My [Depressing] Week of Preparing for Disaster and Demise
Do you know what a “prepper” is?
I didn’t until a few days ago. It’s a person who makes active preparations for impending disaster or emergency, by stockpiling food, supplies and even ammunition.
Apparently, there’s a whole community of preppers out there who take disaster planning extremely seriously. Some are what you would expect – doomsdayer survivalist religious extremists who are waiting for the world to collapse. But there are others who have a more practical approach of teaching survival, self reliance and preparedness, not just for disaster scenarios, but for general life events like illness, death, financial downturns or loss of employment.
One thing’s for sure – preppers are very intense and very thorough. It’s not a bad thing. They’re passionate people who offer some excellent information and advice. But for me, it’s overwhelming. Maybe it’s because fear lies at the heart of it all, and I just can’t subscribe to the idea of spending my days planning for every horrible scenario. That’s not how I want to live.
It doesn’t mean that we should gamble with the unexpected. Bad things are going to happen, it’s one of life’s guarantees. So if we can help it, we have no reason to be caught off guard. In my book, it’s part of getting organized.
“The time to repair the roof is when the sun is shining” – JFK
I set off this week to tackle two big things: my demise and disaster. I didn’t attempt to create a perfect or foolproof solution, I just wanted to account for the important things.
Here’s what I recommend:
Get your Personal Details in Order
Start by creating a document (template here) that contains all of your personal details, so that in the event of your death, your loved can easily access your accounts and handle your legal and financial affairs. I hand wrote this document to avoid storing sensitive information online, and keep two copies in trusted locations.
Review Estate Planning Documents
Luckily, I took care of this years ago, but I did have some adjustments to make. There are a few basic documents that every person should have:
- A will: a legally binding document with instructions on “who gets what”. It must name beneficiaries and be signed (with witnesses).
- A living trust: assets are put into the trust during your lifetime and transferred to your beneficiaries upon death without having to go through a lengthy and sometimes costly probate process.
- A living will: also known as advanced healthcare directive, this document specifies your wishes for medical treatment and designates someone to carry out your wishes should you not be in a state to make those decisions yourself.
- Financial power of attorney: allows you to designate someone to manage your affairs should you not be in a state to make those decisions yourself.
If you don’t have an estate plan, your options are to:
- Hire a lawyer (preferred route, but most expensive)
- Use an online service like LegalZoom (several hundred dollars)
- Use a free template like those provided on GetYourShitTogether.org or (there are so many things that can go wrong here, but it is better than nothing at all)
I went with a lawyer because some things are just better left to the experts. There were so many details I would never have thought to address. But a young single person without significant savings or assets would be just fine with a straightforward online template.
Last but not least, think about adding life insurance to your financial mix. Its important to protect your family from financial uncertainty (i.e. the mortgage, tuition, car, bills and living expenses). You might already have a policy through work – just make sure it’s enough to keep your family covered.
Prepare for Emergencies
Here in California, it’s all but drilled into our heads that the next big quake is just around the corner. We also have to worry about fires, pandemic flus, chemical accidents, floods, shootings and every day accidents, so how does one even get started without going completely crazy?!
1. Have an emergency plan (wherever you live will determine what type to prepare for – scroll down for resources) and communicate the plan with your spouse, kids and caregivers.
- How to respond during an event
- How to recover after an event including evacuation, routes, meeting places, pets etc.
- How to contact each other (text message is best!), and use the Safe and Well website
- Select an out of state emergency contact, in the event that local phone lines get jammed up
- Practice. Do some drills and go through scenarios.
I sat down with my 5 year old to explain what to do if the “earth started wiggling”. We practiced staying put and covering her head in different rooms around the house. She knows not to run for her blankie and she knows to find a wall that’s away from windows or anything that could fall on top of her. She knows that in a fire, if the doorknob is hot, not to open it.
Here are some category specific resources worth reviewing:
- Earthquake preparedness
- Home fires
- Flu outbreaks
- Chemical emergencies
- Power outages
- Responding to active shooters
- Keeping kids safe
- Water safety & swim safety
- Red Cross CPR and first aid classes
2. Make sure you have some basic food, water and medical supplies.
- The easiest solution is to order a survival kit (I have one for the home, and one that stays in the trunk of each car – they have whistles, flares, food, water, first aid, a radio – the works.)
- Fill jugs of water (clean and replace quarterly)
- Stock nonperishable food, extra batteries and easily accessible flashlights
- Have cash on hand (in singles, preferably)
- Place shoes and jackets by the door, in case you need to get out quickly
3. Check in twice a year. Regular maintenance is important. Food expires, water needs to be replaced, passwords change, life happens, and we forget stuff. Our kids do too.
I wish I could say it was easy work. It wasn’t. It was time consuming and depressing. There’s nothing easy about confronting your own mortality. I had to say things like “if I die…” or “if there’s an earthquake and…” more than I would ever want to. But now that it’s over, I do feel like a weight has been lifted. I’ve done my part to protect myself and my family and to me, that was a worthy investment of my time.
And now I can move on to happier things.
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