a hip replacement in her late fifties. She was a nurse and was able to be very clinical about her desires. She continued to update her directive through the rest of her life when she moved or as her health needs changed. She made sure my sister and I, and all of her medical providers including Hospice, understood that she wanted no 911 calls, and no extraordinary measures. This was hard for us, but we knew and followed her wishes.
My Dad was another story. He was an unstable diabetic who feared we thought he “had one foot in the grave” because we asked him to complete a proxy. We finally convinced him that not putting his wishes in writing placed an unfair burden on his caregiver, who had no legal right to direct his care. We asked him how we would know what we should do, if he lost consciousness. We told him we didn’t care what choices he made on the form, we just didn’t want to guess, or to argue among ourselves, if it came to that. He chose to continue certain care in some circumstances. Different from Mom, but again, we had our clear marching orders.
In both cases, we eventually ended up needing and using the proxies. Although following them was difficult (and someone questioned each one), we knew we were doing what our parents wanted, and were able to honor their own choices. My sister and I were truly grateful to have that assurance.
Would your loved ones have the same?
My personal experience has convinced me that every adult should have, and periodically update, an Advance Care Directive. But wait… there’s more. There are the other two planning areas that I’ll badger you about in future posts:
2) Money Stuff. If you were in that same accident and your bills had to be paid and your family cared for, who would manage that? If you and your spouse were in the same accident, who would handle your finances until you got back in the saddle? If you lived and were disabled, do you have assets available to help you get your life back as much as possible? Have you ever considered a Durable Power of Attorney or talked to your family about this?
3) Everything else. This includes both practical and emotional issues like writing a will, and thinking about how you’d like to be remembered. If you were in that same accident and died, would you leave behind enough assets to cover your final expenses? Would your personal items go to the people you’d want to have them? Does your family know whether you want to be buried or cremated?
When we’re young, we think none of this can happen to us yet, and there will be a better time to deal with it later. The trouble is, later the reality just seems worse. And you could wait too long altogether. Dwelling on these things then can be very depressing, and give them power they shouldn’t have in your life. The more prepared you are, the less you have to think on them. Having a plan, and just reviewing it every few years, can give you a positive sense of control. It’s a little liberating.
Expect the best, but plan for the worst. Because, well, Murphy wasn’t half wrong.
Some related articles from the web:
- Estate Planning Basics (quicken.intuit.com)
- How can one obtain and prepare living will and advance medical directive forms? (medicinenet.com)
- Healthcare power of attorney in all 50 states (rocketlawyer.com)
- Living Will vs. Durable Healthcare Power of Attorney (rocketlawyer.com)
- Free Health Care Directive (lawdepot.com)