3 Things to Do in Case You Don’t Survive the Pandemic (and 3 Things to Do When You Do)
While there is a lot being said on the spread of COVID-19, the effect of the economy and the way the world has changed with social distancing protocols, there is an important truth that is often too terrible to dwell on. People are dying. You or someone you love could be on that list before this is over. Even if this is not true, this is an opportunity to consider that life is a brief gift, and that what we do while we are here has an impact. Here are three ways to plan on behalf of your loved ones, should it come to it, and three more ways to face life when this is over.
1. Write Letters to Everyone You Love (and to Those You’ve Wronged)
In a time of constant communication, there is a lot that cannot be conveyed in 140 characters or the brevity of an emoji. Now is the time to take pen to paper and think about the things that you love about the people in your life. Write it down. Say the unsaid. Need a prompt? Try some of these, if they apply to you:
“You are even more beautiful to me now than when we met. I wish you could see yourself the way that I do.”
“Even though I don’t always appreciate how hard you work in the background to make the lives of others better, I notice. And I am grateful.”
“I wish sometimes that we could re-meet as two adults, without the assumptions and history that have come from our past issues.”
“I have always been proud of you. I have believed in you even when you couldn’t believe in yourself. I know it felt like pressure, but it was my way of fighting for you when you couldn’t (or wouldn’t) fight for yourself.”
“I know that what brings me joy is different than what brings you happiness. I want to know you and the life that you’ve made.”
If you are estranged, don’t make excuses or judge. Just let that person know that you would like to know them on their terms and be a part of their life. This can be a huge sense of closure if life is nearing its end, and a huge beginning if you turn out to be fine.
Consider mailing the letter. It may be harder to throw away a handwritten message than to delete an email. As a bonus, you can help support the postal service in a time of need.
2. Get Your Paperwork in Order
There are a few documents to put together when considering the end of life:
Make a Financial Map
If you are the breadwinner or the person who pays the bills at home, make a list of what bills you pay and how often, the accounts you have with money (do you have a college account or investments in addition to a bank account) and the passwords/account numbers associated with each. Do you have life insurance? Make the information easy for your loved ones to find. This can not only help your loved ones access funds if they lose you, it can speed up probate because all the money you have has been identified.
Wills and Trusts
Making a will can help to make sure your money goes somewhere that matters to you. If you are single without dependents, consider donating to a charity that deals with something you value. If you think your kids or grandchildren are too young to inherit a sum and still gain a work ethic, create a set of conditions to meet before the money is distributed. Trusts are a great way to do this, and they can allow you to keep a passive business like rental properties cared for in a way that is within your goals. If your kids are young, consider who may need to care for them, what you want to give to each child, and what you want to leave for them. Leaving money in trust to fund a college account can be a huge future gift for a young child. While trusts are best left to an attorney, there are online programs or make-your-own-will products that are easy to find in office supply stores. Fill them out and find a notary to authenticate them.
End of Life Documents
What medical interventions do you want, and which would you prefer to avoid? While DNR, or Do Not Resuscitate, orders are common, there are a host of other choices you can make regarding what lengths that people should go to in order to keep you alive.
There are also funeral planning requests that you can make in a will, and you can even pre-pay for your funeral, designed the way you want it, if you wish.
3. Look at What You’re Leaving Behind
This particular piece can have a few different aspects. Here are two of the ways to approach this:
My grandmother was someone who never threw anything away. In her quest to give everything value, her home became so cluttered that nothing ended up having value. The bulk of her collection was deposited in eight dumpsters, barely looked at by her four children as they shoveled it into bags and threw them out a second-story window. If this is something that sounds familiar, now is a good time, while you are home, to decide what does and does not hold value. You can go as far as Marie Kondo, but if you are stockpiling out of fear, a good inventory system and an assurance that everything has a place and a purpose, regardless of volume, may be good enough. If you have a few things that are especially important to you and have shared value by your loved ones, point them out to them. Let them know that you hope to pass them on someday. Or share this information with the person you expect to do the work of fulfilling your wishes.
What have you accomplished in your life that holds meaning for you? What did you give to the world in an attempt to make it better? What do you want the world to remember you for? Are you satisfied with what you were able to provide your family or the world?
If you are happy with what you gave, then this may be enough. If you are not, take some time to decide if there is a legacy that you wish to leave behind. If not a legacy, look at your bucket list and see if there is anything that you can do to check off some boxes during social distancing. Do you want to learn Swedish? Find your birth family? Donate an antique to a historical society? Make a plan to start now.
Preparing for When It’s Over
While the death toll is expected to be large, the surviving population is still expected to be larger. Even individuals in the most at-risk groups have better than even odds of surviving. There is still a lot to prepare for when this happens. Here are three big things to do in the meantime.
1. Get Your Financial House in Order
There are a million places that you can get tips on this. Depending on your income, your risk of losing income in the coming months to years, and your prospects for earning more when the dust settles, there is different advice to follow. However, there are some basic guidelines to consider no matter your situation.
List Your Income, Debt, Expenditures and Assets
The first step in knowing what to do during the times ahead is to get a good look at where you are. Here are some ways to categorize them as you create your financial picture:
Income is a good place to start. List your current income, and the type of source it comes from. Is it salary, gig-based, an unemployment payout from a layoff, child support or social security? Add any expected one-time money, like a tax refund. If your income changes by the month, make your best guess at an average.
Rank this money based on the likelihood it could disappear; consider whether you could get unemployment if it does. These reduced income numbers can help you plan for what to cut if you lose some of your income.
When you look at your debt, there are a few things to consider. List each debt with the following information:
· Interest Rate: Is it fixed or does it fluctuate with the market rate? Is it an introductory rate or will it change?
· Term: Is the loan open, like that of a credit card, or is it for a set timeline? Have you paid off enough of the loan that this time is shorter?
· Secured or Unsecured: Is the loan attached to the collateral of an item? Is it an item you’d consider selling if you needed money? Would selling the item give you enough to eliminate the debt?
Make a list of what you are spending. Look back through a few months of savings accounts and consider the cash that you spend as well. Create categories of spending. They can include:
· Money for Debt: Did you pay the minimum only or more?
· Money for Assets: What percent of your income are you saving? How often do you underestimate your spending and dip back into the savings?
· Necessary Expenses: Food, medical bills, utilities, etc.
· Conveniences: Things you want but don’t need, like take-out instead of groceries, extracurriculars for the kids, a gym membership, cable and streaming services, money for the high-end salon, etc.
· Splurges: Holidays, fun nights out, etc.
Consider whether each of these costs is short-term (it will end when paid off or it’s a one-time medical bill) or ongoing, like utilities. Start with splurges and move to conveniences, ranking which items you could cut first if you found your income reduced.
If you’re lucky enough to have assets, this is a good way to finish. In addition to what money you have and in what accounts, take a look at the interest that they bring, and whether that interest is fixed or market-dependent. Look also at liquidity; principal in a home cannot be used unless you sell your house or take out a bigger loan. Retirement and college savings come with penalties if taken from before you’re allowed. Stocks and mutual funds come with tax implications and some will prevent you from reinvesting for several months when you sell. CDs can only be taken out when mature. When organizing your assets, be sure to add a category of when you can take money, how soon it would be available, and the cost of taking it. Also, ask how many months you could live off your assets (using an online calculator for this can help to anticipate the extra interest you’ll accrue). This will help you to understand the best path forward if you need to draw from your assets to make ends meet.
Make an “If, Then” Plan
Taking a look at your money, decide the best- and worst-case scenarios regarding how much or how little you could spend. Don’t forget to factor in new costs if you sell items like a house and move into an apartment. From there, you can decide the order of which expenditures you can cut or what you can sell or spend from your assets to make due. Having a good idea of how much money you’d have to make up (and how deep the cuts would be if that happened) can help you to be proactive now. If you feel like you are at high risk, consider cutting some of the splurges and conveniences now and either pay down some debt or add to your assets for a better rainy day fund.
2. Pay Attention to What’s Better (and Worse) About Life Now
Life will not be the same after this period is over. This is an event that will permanently change some things about the way the world works. This new world will create new challenges for some, like those without good internet connection or reliable, affordable health care access. It will also provide both opportunities and perspectives.
For me, the commute to work and the rush to get the kids to school has left me exhausted. Morning snuggle time while I work in the dawn hours, and a chance to spend time in a sunny backyard with my kids midday are a huge plus in this scary time. Before this began, I was so worn out from being overscheduled that I didn’t feel like I had time to even research a vacation destination, let alone take the time and go. I am less stressed now. I will miss the sun and having my own timeline when I am asked to return to a windowless cubicle. Will it be enough to try and change my situation? I can’t tell you. But if my priorities have shifted enough, perhaps.
The taste of fresh-baked bread kneaded by hand can’t compare to storebought. Fewer cars means less traffic for those who need to go out and cleaner air (and less carbon) for us all. No extracurriculars to go to means every night is a board game night, except Fridays, when we make homemade pizza and stream the latest release, which skipped the theater and came straight to us.
What we will love (and miss) about these stolen days will differ by person and region. However, they will shape the way we look at the return, whether we realize it now or not. Pay attention to where you are more relaxed, to what you love and value. Ask yourself what new joys you would give up for a night out, a week at the office, a vacation. The answer now may be different than it will be in a month, but it might give you an inkling about how to keep some of the best parts of this, and where to realign your life for the better when you are done.
3. Take Stock and Make This Your Wakeup Call
When this is over, there will be a period of rebuilding. We will probably be rethinking our approach to many things that failed us during this period, as a nation. Successful planners look at each failure as an opportunity to build on the things that work and create better paths forward for what does not. This can also be done individually.
The most dramatic and inspiring stories of success often come at a point where someone almost dies and reinvents their lives. Though death feels less imminent while sheltering in place, the risk is real. And surviving it is a chance to ask yourself if now is the time to change.
What are your dreams? What are you good at but have been afraid to try? If you do die in the next six months, what would you regret never doing? What would you love to learn? What wouldn’t feel like work if you did it for a living? What problems in the world do you care about the most? What part would you like to play in solving them?
While this is a time of uncertainty, greatness can be nurtured during times of instability because so many new needs to meet tend to open up. Whether you think you know what you’re meant to do and haven’t begun to try or you want to work hard to try and tackle a problem to make the world better, this is a place to start.
Whether you succeed or you fail, giving your all to meet a passion or lifelong dream or to make the world better is something that will give you great peace whenever you finally do prepare for your final days on this earth.