I’ve talked before about how much of my work is helping people be prepared for things that might not happen, that they hope won’t happen or that they realize probably will happen but don’t want to think about. In my law practice I use legal strategies to help people prepare for the future. With a blizzard that planning takes on a different, but no less vital, form.
As I dug out my house and car, and had power restored on Sunday night, I thought about how well my blizzard plan had worked. Here’s what I learned:
1. Know where to find your stuff before the emergency. For blizzard planning this means have your flashlights and candles and winter clothes out and in a central location while the lights are still on. I came home Saturday night to a dark house and realized I wasn’t sure where I’d left my headlamp. I spent a few frantic minutes fumbling around trying to remember where I’d left it. Sunday morning before I left the house, I made sure all lighting supplies were right by the door.
For legal planning, this means having a list of your important accounts, advisors and medical information compiled while you are healthy and competent. This way your family won’t be stumbling around in the dark when they need to help you in an emergency.
2. Put a plan in place, even if you can’t imagine why you’d need it. Emergency officials often say during a storm that you should fill your bathtub with water. I could never imagine a case in which I would need a tub filled with water during a storm, so I never usually do it. However, something motivated me to fill my tub on Friday night, shortly before we lost power. Saturday morning when I checked Facebook from my phone, I saw that my town’s water department generator had failed and they were asking folks to cut back on water use until the part could be flown in on Tuesday. Ah ha, so this is why you should fill your tub. I could then use this water to flush the toilet and I could use my bottled water for cooking and dishes until the water restriction was lifted.
(Then my cat jumped in the tub and had the scare of her life when she realized it was filled with quite cold water!)
When I’m helping my clients put their plans into place they sometimes say “But that is such a remote possibility, I can’t imagine things getting to that point,” or “I’m never going to end up like that so it doesn’t matter.” But you know what, remotely possible things do happen, and you never know what the future holds. It’s worth it to take the time to make some plans or fill the tub (and then shut the bathroom door to keep the cat out.)
3. Your plan isn’t just for you, it’s to make life easier for other people, too. I prepare for a hurricane or blizzard mostly so that I will make it through as comfortably as can be. But, I also do it so that those who can’t or don’t plan can use the town resources, and I don’t have to. I had food (and instant coffee!) to get me through a week or so if needed, which meant that I didn’t need eat food at the warming center at the high school and someone else could. I had an emergency Mylar blanket and my house never got too cold, which meant that I left space in a hotel room or storm shelter somewhere for a family with an infant or elderly parent. I was self-sufficient in my home so that police and fire could be elsewhere.
Likewise, if you have a proper plan in place for your incapacity you are making life easier for your family. They can quickly go into action to assist you and not waste time trying to figure out what you own and how they can access it to support your care or pay your bills. If you have a durable power of attorney and health care documents in place, your family doesn’t need to seek the assistance of the court and those resources can be used by people who have no other options. And by sharing your medical wishes ahead of time, you help relieve the burden from those who need to communicate your wishes when you are no longer able.
4. Plan For Contingencies. Most of my friends and I had plans in place for the blizzard. But some folks found themselves needing to implement their Plan B. They had planned for the power to go out and had a generator on standby. But, they still dug out their driveway in case they needed to leave for some reason. This turned out to be a good idea because when the generator failed, they could drive to a family member’s home that still had power. I planned on weathering the storm at home (and did), but I had a bag packed and made sure I had the cat’s rabies & vaccination information handy in case we needed to evacuate and I had to board her.
I talk about contingency plans a lot with my clients, too. Most have thought about whom they want to help them in an emergency. But we go beyond that and talk about who would help them if their primary choice wasn’t available, and who would inherit their belongings if their primary family members weren’t around. This way, my clients get to make the decisions in a calm fashion instead of having their family members or the Court trying to determine the best course of action to take.
Here’s to being prepared for all sorts of situations and weathering storms well!
(Photo: Author’s own. Cohasset.)