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 this week as we watch strangers, friends and loved ones fall ill and die during the coronavirus pandemic — as of Wednesday, the U.S. death toll is at 13,000 with more than 400,000 positive cases throughout the nation — 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 “what-ifs” 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.
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.
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:
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.
In the unfortunate case that your loved ones need to present your will to probate, Pennsylvania is doing emergency probates virtually in order to follow the rules of social distancing. If your will has not been signed by a notary, an attorney must make the application for the probate to prevent fraud. For more information, go to the website. www.phila.gov/wills.
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.”