published in Change, Death, Financial Planning by Maryanne | December 10, 2013

If Emergency Struck…

Could You Put Your Hands on Important Documents?

 Just in Case Binder photo

You won’t like this blog – but it’s an important one to read 🙁

On Sept 29th, 2000, while searching a warehouse, my police officer husband, John, fell through an unmarked false ceiling, hit his head and died of brain injuries. We were both 32. The next day, I had the Police Chaplain at my door…a wonderful man with a really lousy job to do: help me plan John’s funeral.

The Chaplain cleared his throat and asked me the million dollar question: Did John and I have wills? Because he needed to know, now, what John’s wishes had been for his funeral arrangements, should the worst happen.

Clearly, it had.

Much to everyone’s surprise, including my own, I nodded, stood up and went downstairs. I opened the file cabinet, looked through the ‘W’ files and promptly plucked out a copy of John’s will. But before going back upstairs, I took a deep breath and quickly flipped through his will – for there was another urgent matter I needed to check on, before moving on to the funeral portion of the program.

When I found what I was looking for, I let out a huge sigh of relief. For the day before, I had authorized the removal of John’s organs for transplant. In the hospital, I had been 99% sure that’s what he’d wanted. But there’s nothing quite like seeing a loved one’s wishes in print, within a legal document, to help one come to peace with their decision…especially since John’s heart was now beating inside another man.

Back upstairs in the living room again, I read out loud to the Chaplain what John’s wishes were for his funeral. And then away we went, to make said funeral happen.

My tough-love point: a death in the family is brutal enough to deal with. Having to rummage through boxes and piles of paper to find important documents – or not having them at all – makes a horrible situation even worse.

Regardless of your situation, you need to have a will. The above example illustrates one reason why. But I’ll be frank: funerals come and go – but the financial repercussions from not having a will in place can take years to recover from.

I have a friend who lives in Quebec who was widowed in her late thirties. She and her husband didn’t have children so hadn’t got around to drawing up a will, even though they’d been married for years. When her husband died suddenly, imagine her surprise when she was told that Quebec law states that without a will, half his financial assets go to her – and half go to her husband’s parents.

In other words, don’t assume that just because you are the spouse, should tragedy strike, you will be automatically entitled to all assets.

An excellent book to read is Managing Alone; Your Trusted Advisor’s Guide to Surviving the Death of Your Spouse by Jennifer Black & Janet Baccarani. But please don’t wait until tragedy strikes to read it.

So why did John and I happen to have our wills done and important documents in order when we were only 32?

Well, it’s not because we were a particularly organized, forward-thinking and planning sort of couple, that’s for sure. Rather, it was because I had someone in my life – my big brother, Pat – who had been harping on me for years about the importance of having our wills done up and important documents in order. And all I can say is, thank goodness John and I had the wisdom to listen to his advice.

3 Ridiculous Reasons Why We DON’T Put Our Important Documents in Order:

1. Because on some level you think that if you are prepared, this will somehow ‘bring on’ a tragedy. Whereas if you aren’t prepared, you aren’t accepting the fact that an emergency could happen – and therefore it won’t.

head in sand.jpeg

To which I reply: The strategy of sticking one’s head in the sand only serves to leave one’s bottom exposed.

2. Because it will take time to do and won’t be a lot of fun.

To which I say: Suck it up, buttercup. Turn off the telly and get ‘er done.

3. Because you are just SO busy!

To which I say: Just think how much busier you’ll be when you discover that your insurance documents, wills, passports, marriage and birth certificates are scattered in cardboard boxes in a basement that is now 3 inches deep in water.

And now for the good news 🙂

I stayed in touch with the Police Chaplain over the years and became close friends with his wife, Deborah. Right from the start, Deborah had been impressed with how prepared John and I had been in case of emergency (thanks, Pat!), so she came up with the idea of creating a binder that would put all one’s important documents in one place.

And that’s exactly what she’s done with “Just in Case – Today,” a custom, detailed binder that can hold ALL the pertinent documents needed in case of emergency, including:

– Wills

– Marriage Certificate

– S.I.N Cards

– Passports

– Birth Certificates

– Medical & Physician Information

– Funeral Arrangements

– Bank & Financial Information

Having all your important documents in one place will give you a gift you can’t put a price tag on: peace of mind.

Trust me, being prepared and organized won’t ‘bring on’ a tragedy. But it will give you the comfort that comes with knowing that IF something were to happen to you, your home or one of your loved ones, at the very least you would be able to immediately put your hands on all your important documents.

Here’s the link for info on the “Just in Case – Today” binder.

And yes, that dreadfully sad photo on the homepage – of the woman in the hat – is me at John’s funeral 🙁

Maryanne Pope is the author of A Widow’s Awakeningthe upcoming book, Barrier Removed; A Tough Love Guide to Achieving Your Dreams and the play, Saviour. Maryanne is the Board Chair of the John Petropoulos Memorial Fund and the CEO of Pink Gazelle Productions Inc

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10 Comments

  1. Sarah on December 11th, 2013 at 11:41 am:

    Very helpful. This is so important for everyone to think about. You never think you’ll be in this situation, but sadly sometimes you are. As you said, a death in the family is tragic enough, but then having to deal with the repercussions of dying intestate is another challenge to cope with during a trying time.

    Also the point about organ donation is a critical one. Knowing a person’s wishes at such a horrendous time, when your loved one is hooked up to a tangled mess of machines and tubes on life support, is helpful when you’re just managing minute by minute.

    Thanks for sharing.

  2. Pelly Christos-Litsas on December 13th, 2013 at 1:22 am:

    Wow what an amazing idea! You’re right…get the Will done!!!
    A wide awakening for all of us!

  3. Maryanne on December 18th, 2013 at 3:28 pm:

    This comment just came in through e-mail…from big brother, Pat!

    I just read your blog on in case of emergency, Mary did also.

    It is good reminder for us to update all this on a regular basis.
    PP, Timmins, Ont

  4. Tim Reynolds on October 15th, 2014 at 9:22 am:

    An excellent reminder, Maryanne. Thank you.

    I’ve even taken the one-day Will class at Chinnok Learning, but we haven’t got around to taking care of it. Our primary reason, though, is money. $1000 or more to have the lawyer put their stamp on everything is steep, what with all of our new house expenses. But, that said, with the new house and our medium-risk jobs, we should definitely be taking care of this soon. Especially with the specific request I have for my remains. 🙂
    Thank you.
    Tim.

  5. Claire Scott on October 15th, 2014 at 11:15 am:

    When my spouse died last year, I was SO thankful I had nagged him and nagged him to get his will done. AND found out his wishes on organ donation and final arrangements. (Not what I would have thought!)Most guys are hard to pin down but it pays off. Having everything together ~ including passports and birth certificates ~ in ONE place is key when dealing with banks,government, etc.

    Now what to do with all those ashes…

  6. Joyce van Dijk-George on October 15th, 2014 at 10:14 pm:

    Yes, a hard read, but so true. Even for the living, you need to have a Will. Every time I turn around I have to prove my dads Will and wishes. Thanks. Take Care.

  7. Maryanne on October 16th, 2014 at 4:28 pm:

    Good point, Joyce, about the need to have a will even when someone is living – but someone ELSE is legally responsible for their decisions!
    Maryanne

  8. Maryanne on October 16th, 2014 at 4:29 pm:

    Excellent feedback, Claire! I am so glad your husband had a will. You are so right about people tending to put it off and put it off…it just is not a very pleasant task – but an extremely important one, for so many reasons.

    About the ashes…well, that is a whole other subject matter!
    Take care,
    Maryanne

  9. Maryanne on October 16th, 2014 at 4:31 pm:

    Thanks for the candid feedback, Tim! Yes, $1000 is pretty steep to have a will done. I am meeting with a BC lawyer next week to get my will updated. I’m not sure what the bill will be – but I’m hoping not $1000.

    You’ve got me curious about your specific request for your remains…better put it writing!
    Maryanne

  10. Maryanne on October 16th, 2014 at 8:19 pm:

    This comment just came in via e-mail:

    What practical advice! Having been through similar experiences with my extended family you’d think I’d have that binder ready for my family unit. Funny how we think it won’t happen to us.

    I relate to your ridiculous excuses. I actually have a will in place but not all the other information with it in one place. Nor a detailed description of funeral arrangements or desires. Interesting avoidance on my behalf.

    Thank you for bringing this to my attention. I enjoyed the levity you brought in your blog to the serious business of wills!
    CM, Vancouver, BC

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