Published Tuesday, Dec. 3, 2019 on CNBC.com, written by Jill Cornfield.
Chanel Reynolds is a textbook example of how even the best planners can get caught short. Her husband, Jose, had been in a terrible accident and was now in intensive care, irreparably wounded. A week later, with no signs of brain function, he was removed from life support and died. Meanwhile, Reynolds realized that while she and her spouse had wills, the documents were not signed or notarized. She wasn’t sure of all their coverage, and she couldn’t easily locate the phone number for their insurance company.
A devastating event will never be easy to live through, yet you can lessen the burden if you have a will, some contingency plans and a cash emergency fund so you don’t have to think through the details. Reynolds’ experience left her with plenty to say — and do — on the subject.
A super-organized project manager, Reynolds says her skills were extremely helpful. At the same time, she said, it was “humiliating that I was so disorganized and felt so helpless.”
Holding her thumb and fingers several inches apart to represent a stack of paper, Reynolds said the mail piled up and all she could do was stare at it, paralyzed.
In 2013, when she had recovered from what had seemed like an unrecoverable time, Reynolds created GYST.com to share what she’d learned. (GYST stands for Get Your S— Together.) A few things kept recurring, and she said, “If we had had these few things done, there would have been less to answer. I hoped family and friends would share.”
The site went viral and Reynolds wrote “What Matters Most,” a guide to wills, money and insurance — and where to start when you don’t even know you need to do this.
Planning for catastrophes
It’s not the actual planning or organization. People manage to plan and carry out other complicated tasks. When the event is positive — getting married, having a child, buying a home, inheriting some money — it’s far easier and more exciting to sit down and make plans.
As Reynolds points out, the negative ones, such as a bad diagnosis or disability, or some unforeseen disaster, are a punch in the gut.
When things go to pieces, you don’t know what you don’t know. The average person has several financial accounts and different types of coverage, and few people can quickly lay their hands on all that information.
At a minimum, to be prepared for some unforeseen catastrophe, you should have a will, an emergency fund and a simple folder or notebook that holds financial and account information for you and your partner.
It’s far easier to write down passwords and assemble information on accounts and key phone numbers when life is humming along. Planning simply makes a hard time easier, Reynolds says. What’s more, we do it all the time for a range of events both big and small.
“We back up our computers, we change our furnace filters and the oil in our cars,” Reynolds said. Getting organized for an unseen event is no different.
Don’t feel bad if you don’t have all your plans nailed down. More than half of American adults don’t have a will, according to Lexis Nexis, the legal research company. Fewer than half would be able to come up with $1,000 for an emergency expense. But do scout the possibility that things will not always go smoothly. More than 1 in 4 people age 20 will become disabled before reaching retirement age, according to the Social Security Administration.
The best thing you can do is start today. Work on building a cash cushion. And if you don’t have a will, make one.