The pandemic has been a wake-up call in many aspects of life, including health, family, career and savings — and now more than ever, it is critical to plan for the unexpected.
In their new book “In Case You Get Hit By a Bus: How to Organize Your Life Now for When You’re Not Around Later,” Abby Schneiderman and Adam Seifer share all the ways in which individuals can organize their important documents, passwords and wishes ahead of their death. Schneiderman and Seifer are the co-founders of Everplans, an online platform where people can store all of these necessary pieces of information, as well as fun family memories and recipes.
Talking about death, whether it be your own or a loved one’s, can be distressing and tricky, and not everyone is willing to have that conversation. Still, these discussions as well as the organization of documents and last wishes can be a gift to family and friends, Schneiderman said, because it will give them just a little bit more peace of mind in between grief and an emotionally and mentally daunting process.
Read: Catastrophe struck when my husband was killed. Here’s what you need to know about creating a ‘what if’ plan
The pandemic has shown just how difficult the unexpected can be. Families were suddenly navigating the health care system and, in many unfortunate scenarios, planning funerals in the midst of a global crisis. Loved ones can use all of the help they can get during a situation like this, Schneiderman said.
“In Case You Get Hit By a Bus” is available beginning Dec. 22. Schneiderman spoke with MarketWatch about how the pandemic has affected estate planning and the first steps anyone can take to help themselves and their loved ones.
See: Yes, it’s possible to update your will while quarantined
MarketWatch: How has COVID and the pandemic affected estate planning?
Abby Schneiderman: Prior to this pandemic, I think the thinking about topics related to estate planning or topics we cover in “If You Get Hit by a Bus” were ‘nice to have’ and in light of COVID, they’ve become ‘need to have’. There’s a greater sense of urgency around getting affairs in order and how important it is to have everything documented in one place. In the event something happens, the family has everything you need. When we started writing this book well over a year ago, we had no idea the world would change in the way it has. We address the COVID situation in the introduction of the book, but I have a personal story, which is that I have relatives who were among the first people in Texas to be diagnosed with COVID very early on. It was a really scary situation for everyone, but in particular for our immediate family. They were very ill, and went to the ICU, where they were there for over a month. I remember early on in the first 24 to 48 hours, the immediate family didn’t have access to critical information, such as who were the neighbors and primary care physicians. When not being near family, having important information organized and accessible has never been more important before.
MW: When is the right time to get started on organizing these documents and wishes? Some people feel that they’re too young, don’t have enough assets or maybe if they’re single and without children, they think it’s not necessary.
Schneiderman: The right time to get started is not about age but about identifying purpose and planning, and that can be tied to a milestone like getting married or possibly when generating assets like buying a home or selling a business. It could be something less pleasant, like being diagnosed with an illness. For millennials who may wonder why they need to start planning if they’re not married and have no kids, it is really important to get on the same page with your parents because if it is not that you have to plan, your parents do — and you need to either understand the planning done or get organized so you’re not left with a huge mess. That’s what we do in this book — we help you figure out how to have those conversations with parents.
Read: Your will is about more than money, and cutting your child out could backfire
MW: How can people talk with their loved ones about their loved ones’ documents and wishes?
Schneiderman: The key is to start having these conversations. It might seem scary and it might seem daunting and it can be littered with emotional and tricky land mines, but that is the best thing to do. Start talking and asking your relatives or parents things like, “hey, by the way, do you even have a will or have you thought about creating a power of attorney?” or “if something were to happen to you who should I call?” Those kinds of conversations could be the beginning to a deeper conversation where we walk through various things that go into the planning. I was literally having this conversation with my parents yesterday when my dad was showing me something in the house — we have been in the same household the last nine months because of COVID. He was showing me a house trick to get the dishwasher to work and I said, “Dad, how would I know how to get the dishwasher to work? Can you document it?” Those are the little things that can get to the bigger things. You can also take the initiative to do some of your own planning and tell them. For my husband, I documented the five most important passwords in an effort to get him to do that for me. That’s another way to get the conversation started.
Also see: How to talk about estate planning with your family this holiday season without starting a fight
MW: And how do you suggest people talk to their loved ones about their own personal wishes and plans? Sometimes, adult children and relatives may not want to hear it because it’s stressful or emotional.
Schneiderman: It’s not about death, it’s about family details that matter. It is about organization, which becomes a huge gift to family. The book is walking you through everything from critical passwords to home and vehicle information and the important contacts in your life. The second level of the book is about wills and trusts and insurance and then at the end about making sure you let any important memories pass down from generation to generation. It is about getting organized and the family having everything they need.
Read: Recreating a loved one’s financial life is hard — 5 steps to follow after a death in the family
MW: What are the repercussions to family members if individuals do not have these things organized before they pass?
Schneiderman: We call this the default. Even if you don’t plan, you do have a plan — you’re getting the default plan. Things will be much harder on your family and loved ones. It will be much more complicated to gain access to your accounts, to know what accounts you even have. It could be stressful and more costly. And if you are a parent and don’t have it laid out and God forbid something happens to you, then the courts will decide. You want to take the matters into your own hands.
MW: For the complete novice with absolutely no important documents or wishes organized, what is the very first step someone should take when beginning this process?
Schneiderman: The most essential thing to start with — No. 1 — start putting together your critical passwords. It should be easy and will be helpful for you and hugely helpful for someone else if they end up needing it. Next, create an outline of your critical financial accounts and insurance policies you do have so your family knows where to start looking. And then lastly, I would say detailing who your most important contacts are, such as your doctors, your neighbors, your top friends and relatives. Just starting with those three things will show you can just get started, make you sleep better and open your eyes to how many more things you can do to be helpful.