What a beautiful slice of irony life can serve to those who prepare. A mere two months before Nick’s accident we each got Power of Attorneys and Living Wills. We got them just in the knick of time, yet had no idea just how soon we’d be using them.
The durable Power of Attorney allows you to appoint someone to make financial and legal decisions on your behalf. A Living Will lets you specify your wishes for life-support, organ donation, and end-of-life care if you become incapacitated.
There is no Common Law to protect unmarried couples in the state of California, so even though Nick and I were together for six years and planning for a lifetime, there would be no legal protection if one of us died or got injured. The Power of Attorney and Living Will gave us the opportunity to precisely lay out our wishes and ensure they are carried out. With those two documents, I was immediately able to make decisions regarding Nick’s health and finances based on his specific desires. I met no resistance, other than providing proof, and felt comfortable taking the lead when it came to making tough decisions while Nick was in a coma for a week.
Because Nick expressly named me as his executor, his wonderful family allowed me to take control, alleviating potential stressors that disagreements about health care can cause. His Mom stuck by my side as counsel, rather than opposition, because she knew her son would have wanted it that way. The Power of Attorney makes sure there’s only one chef in the kitchen, so to speak.
Getting to the point of actually creating these documents together took a few years. It’s one of those things you talk about doing, but is always last on the to-do list. We had several friends pass away, and many of their spouses said the aftermath would have been much simpler had they been more prepared. Had we waited just two months longer, it would have been too late. Who knows how things would have unfolded in the ICU if I wasn’t respected by the doctors as more than “just a girlfriend.”
Protecting yourself is extremely simple. There are a few online services that will provide a quick and painless experience. We used Legal Zoom. You answer a list of questions, all the while (hopefully) discussing with your person-of-choice the decisions you are making that they may have to carry out for you one day. For less than $100, and less than an hour of your time, you can assure peace of mind for you and your family. Once you receive the documents in the mail, rush out to get them notarized and then store them in a safe place. We put ours in a fireproof safe. Just don’t do what I did, and forget the combination and have to pay a professional safe-cracker $250 to get the documents out.
We also ordered wallet-size cards for quick reference for an extra $10. This has come in handy for me twice now, but each time I was still required to produce the original documents at a later date.
Here’s our challenge to you: begin by having an honest, open discussion about this with someone you love, trust, and respect. It can be anyone you are close to in your life, preferably someone dependable and capable of being level-headed in stressful situations. Find out if they are willing to take this responsibility seriously for you, and start the process of creating these documents.