Taking Stock in Times of Crisis: What We Can Do While We Work Through COVID-19
is normal to have some feelings of powerlessness and anxiety in times of crisis. Amid disrupted routines and everyday warnings that we cannot do some of the things we love, it is only natural these things affect our outlook on the world. It wouldn't be "American" or even human to weather these things with no concern.
I take comfort in the stories my grandparents told me about rationing goods for the war effort and how victory gardens gave them some sense of security that they could do something to ensure they had enough to eat. I grew up along the shores of New Jersey and under the threat of U-Boats off the coast (real) and German planes (false), the people blacked out their headlights on their cars and cut down or shielded all electric lights at night to hide from the enemy.
One important lesson I learned from the "Greatest Generation" is there are some things we can do to improve our lives now and after the crisis. Pastor Max Lucado wrote, "No one can do everything, but everyone can do something." Proverbs 10:4 tells us, "He who has a slack hand becomes poor, But the hand of the diligent makes rich." Whether diligent work will make us financially wealth during this time remains to be seen, but putting our hands to meaningful activities will undoubtedly yield better mental health.
I am pleased to share a list with you of some things you can do to improve your situation as you wait with hope for this storm to pass. Some of these are legal, others practical, as you will see.
No one wants to face the idea of their death, but times like this force us to think about questions like what will happen to our family, business and assets when we pass. There are two experiences common to every person on the planet, birth and death. If you are reading this article, you have successfully navigated the first, let's take just a moment to prepare to handle the second well.
There are three documents every person should have at a minimum in their estate plan. You probably know you need a Will. You also should have a financial power of attorney document to appoint someone to manage your affairs if you are in a coma. Thirdly it is crucial to have a health care power of attorney document to select and direct someone to be your advocate with doctors and nurses if you cannot speak for yourself.
If you have any pension benefits, retirement accounts, annuities, or life insurance policies, now is an excellent time to check that the beneficiary listed on the policy is correct.
Do you have your essential documents gathered in one place? For example, along with your estate plan do you have the original or at least copies of your social security card, driver’s license, concealed carry paperwork, health insurance cards, military discharge paperwork, marriage certificate, birth certificate, list of bank accounts, insurance policies, retirement account or investment paperwork, your last five tax returns and other necessary paperwork. If you would like a complete list of ideas on what to have handy, contact me and I will share my full list with you.
Take a moment to think about where you keep your essential documents. Keeping them in a bank safe deposit box is one strategy. I like to have my records more accessible. My suggestion if you keep them at home is to place them in a fire-resistant safe but take the extra step of putting them in a fire-safe bag. These bags cost as little as $20. Some are also waterproof, but if it is not, you can use a zip-lock bag. In the case of fire, there is an equally realistic threat of water damage from the fire hoses. Having them in a bag makes them handy if you need to evacuate quickly for any reason.
Did you know you can contact the Funeral Home of your choice and make pre-arrangements, so your loved ones have less to worry about when you pass? You can prepay for part or all of the arrangements and lock in prices. The State of Ohio has strict laws to protect you from being scammed out of your investment in prepay plans or burial insurance. Your family will thank you for taking action to let them grieve you when you pass rather than worry about how to provide a decent burial.
Take a look at your bank statements and credit cards. I find that many people have monthly charges they have forgotten. Maybe it was a free trial that turned into a monthly charge. Some costs come from services you used to enjoy but no longer need. Get your last three to six months of statements or a year to catch any annual fees. You might "find" money each month you didn't know was in your budget.
Start a financial journal. My grandmother was shaped by her great depression childhood, WWII twenties and widowed in her forties with two children to support. She worked hard as a waitress and wrote down every dollar she made and spent in an old black and white marbled notebook. There are more technologically advanced was to do this today, but amid this crisis, I have gone back to writing a financial journal. It worked for grandmom and it helps me see how my money is coming and going.
Start a COVID-19 Victory Garden. Start some seeds or build a raised planting bed. Grow some potatoes, onions, or garlic in five-gallon buckets. There is something powerful about knowing that when your corn is knee-high by the fourth of July, or you are ready to harvest those tomatoes, we can be a little less socially distant.
Tackle that decluttering or scrapbooking project. Put aside things you want to donate or sell at auction. Go through your wardrobe and release anything that does not make you feel good when you pick it up. Go through kitchen drawers and ask yourself, "when was the last time I used this?"
With children, this is a great time to work on organizing their lives. I have a page for each child with their morning routine items at the top, what three things they need to accomplish today, what two things do they want to do today and their bedtime wind-down routine. These pages help us all stay on task and make them feel confident that they are accomplishing things every day while waiting for their world to restart.
Don't be anxious if you can't complete all of these suggestions or any of them. No one can do everything, but everyone can do something. Find something to do each day to accomplish tasks you can do, so when it is time to become socially present again, you can enjoy those moments more.
James Schroeder is an attorney licensed to practice in Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey and the District of Columbia.