Do the Right People Know What to Do If Something Happens to You?


The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men
Gang aft agley

Those famous lines by the Scottish poet Robert Burns are more familiar to our ears as “the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” But you don’t need to understand 18th century Scottish verse to recognize the truth of Burns’s sentiments.

When it comes to defining what to do if you or a loved one is incapacitated or dies, the very best laid plans will certainly go awry if you don’t tell those who need to pick up the pieces exactly where those pieces are and the responsibilities you’ve assigned them.

Good Communication Is Key to Carrying Out Your Plans

Obvious as this sounds, all too often plans get made without appropriate communications between family members and close friends. Do your children know where you keep your will? Have you told your sister that you named her as your health proxy? When was the last time you organized your important papers in one, easy-to-locate file? Do those you would rely on in a health crisis know how to find that file?

Here’s a basic checklist to help you ensure that your well-laid plans—or plans for care of your loved one—are carried out as intended. Create a file containing the following:

  1. Important emergency contacts, including physicians, attorneys, insurance agents and financial advisers, as well as family and close friends to notify.
  2. Financial information: bank accounts, investments, insurance policies; safe deposit box and location of key
  3. Location of your will, health proxy and powers of attorney; include copies of these documents, if necessary
  4. Passwords to on-line accounts, social media, frequently visited sites

There are a number of helpful workbooks to walk you through this process, such as the very comprehensive Checklist for My Family: A Guide to My History, Financial Plans and Final Wishes, published by AARP and the American Bar Association, available for purchase online.

Be Sure to Tell Those You’ve Named That They Are Responsible (Ask First!)

Next, be sure to tell those you have named as responsible parties what you expect of them. Ideally, you’ve asked your sister to serve as your health proxy or your son to be your executor before naming them in legal documents. (Unfortunately, we’ve seen too many examples where this is not the case, with disastrous consequences.)

Then, let them know where your emergency file is located. It’s a simple step that can save a lot of stress, but is often overlooked.

No-one wants to have to dwell on “what if” scenarios. But an hour of your time spent gathering these materials, storing them in a safe place and letting key players know where to find them will keep your well-laid plans on track, if and when a crisis strikes.

President of Deborah Fins Associates, PC, since 1995, Deborah Liss Fins is a licensed independent clinical social worker and certified Aging Life Care™ manager. Drawing on more than 30 years of professional experience in aging life care management, DFA offers comprehensive assessments and planning, guidance in selecting appropriate care, help identifying resources for financial support and professional consulting. Please contact us to set up a complimentary initial telephone consultation.

For more on coping with aging, follow us on Twitter: @DeborahFinsALCM.

Image Credit: Beverley Barker

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