In Case of Emergency

I had a scare recently with my parents (potentially) having the COVID virus. Bonus Mom was in the hospital and Dad I had to keep an eye on. While it turned out to be a false alarm, it got me to thinking that I had no clue what I needed to do in the event I lost both of them at once. I decided to create an “In Case of Emergency” document for myself, which I plan to hand over to the parents and sister once it’s finished, to encourage them to do the same. While this might not be the happiest topic, it is a useful exercise because it allows you apply your technical writing skills to personal matters–and maybe give your family a better appreciation for what you do in your day job.

Handling Emergencies

Where do you begin?

I started with a hospitalization emergency: some situation where I was unconscious, comatose, or otherwise unable to communicate. While a paramedic or doctor might be able to access your ICE (In Case of Emergency) numbers on your phone and call your emergency contacts, what are they supposed to do?

Who are they going to call?

I don’t have kids, but if I did, I’d have to leave instructions for what’s to be done with them. As I’m single and childless, my first emergency priority is work. I work from home, so my remote customers need to be informed. I provided their names, phone numbers, and email addresses.

Also, depending on the severity of the situation, they might need to obtain your will and medical instructions (example, a signed DNR–do not resuscitate–order). Do you have a signed will and DNR? Do your emergency contacts have a copy, or do they know where to find yours?

Inform your doctor(s)

Realistically, the only doctor who might need to be informed that I was in the hospital is my primary care physician, but I threw in contact info for all of the specialists just in case…because you just never know, do you? I also included a list of my prescriptions: medication type, dose, frequency, and use.

Accessing your stuff

It’s amazing how much of our lives we put on our phones and computers. Yet what good is that information to others if it’s locked up with all those lovely passwords? Also, your emergency POC (point of contact) might need to get into your home or car–do they have keys?

How long are you going to be out of commission? You don’t know. It might be advisable to inform your mortgage holder or landlord, along with all of those people who send you bills: insurance companies, utilities, car loan holders, etc.

Informing friends and family

Your wishes on who gets informed of your medical situation could vary from “don’t tell anyone” to “tell everyone I know” via social media. I fall somewhere in the middle. Presumably your POCs know how to reach your family, but your close friends deserve to know personally rather than learning about your situation via social media, yes? Therefore, include their contact info so they can hear the news directly.

Hopefully these activities will be sufficient cover things until I’d get out of surgery, recover, or whatever. However, there will be additional things to do, people to contact, and paperwork to execute should things go sideways and I end up dead.

Handling Your Demise

All of the actions you took above are a bare starting point. Now come the real challenges:

  • Talking to a lawyer about and executing the wishes expressed in your will/estate, including the disposition of your no-longer-operating body.
  • Talking to your finance people about your assets, debts, and taxes.
  • Reviewing the paperwork/statements related to your current financial state.
  • Handing over any work products or office equipment that belongs to your employers or customers.
  • Sorting through your personal belongings and any items not covered by your will.
  • Executing whatever arrangements you made for your business in the event of your death, including what to do with any residual payments, fees, or royalties from intellectual property you created during your lifetime.
  • Closing out your various business accounts: bank, financial, mortgage/rent, utilities, car loan, etc.
  • Closing down or setting up “legacy pages” for your social media presence: Facebook, Twitter, blogs, etc.
  • Closing out any organizational memberships or newspaper/magazine/newsletter subscriptions.

Final Thoughts on Final Thoughts

A good starting point for all of this planning is obviously to talk to a lawyer about getting your will and medical directives in order. There are other items I didn’t mention that you can consider as well. But beyond that, an “In Case of Emergency” doc like the one I’ve just described might be a good way to help your family sort through your business in a time of great stress. I for one am glad to know that there’s a plan or procedure I can follow in the event of X.  Better that than having people guess. Think of it as documentation for your life. Having it well organized will provide at least some relief to the people who care about you.

About Bart Leahy

Freelance Technical Writer, Science Cheerleader Event & Membership Director, and an all-around nice guy. Here to help.
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