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How to prepare for this kind of emergency

UPDATE: if you’ve been wanting to wrangle all your information and would like document to make it easy, check out my new Resources page which provides a download to get you going. Clients: I will help you complete this and keep it up-to-date.

We can never be truly ready for all the curveballs life will throw us. The current crisis poses a particular challenge in that should you be hospitalized, you will likely not be able to have family or friends visit or contact you, and hospital workers are particularly overburdened right now and won’t be able to spend a lot of time contacting loved ones. So take a moment to reassess your preparedness for an emergency, and hopefully prevent a difficult situation from becoming worse.


Estate documents are subject to different state-specific regulations, and those regulations themselves might be changing, or relaxed temporarily, in response to the crisis and the shelter-in-place directives most of us are under. For example, New York State has allowed remote notarization of documents under specific instructions; other states will have their own rules. The below is to familiarize you with the documents you might need; not all will be relevant to you and the requirements will vary. Please contact an attorney in your state for assistance with your needs. Some common documents are:

  • Health care proxy: this document names the person you appoint to make medical decisions for you in case you are incapacitated and cannot communicate. In the absence of this document, your next of kin would likely be asked to make those decisions (depending on your state). It is especially important to execute a health care proxy if you think there might be difficulty determining who should step in to make the decision. Either way, you should speak to the person who would make decisions for you to make sure they know what you would want.

  • Living will: this often goes hand-in-hand with the health care proxy and is also known as an advance directive. This document allows you to specify what you would like to occur regarding end-of life medical care, such as life support including artificial nutrition, intubation, etc.

  • Power of attorney: this allows someone to act as your agent in the event of your incapacity with your financial institutions. With a power of attorney in place, your agent can engage in financial transactions, pay bills, etc. It can be a very useful document to have, but many financial institutions have their own forms they require you have on file with them, rather than a standard document, so be sure to check with your institutions.

  • Will: this is what most people think of first when they think of estate documents. It coordinates the distribution of your assets after you die, and also appoints guardianship of your minor children.

  • Revocable Trust: a trust is an arrangement that allows a third party (the trustee) to hold assets on behalf of someone else (the beneficiary). There are many types that are used for many purposes, but I include the revocable (meaning reversible) trust here because it may be easier to execute a trust than a will right now.


It’s important to remember that many assets can be accessed by others or passed to heirs without a power of attorney or will in place, if they are titled properly. And in fact, most of your common assets can be addressed in this way, very simply and without needing witnesses or notarization.

  • Retirement accounts: it is CRITICAL that you check your beneficiary designation on all IRA, Roth IRA, SEP, SIMPLE, 401k, 403b, and all other tax-deferred savings vehicles you have, and ensure it is up to date. The beneficiary designation will dictate who gets the assets, NOT the will. If you do not name a beneficiary, the assets will be paid to your estate and likely create an adverse tax situation.

  • Joint Tenants with Right of Survivorship (JTWROS): this account designation (for bank or taxable brokerage accounts, as well as real estate) means both owners have equal right to the assets and can access them at any time; upon the death of one owner, assets belong to the surviving owner(s) without needing to be probated. This is common among spouses or domestic partners, but even without such formality it may be worth establishing an account like this with your designated healthcare proxy or other trusted person so they can pay bills while you recover from illness or injury.

  • Transfer on Death/Payable on Death: this allows you to name a person to receive the money in a bank or brokerage account upon your death, but without providing them any access or ownership while you’re alive


Coronavirus, or the virus that causes Covid-19, is extremely contagious and can be especially dangerous for those with compromised immune systems or with underlying health conditions (and you might not know that either of those apply to you). So maintaining distance is always important. Think through what will happen if you get sick:

  • Have a plan to separate as much as possible: where will the sick person, and everyone else, sleep? If you have multiple bathrooms, designate one for the sick person’s exclusive use

  • If you have children, make a plan for who can care for them in case both parents are ill

  • Ensure eating and drinking utensils are not shared

  • Make sure the household pets are taken care of

  • Increase household cleaning frequency, including laundering sheets and towels and wiping down surfaces more often

  • Keep windows open as much as possible in shared spaces

  • Use a separate container for contaminated items (facemasks and gloves, for example) and ensure it is sealed before adding to other household trash

  • Prohibit visitors and trips out of the house for non-infected residents, even more than under “normal” current circumstances

  • Remain in isolation for seven days after the onset of symptoms and three consecutive untreated days without a fever


  • Keep devices charged: while this particular crisis isn’t expected to impact the power grid, it IS likely that as more utility workers get sick, the wait times for general repairs will be longer than usual. So be sure to keep batteries charged, including on devices like laptops which can act as backup power supplies if needed

  • Back up your data: always a good idea

  • Digitize those documents: The NYT has a guide here on how to do that

  • Consider a password manager such as 1Password or LastPass that allow you to share your digital passwords with family members or another designee in case of emergency

As always, reach out with any questions. Many many thanks to Rosanna Roizin and Tony Ford for their invaluable help in putting together this list!


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