Where Logic Meets Love

Whom Do You Trust with Your Life?

Sunday, November 13, 2011

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Whom Do You Trust with Your Life? | Faith Permeating Life

I've recently gotten a few kicks in the butt to get my affairs in order well before I need them to be in order.

One was learning that marriage doesn't automatically grant power of attorney to your spouse, and the horribly stressful situation that can create when one spouse becomes seriously ill. The second was Erin Doland's series of posts on Unclutterer about the importance of having an "In case of..." file.

So on a particularly slow day at work, I tracked down Illinois's power of attorney documents and figured out what I needed to do to get Mike and I made each other's power of attorney for both health and financial situations. (Interestingly, the financial document has to be notarized, but it's optional for the health one.)

The documents are very specific. They list every area of responsibility that you're giving this person power over, and tell you that it's your responsibility to cross out the areas you don't want this person to take over in the event of your death or incapicitation. I plan to leave everything intact and sign the whole of it over to Mike, but having it all spelled out was a somewhat surreal experience for me.

I knew going over this kind of stuff would force me to confront my mortality, which doesn't bother me. What I didn't think about was the realizations it would cause me to have about my relationship with Mike -- and with other people in my life, for that matter.

If you asked me whom I trusted more than anyone in the world, I would say Mike. But this puts it in black and white: I am literally signing my life over to him, should anything happen to me. If I am in a coma, he will have full decision-making authority over whether and when to take me off life support, and what to do with my body. I can spell out my wishes, but I am trusting him to follow through with those. And while all of our finances are shared anyway, I am giving him the ability to do anything he wants with our money and our possessions, without needing my permission, so that should I ever not be in a position to give my permission, he could do what needed to be done.

That's a lot of responsibility. That's a lot of trust.

And then there's the question of what should happen if Mike and I are both incapacitated or killed. Whom do I trust next most with my life and my money?

I haven't figured that one out yet. Should it be a family member? Or my best friend? Or my other best friend? Or one of Mike's family members or friends? Should it be based on who's most organized and responsible, or who would be most likely to understand and honor our wishes?

As part of my "In case of..." file, I'm also compiling a list of names and phone numbers of people who should be invited to my funeral. This was after reading a comment from someone whose father died and who had to call every single person in his Rolodex because she didn't know who were friends and who were just business contacts. The same could be said for my cell phone contact list or those on my computer -- everyone's in there: friends, family, clients, co-workers, and more.

I ended up finding it too overwhelming to think of it as a funeral invitation list ("Would this person care if I died?") and instead started asking myself, If someone were to throw me a giant surprise party for a milestone birthday, who would I want them to invite? That made it a lot easier.

One of my happiness commandments is "Do it before it's too late." This is pretty much the ultimate example of that. It's not exactly a fun activity, but it's one that will give me peace of mind just like putting together emergency kits has. And it's a loving thing to do for my husband. If something were to happen to me, the last thing he'd want to be doing is fighting legal battles or trying to put a list together of all the people who need to know.

What kind of preparations have you made "in case of..."? Does it bother you to think about this kind of thing, or does it give you peace of mind to know things are in order should anything happen?


  1. Wow. I agree it needs to be done but this is pretty daunting.

  2. @Just me
    It is daunting, even if the emotional part (thinking about dying) doesn't bother you too much. I'm working on it in pieces, trying to add to the documents as I think of things.

    One of Erin's suggestions for approaching it is "What would a stranger have to know in order to take over your life for a day/week/month/year?" That has made me think about how many things I take care of that Mike should really know about, in case I have to go somewhere for an extended period of time. A few weeks ago when I went to that conference, I was gone for four days, and by the time I got back, Mike was totally overwhelmed--he'd even forgotten to get the mail, which I normally do on my way in from work every evening. So there can be practical benefits even beyond the worst-case scenario!

  3. Wowsa! I have to confess that I'd never thought of doing all that yet, but I have a feeling that if I let myself keep onto that "yet" at the end of the sentence, it will never get done.

    Was it hard to find the power of attorney documents? Have you started making an official Will yet, too? The funeral arrangement stuff I think would bother me most, too..my immediate thought was that my "funeral list" would be the same as our Christmas-card list. But now I'm starting to question....

    How does Mike feel about all of this?!

  4. @Laura
    It was fairly easy to find the power of attoney documents; I just Googled "power of attorney Illinois" and the first hit had both forms I needed (once I figured out the "property" file referred to everything financial).

    I don't have a will yet, but that's on the list. Right now I'm trying to knock out the things I can get together easily on my own and that would help Mike keep functioning if something suddenly happened to me. I've also been putting together directions for everything I do at work since I'm solely responsible for our student course evaluation system and somebody would need clear directions immediately if something happened to me (or eventually when I get another job).

    Mike's background in social work makes him even more comfortable talking about this kind of stuff than I am. We've had multiple conversations about things like donating one's body to science and whether it's "greenest" to be buried in a wooden box vs. cremated vs. liquified. I haven't talked to him about this specifically, but he trusts me to take care of any sort of household paperwork (and doesn't usually want me to explain it all to him), and I do everything related to finances, insurance, etc.

    It can be overwhelming to think of all of the information you might need to leave behind, but every little bit you can do will take stress off your loved ones!

  5. @Jessica
    Hehe... glad to know I'm not the only one taking care of so much financial stuff (my husband also tends to leave much of this to me). Thanks for the insight!


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