Richmond Times-Dispatch Weekend

One final wish: Have affairs in order

Conversati­ons with your loved ones key


We’re all trying to stay healthy right now and keep our loved ones safe. But it’s time to plan in case that changes. Confrontin­g our own death and that of our loved ones isn’t an easy thing to do in the best of times. But as we watch strangers, friends and loved ones fall ill and die during the coronaviru­s pandemic, our mortality has become crystal clear. If, God forbid, we fall ill to COVID-19, surely we want our wishes followed. Now is the time to get our health and financial affairs in order and have those necessary conversati­ons with our loved ones. Because we don’t want to burden them with “whatifs” when they are grieving. And you shouldn’t be burdened either. Those conversati­ons are tough. But here’s how to have them, and what you can, and should, plan right now:

Broach subject with compassion

The key is to be open and honest with loved ones about your final wishes, said Nellie Scanlon, a licensed profession­al counselor and president of the Pennsylvan­ia Counseling Associatio­n. “Let them know you love them and that you are not planning to go anywhere anytime soon,” Scanlon said. “But that you want to make sure they have the informatio­n they will need just in case.” For those from whom you need to gather informatio­n — like parents and grandparen­ts — remind them that talking about their final wishes is part of taking care of you. “Let them know this is a very compassion­ate thing to do because you will need this informatio­n at your fingertips during stressful times,” said Dr. Rebecca Sudore, founder and director of the University of San Francisco-based medical decision making website, Prepare for Your Care.

Make plan for health care

Prepare an advance medical directive. This document names your health care proxy — the person who will make medical decisions on your behalf in the event that you can’t. An advance medical directive also spells out your wishes of how doctors should care for you when you are sick. For example, if your heart stops beating, do you want a do not resuscitat­e order or do you want doctors to do everything in their power to save you? You can find a PA Advance Directive document at the Prepare for Your Care website. AARP also has a free advance directive form on their website. Pack a day’s worth of medication­s. If you get sick, you may be in the emergency room for a long time, Sudore cautions. Have a hospital bag ready, too. When people get sick, they can get sick very quickly, Sudore said. And generally speaking, emergency rooms are not allowing visitors in. So you should have a bag packed with the names and phone numbers of your close friends and relatives that you want to be notified if you are too sick to communicat­e.

Financial affairs

Choose a power of attorney. This person will keep your financial house in order — pay your mortgage or rent, utilities and credit card bills — if, unfortunat­ely, you can’t. In a pinch, you can find a link to print out a durable power of attorney form here. However, it’s a good idea to consult an attorney to do this, says John P. Sanderson III, who’s a partner in Sanderson Law Firm, with Pennsylvan­ia offices in Olyphant and Wilkes-Barre, because they can help make sure that your paperwork is filled in correctly. One important note: durable powers of attorney must be notarized. That can be hard when the law of the land is social distancing. Put all your informatio­n in one place. Bank informatio­n, insurance policies, websites where you pay your mortgage or rent, credit card informatio­n — all of it should be easily accessible, said Dan Hernandez, a certified financial planner for Lincoln Investment in Voorhees, New Jersey. This list should include name and website, your sign-in and passwords. Make sure your beneficiar­ies are up to date. We often set up 401(k) and IRA accounts and add a beneficiar­y. But then when things change — say we get married — we don’t add our spouse, pointed out estate attorney Barbara Lawrence, an attorney at Herrick, Feinstein. “If this informatio­n is up to date then your desired beneficiar­y will be taken care of,” Lawrence said.

Prepare your will

Social distancing has made it hard to have wills notarized and witnessed, but “the consequenc­es of not having written instructio­ns outlining your last will and testament can leave a family in turmoil,” said Tracey Gordon, Philadelph­ia’s Register of Wills. Not to mention you don’t want the state to make your decisions for you. Gordon suggests you start by: Make a list of your assets List the people who are important to you List who gets what Sign the document Most states will accept a will that has been signed at home in a pinch. But, because these wills weren’t witnessed or notarized, they are often held up in probate court, Sanderson said. When this happens, it costs money in fees to file motions and track down witnesses. Because wills are estate planning documents, you can now get them notarized without being in the physical presence of a notary, Sanderson said. But they must be prepared by an attorney. In the long run, that will be worth it, Sanderson said, because they have a better chance of being processed easily in probate court.

Make a video of your wishes

Writing things down can be daunting, so you may want to make a video of your wishes, says Dawn Santoriell­o, a certified financial planner and president of the King of Prussia-based DS Financial Strategies. Here, you can tell people where your important documents are like your will or advance directive. Perhaps this is how you tell your family how you want to be buried, whether you want to donate your organs and what songs you want at your funeral. “A video is where you can put a voice to anything that means something,” Santoriell­o said. “And it can be memorializ­ed for generation­s to come.”

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