The shoemaker’s children go barefoot. -Old English Proverb
Those of us with children want the very best for them, don’t we? As young parents, we second-guess ourselves, read labels, scoff at the five-second rule (well, until the second child comes along). As the kiddos age and we become more mature parents, we worry about school pressures, social issues, our child’s happiness, and so much more.
And we would do anything – a. n. y. t. h. i. n. g. – to protect them. We know this to be as true as the moon’s revolutions around earth.
But do we?
Cancer has a way of bringing many things into laser-sharp focus. Including, as some might call it, our affairs, as in “should something unexpected occur, are your affairs in order?”
My answer to that question, shame on me, decidedly was no. Sure, I had a will. Yet it had been written prior to the adoption of my older daughter. With her in mind, at least it referenced the concept of a future child or children. But it was old, as in dusty-bottom-of-my-office-inbox old. And I’m a lawyer for crying out loud, hence the analogy to the dang shoemaker.
What did I need? I needed to update my will, thinking again about guardians for my girls as well as an executor for my estate and a trustee for the funds that would be used for my girls, but which wouldn’t go directly to them until they’re older.
I needed a power of attorney. In simple terms, in New York, that’s a document that gives someone else of my choosing the right to handle my personal business – anything from paying my NiMo bill to depositing money in my bank account to buying shares of Apple – if I were unable to do so for myself. I had to choose someone I trusted and, equally important, someone who’d be capable of handling such things if I were incapacitated.
I needed a health care proxy in which I could name someone (who’s called a “proxy;” we lawyers are so original, aren’t we?) who would be empowered to make health-care decisions for me if I were unable to make them for myself. And I needed to get a copy of that document into the hands my proxy (with my thanks) and my physician. Photocopies typically work fine here, so don’t ever be shy about making a few.
Equally important and the sometimes-overlooked partner to the health care proxy, I needed a so-called living will. Here in New York, it’s important to make it abundantly clear, in a signed and witnessed document, about your end-of-life wishes. It sets out the heroic steps you want taken (or, equally importantly, not taken) in the event your condition is considered terminal and you’re unable to direct your health care providers yourself. In other words, it describes what they should or should not do if you’re not conscious or competent enough to bark orders to your doc.
It might seem daunting. However, accomplishing the hard work of having your affairs in order makes good sense whether you’re a parent or not, because it’s far easier (and, believe me, far less emotional) making these decisions before there exists a pressing need, such as an upcoming surgery, or worse, to do so. Besides, the decisions you make today aren’t irrevocable – you’re not stuck with them. If circumstances change, your important documents can be changed, too.
So do it.