Practical Action Steps in the Face of Covid-19

This is a strange time.  None of us really know what to do or how things are going to pan out.  Recently, even before this crazy pandemic, my brother recommended that I read the book, “How to Stop Worrying and Start Living,” by Dale Carnegie.  Typically, anxious or worrisome thoughts don’t plague me; however, concern for my family, specifically my parents who are individuals most vulnerable to the effects of this virus, has me thinking.  The best tools I utilize to combat worrying are the following: 1. Prayer, 2. Exercise, and 3. Action. While I think everyone should pray and exercise, you aren’t reading a blog post on a lawyer’s website to be briefed on such things, so today I want to talk about Action.

As a big podcast fan, I typically listen when I’m driving or exercising.  The other day I caught a few minutes of a podcast about fear and anxiety as it relates to Covid-19.  The therapist being interviewed said she saw people stocking up on staples, toilet paper, canned goods, etc.  But said she wished they were stocking up on aluminum foil containers to enable them to provide a meal for an elderly neighbor who may not be able to safely get out.  Action. What great advice – instead of perseverating around scared feelings, turn our worry into action by doing productive things.

This is not a fire sale blog post to frighten people into “getting their affairs in order” because we’re all doomed. Rather this is a tool to turn idle time into productive action that will bear the fruit of order and provide a tool to accomplish important tasks instead of panic that produces nothing but fear and or paralysis.

What do I need to do?

Gather your documents.  Typically, people have things here and there.  Driver’s License in their wallet, birth certificates in the safe deposit box at the bank, social security cards, wait, where did I put those social security cards? Some of us have everything scanned and saved on our computer or in Dropbox in a file entitled “Important Documents.” When thinking about gathering your stuff, I challenge you to think about three things: 1. Needed documents, 2. Organization, and 3. Accessibility.

  1.  Needed documents– If something happens to you, your family or decision makers will need the following things.
  2. Driver’s License
  3. Insurance card (Medicare, Supplemental Insurance, and/or Prescription)
  4. Social Security Card
  5. Birth Certificate
  6. Marriage Certificate
  7. Death Certificates of immediate family members
  8. Estate Planning documents (i.e. Trust, Will, General Durable Power of Attorney, Health Care Directive/Living Will, Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care, HIPAA waivers) We will discuss these things in a future blog post.
  9. Financial Documents- Original vehicle/boat titles, List of assets, including the custodians of each account, most recent copy of your tax return.
  1. Organization– Everyone will have different ideas about how documents should be organized and maintained.  The following is my preferred method based on my experience dealing with families in crisis during the incapacity or loss of a loved one.  The key is to make it easy for them.

Put everything in a 3 ring binder- You can keep your needed documents in sheet protectors, like the ones here, that are kept in a plainly labeled binder, such as this. If you aren’t comfortable keeping originals in a binder (you should keep your original driver’s license in your wallet), you can make copies of the front and back of needed documents and put the copies in sheet protectors including a note stating where you keep your original documents. I love it when people walk into my office with a binder full of documents.  Compatible devices or software are never an issue, paper is always accessible, and we know whether or not we can read the documents. Water and fire can destroy paper so you should store the binder in a safe place.  We will talk about this further in the next session under accessibility.

Clients often ask if they should store items on a Flash drive/other digital storage- You can scan the fronts and backs of your documents and save them to file on a clearly marked flash drive to share or put them in a folder on your computer.   This method has a few drawbacks, most of which relate to accessibility.

  1.  Accessibility– The questions I receive the most from clients—“Should I put these estate planning documents in my safe deposit box?  Can I save everything to a file on my computer?”  My answer most often is, “No.”  The reason: Accessibility.

Crisis doesn’t restrict itself to Monday – Friday 9-5. Most often we need our documents during off hours and the location of that safe deposit key slips our mind or we can’t communicate the location to our family.  If you can’t get to the bank to access the safe deposit box because of death or incapacity, your family or decision makers must go in your stead.  If their names are not on the bank’s list of authorized persons, or if they can’t find the key, your family or decision makers must employ an often lengthy and expensive process to access your essential documents.  Time and money you or they don’t have, or isn’t available.

Unless you provide the copy of the documents digitally to your decision makers during your life, putting them on your computer can be problematic.  Typically, computers are password protected.  Also, the documents might not be in a place where your decision makers might know where to find them.  Sometimes it is best not to share documents with decision makers until they need them.

Put your documents in a safe place and tell your family or decision makers where your needed documents are located. I suggest clients purchase a waterproof/fireproof bag like this one, stash it somewhere in your house and tell your decision makers where to find it.  Make sure your decision makers have a way to access that space if something happens to you.

There is no perfect solution as death and incapacity always brings crisis for families and loved ones, however having things in order makes a crisis much less chaotic.

During this time when we’ve been forced to take a step back and slow down, instead of worrying, take action to put your things in proper order.   Stay tuned for Part 2 of Practical Steps in the Face of Covid-19 when we will talk about what legal documents you need to protect yourself and your family.

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