Most Will Survive This Pandemic. But Now is the Prudent Time to Settle Your Affairs | Opinion

Many of us do not like to think about dying, or even the possibility of dying. Recent neurological research suggests that our brains are actually incapable of identifying the "I" with "death" in the same straightforward, visceral way that they might identify "I" with "lunch tomorrow." The notion of "this won't happen to me" is hardwired into our perception of the self.

But it will.

And this risk—of the inevitable happening much sooner than we'd ever planned for—is painfully present in our minds today. The coronavirus pandemic is still wildly out of control, with the United States emerging as the new epicenter of the virus. We still don't know how many people in the country have it, and we don't yet know how many people will be infected before a course of treatment or an immunization are developed, particularly given that many carriers are asymptomatic.

With a global death rate of 4.4% among known cases, including many people who would not be classified in the "high risk" categories of over 65 or with underlying medical conditions, each of us must now face an important, if uncomfortable truth.

You—the person reading this—might not survive. And it is time to get your affairs in order, if you haven't already.

It has been time, of course, even before the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic. Tragedies, accidents, and illnesses often strike people when they least expect it, and sometimes are least ready for it. But now, in the early stages of a devastating pandemic, it is time for us all to do the painful but necessary work of preparing for the possibility of our own worst case scenarios coming to pass.

God willing, they won't. And this certainly doesn't come as a call to lay down our arms and stop doing our best to outlive this and work for best outcomes for everyone. But it's better to be prepared for a situation that will inevitably arrive- even if hopefully not for many years to come—than to face calamity without your wishes carefully clarified, and bequeathing your friends and loved ones not only heartbreak and grief, but a plethora of exhausting and sometimes crass administrative conundrums.

The to-do list isn't long.

First, now is a good time to name, in writing, what you want to happen in the event that you are unable to make medical decisions for yourself. An advance directive may or may not be legally binding depending on the laws of your state, but it is nonetheless an important document that can inform your doctors and family about your preferences if you are not able to articulate them when they matter most. And if you would like to specify exactly who should be making these decisions on your behalf, now is also an excellent time to set up a durable power of attorney.

Second, this is also an important time to sort out your will, if you don't have one yet. A bequest is an opportunity to be intentional about how you want your property—whether materially valuable or personally sentimental, or both—to be handled after you pass, and to save your family and other loved ones from the confusion, uncertainty or possible legal headaches they might face without that guidance. (Depending upon the complexity of the laws in your state, a revocable living trust could eliminate or greatly reduce bureaucratic hassles.) The process of finalizing that document may be more complicated given stay at home guidelines and shelter in place orders, but for many people it should nonetheless be possible to find witnesses, and both remote and electronic notarization is becoming increasingly commonplace.

Needless to say, if you're a parent of minors, it's crucial to designate who you would like to care for your children if, God forbid, the worst happens—which includes both talking with your potential future custodian and getting your wishes in writing. And for those who make art or music or writing or other forms of intellectual property, it's important to designate who you would like to control—and potentially profit from—your work after you're gone.

Once you've done all of this responsible, emotionally grueling adulting, get copies of all of your documents to people who love you (or at least give them a way to access them, if you're reluctant to spill the beans about the specific contents of your will) so that they can help to ensure that your wishes are carried out. And if you're geographically distant from your closest family and/or friends, make sure that your doctor and a trusted friend trusted in your local community have copies of your power of attorney and advance directive as well. Travel is already difficult and may become more so as the COVID-19 pandemic continues, and you'll want someone local advocating on your behalf, God forbid that becomes necessary.

I'm praying that we will all make it through this just fine. But it's responsible nonetheless to have your wishes clear, so that those who love you can honor them, just in case, and be relieved of painfully trying to second-guess what you might have wanted or might have said.

We must hope (and pray, if you're the praying type) for everyone's health and safety right now. We must all fight for just policies that can care for everyone impacted both physically and economically by this pandemic. And we need to be prepared in the event that this story does not unfold as we all want it to.

So take care of your business, just in case.

And needless to say: stay home if you can.

Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg is the author of Surprised By God, Nurture the Wow, and other books.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own.