Saturday, March 9, 2013


I have a confession to make, one that may surprise people who really know me, especially those who are aware of my love of having things organized and my love for preparedness and for planning.

I am not fully prepared for death or catastrophic accident.  

I don't mean emotionally, or spiritually, ... those are entirely different conversations ... what I am referring to now, though, is legally.

Here's what I think legal preparedness looks like:

*Researching and discussing various life and death and related financial issues so that legal paperwork including a will and a living will have been prepared to detail health care decisions, transfer financial assets, and to put thoughts and arrangements into writing. 
*Having had this paperwork reviewed and finalized by an attorney who also provides advice on issues such as creating a trust and custody of minor children.
*Having organized all of the above as well as information on assets (bank account numbers, documentation of property ownership, etc.), insurance policies, and contact information for key people and having informed several key people that such an in-case-of-emergency file exists and where it can be located. 

One of the many things I learned first-hand from going through the experiences that came as a result of my dad's illness and death is the need for legal preparedness.  While my dad wasn't young, per se, he wasn't nearly old enough to think that there was an urgent need for him to be fully prepared from a legal standpoint for his death or for an illness so devastating that he would be left unable to finish preparing.  He, like all of us, thought that there was still time left to do things like that.

There are other things in life that are different versions of preparedness, things you hear that you should do "just in case" but that you put off for one reason or another.  Sometimes that turns out ok, like if you don't buy the extended warranty on a new refrigerator and either it doesn't break or it does and the repair costs aren't too bad, but here's the truth about end-of-life legal decisions and planning: at some point, it will matter if you haven't gotten your affairs in order.  Unlike other things that can technically be put off forever, this is one thing that will cause great problems if it's left undone.

There are odd terms for doing this kind of thing, really: getting your affairs in order,  making final arrangements, pre-planning (isn't all planning "pre-planning"?).  But it is perhaps one of the most important tasks you can accomplish as an adult, if not for your sake (in case you go on ahead right away instead of hanging in the balance for awhile like my dad did), then for that of those you will leave behind.

People talk about their Bucket List items, things they want accomplish before they die.  But what about what they NEED to get done?  I didn't realize the complexity of what needs to be prepared before I was one of the people needing access to that information for my dad, and I hadn't really considered the implications that could ensue if that type of information wasn't organized and at-the-ready.  It's difficult enough, I'm sure, to pull those documents out and to go through them to see what needs to be done when a death has occurred suddenly and/or unexpectedly.  What we didn't know before, what we couldn't have know until we had experienced it ourselves, was just how tough it was to put all of that together while we were caring for my dad and trying to cope with our own grief during the ten weeks he was so sick.  Not only did we need access to the information that would normally be needed in case of a death, but we also needed to know about other things on Dad's behalf during his illness like long-term disability coverage, health care insurance benefits (Medicare and private insurance), and long-term care insurance.  It took a lot of time and effort from all of us to gather that information and to decipher what needed to be done to make any of it available for Dad's care.  It's something that I'm sure my dad wouldn't have left undone had he been aware of the implications of not being complete in organizing the necessary information.

Now that I've experienced the difficulty of it first-hand during his illness, I KNOW better.  Still, for a variety of reasons (excuses?), I am not prepared, but I have set a goal to get my things in order; I've started the process, and hopefully I can finish it in the next month or two.

It's a depressing and tedious and stressful thing to do; that's for sure.  Nobody likes thinking about the type of what-if's that are involved in this process, but I can only imagine what a gift it would be to have it all together, should a crisis occur.

Here are some resources, in case you aren't complete in your preparedness either:

A website with info about attorney Alexis Martin Neely's book "Wear Clean Underwear" - a great resource about legal planning, especially for parents (Here's a shout-out to my sister JB for finding this one!)

"Getting Your Affairs In Order," - a free Penn State reference guide


  1. Stephanie,
    Our hospital chaplain where I work gave each employee a packet on the topic you wrote about. It's called Five Wishes.
    My Wish for The Person I want to Make Care Decisions for me when I can't.
    The kind of Medical Treatment I want or don't want.
    How comfortable I want to be.
    How I want people to treat me.
    What I want my loved ones to know.

    The packet is filled with detailed, personal questions for end of life issues - from the healthcare side. It is put out by Aging with Dignity PO Box 1661 Tallahassee, Florida 32302-1661.

    I think this is a good resource to use. It's valid and takes the place of any living will or advanced directive that may already be signed.

    Blessings to you,

    1. Thank you for the information, Ronda! Sounds like a great resource.