By Kate Lennon, Elder Law Clinic Student, Spring 2016
Preparing for the worst case scenario is never fun. What the Elder Law Clinic has taught me is that everyone should plan for the future, regardless of how unlikely, unnecessary, or discomforting this planning may seem. Upon signing up for the Clinic, I envisioned that we would be helping people who have current legal problems, and while we do a significant amount of that, I was surprised to learn that we could do so much for those people who had yet to have any serious problems occur in their lives. If I had to choose one thing I learned from the Clinic to pass on to others, it would be to plan now.
I know some readers will think, “well sure, I know that I am supposed to plan, but how am I supposed to make decisions for such unlikely circumstances,” or “I have plenty of time to make these choices.” I can relate to that. On the first day of class, our clinic’s supervising attorney told us we should have a power of attorney in place for ourselves, and I thought, like many of you, that I have plenty of time to create a document like that. Truth is, without my clinic experience, I would have likely been saying the same thing at 65 years old as I said at 24 years old: “I have plenty of time.” The reality is, we will always feel like we have plenty of time, until problem strikes, in which case, we will have no time at all to make these decisions.
This brings me to why planning now is so important. While there are likely many reasons why planning proactively is better than trying to make decisions in crisis, I would propose three key reasons that I think will resonate with a lot of readers. First, the unlikely or unfortunate scenarios CAN and DO happen. While it is a bit unsettling, even the healthiest person can face an unfortunate day when they need emergency medical care; when they cannot make decisions for themselves; or when their family is faced with the devastating news of their death. I, like many of you, also find this to be a hard topic to think about, but it is important to remember that it will be even harder to think about these things while they are happening.
That brings me to my second reason: planning now will help your loved ones make decisions in the unfortunate event that something does happen to you. If an unfortunate situation does arise, your loved ones will be in a heightened emotional state. During that time, they will at least find some solace in the fact that you have planned for the situation, leaving them with instructions and guidance on what to do. Having these plans laid out will also decrease the amount of conflict that might arise among your loved ones.
Finally, to my third reason: planning now will give you, and your loved ones, peace of mind as you move forward in life. While beginning to think about unfortunate circumstances is initially unsettling, once you have finished planning, you will find comfort in the fact that if something were to happen, you are as prepared as you can be. In addition, your loved ones will find comfort in the fact that they will have instruction if certain difficult situations were to arise.
So my one suggestion is to plan now, while you have “plenty of time,” rather than waiting until there is no time to make decisions. Implement medical directives, Powers of Attorney, and a Last Will and Testament. While we may not be able to stop bad things from happening, we can plan so that we are ready if they do. As our clinic’s supervising attorney says, “Anything can happen to anyone at any time.”