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They say that life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans. I discovered a couple of days ago that this quote is equally applicable to death. In the midst of my preparations for the arrival of hurricane Dorian, my mother suddenly and unexpectedly died. Earlier in the day, I was joking with her on the phone, trying to ease her concern about my safety during the hurricane. We discussed mundane preparations, the sufficiency of my reserve of water, batteries, and non-perishable food. She said, “hope for the best and prepare for the worst.” We laughed together, long and hard because her “worst-case scenarios” were the source of many running family jokes.
Nothing could have prepared me for the phone call I received from my dad later in the day. He said he and Mom were sitting on the sofa together, reading the newspaper, when she looked up and expressed that she was starting to get a terrible headache. She immediately lost consciousness and died at the hospital shortly thereafter; a massive aneurysm had ruptured in her brain.
The conversations that followed Mom’s collapse were easy, because true to the cliché she had in fact prepared for the worst. She had a Durable Power of Attorney in place that would enable Dad to manage her finances and legal matters had she remained alive but incapacitated. She had a Designation of Health Care Surrogate authorizing us to communicate with her doctors and to make medical decisions on her behalf, and she had a Living Will that identified the circumstances under which she did not want to be kept artificially alive. Throughout my life, I can recall multiple family conversations where she told us she wanted to be cremated, with no fuss, no ceremony, no flowers, and no tears, and she included this instruction in her Last Will and Testament.
My mother raised two intelligent, independent daughters with two very different perspectives on life and death; nevertheless, it was easy for my sister and I to come together in support of Dad’s decisions about my mother’s care and the disposition of her remains. She had left no room for argument and each of us could say with confidence that “this is what Mom wanted.”
I tell my clients on a regular basis that a comprehensive estate plan for yourself is the greatest gift you can give to your family. I know now, first-hand, the impact advance directives can have in a time of crisis. While Mom’s legal documents have done nothing to ease the profound grief we are experiencing in the wake of her loss, they have made it easier for us to navigate through these past few days as an intact family unit, working together to make sure her instructions about her life and death were carried out.
In honor of Mom, her unwavering preparedness, and her long-standing history of identifying worst-case scenarios, we are pleased to offer a 10% discount on estate planning documents for the month of September.