An American Editor

February 5, 2020

On the Basics — Starting the new year by planning for emergencies

Filed under: Editorial Matters — An American Editor @ 12:28 am

By Ruth E. Thaler-Carter, Owner, An American Editor

There are two levels of emergency planning for people in our field, whether you write, edit, proofread, index, design, etc.: day-to-day protection of what you’re working on and what happens to your projects if you can’t work or when you die. I’ve written here about emergency planning a couple of times (https://americaneditor.wordpress.com/2018/07/11/on-the-basics-a-fresh-look-at-coping-with-emergencies/, https://americaneditor.wordpress.com/2015/03/23/on-the-basics-coping-with-emergencies/, https://americaneditor.wordpress.com/2018/02/09/colleagues-lost-and-not-found-preparing-for-the-worst/, https://americaneditor.wordpress.com/2019/05/15/on-the-basics-rethinking-saving-everything/), but recently saw a slightly different twist that seems appropriate to discuss early in this new year: A colleague asked a discussion list about “what happens if … you’re unable to complete work you’ve started? How easy is it for your survivor(s) to send work-in-progress to your clients (assuming they’ve paid something down on the job already?”

My response was: “This is one excellent reason to participate in a (professional association) — not just join, but BE VISIBLE. Membership gives you a way to find colleagues you can partner with before there’s a crisis, to see how well their work style and quality meshes with yours, and to have names you can give to whoever will look after your business if you’re incapacitated or, well, dead. Your clients might want to find their own replacements for you, but you will be doing them a huge favor by having someone, or some people, in place to step in on anything currently under way.

“(The possibility of being contacted about partnering or subcontracting is a reason to make sure your posts to a group are as professional and letter-perfect as possible.)

“And this is why your potential survivor(s) should have access to some kind of business info — passwords, contract language/business policies, current client list with contact info, project status, etc.”

At some point in the conversation, I also noted that my will is in a safe deposit box, and my brother is a signatory for the box, so he can get access to it if anything were to happen to me. He also has a copy of my will, and of my passwords. I’m going to do the same with my niece, in case anything happens to my brother first.

This can work in various ways. The other day, I realized that I hadn’t heard from a regular client for more than a month; January was busy enough that I hadn’t noticed a lack of requests from her, and if I did think about it, I just figured she was focused on managing end-of-old-year/beginning-of-new-year stuff. I sent her an “Are you OK?” e-mail message just to check in, and she responded to say she had fallen in late December, had a major brain bleed and is still in rehab. Her comment that “I probably should have included you on a list of people whom my daughter clued in …” fit right into this post. I also remember a reliable colleague who hadn’t sent in her usual newsletter column; after several days of trying to reach her, I found out that she had fallen in her apartment and died because she couldn’t call 911 and no one knew anything had happened until it was too late.

I don’t want to be either of these people, and I’m sure none of you do.

Discussion list responses from colleagues provided some useful tips to consider, for both personal and business matters. Here are edited versions of their suggestions.

  • Have a will! And someone designated as your power of attorney, along with a living will and health directive. Every state has its own laws and having a will protects you, your assets and your family. In many states, dying without a will means your assets go probate and/or to the state, which is rarely (if ever) what any of us wants. If you don’t have family or friends to leave things to, designate a charity, professional organization, or educational or cultural institution you care about.
  • Use something like the LastPass password manager, which has the option to share a folder with specific permission giving access to someone you trust. Whatever method you use, make sure someone has passwords to your computer(s), programs, lists and social media so they can manage or inform contacts as appropriate.
  • Create a document that sits at the top center of your computer screen(s) titled “In Emergencies” and details where all the important files are on your system, both client and personal, so a partner, spouse, child or colleague can find what they would need if you become incapacitated.
  • Amazon sells a binder in which you can centralize all of your information — passwords, insurance docs, bank and investment accounts, friends to be notified, health directive, mortgage and other creditors, last wishes, etc. You could include a page with up-to-date client information. You also can create such a binder (on paper) or folder (on the computer) yourself.
  • Have your bank accounts converted to “TOD,” so they transfer immediately to the person of your choice, with no probate or lengthy delay. That way, the person you designate not only can pay any outstanding bills, but will have access to remaining funds in the account and can deposit any outstanding payments that show up.
  • If you do any subcontracting or hiring, make sure someone knows how to reach those connections in an emergency.
  • Put together a letter of instruction that says where to find all the details that have been discussed here, along with where to find safe deposit box keys, cemetery plot deeds and life insurance policies. It should outline your funeral wishes, what to do for any pets, and any other details your heirs/executors will need to handle after your death. Leave the letter and will somewhere easily be found and immediately accessible, and be sure to tell the people who need to know where they are.
  • If you live alone, especially in a detached house or even in an apartment building/condo where you don’t interact regularly with neighbors, consider setting up a daily call-in with someone in case you fall or come down with the flu, appendicitis, etc. Ideally, this should be someone local whom you trust with keys to your home so they can get in to check on you if you don’t answer the call and can let emergency personnel in if needed. At least get one of those Medic Alert (or whatever) buttons so you can call for help.

Are you prepared for the worst (which I sincerely hope doesn’t happen to any of us any time soon)? Are there any other steps we should take to make sure our business (or personal) matters are protected and someone knows what to do if we have an emergency?

By the way, the colleague whose list message inspired this post also asked: “Does everyone make it clear that those up-front payments are non-refundable no matter whether you finish the job)?” If I had received an advance or deposit but something happened before I did enough of the work to “use” those funds, and my backup person or people couldn’t finish the job, I’d expect someone to give the client back the difference. That’s the kind of possible situation that makes it important to keep some kind of log of how much time, how many words or how much of whatever measurement we use to track the progress of a project we’ve spent to date. It’s easy to get so immersed in a big project that we forget to keep track of that information, but this point in a new year is a good one to start trying to be efficient about it.

Here’s wishing all of our AAE colleagues a healthy, productive and profitable new year, whether you’re in-house, freelance, retired or simply interested in editing. I hope everyone has their records, documents and systems in place to make it easier to have that kind of year. L’chaim!

Ruth E. Thaler-Carter (www.writerruth.com) is an award-winning provider of editorial and publishing services for publications, publishers, associations, nonprofits, independent authors, and companies worldwide; editor-in-chief and — as of 2019 — owner of An American Editor (AAE); and owner of the A Flair for Writing (www.aflairforwriting.com) publishing company. She created the annual Communication Central “Be a Better Freelancer”® conference for colleagues (www.communication-central.com), now in its 15th year and co-hosted with the National Association of Independent Writers & Editors (www.naiwe.com) and sponsored by AAE. She can be reached at Ruth@writerruth.com or Ruth.Thaler-Carter@AnAmericanEditor.com.

1 Comment

  1. Ruth, this is such good advice! I’m in the midst of dealing with my father’s estate. Though he had a will, there were a lot of things left undone. Had he followed guidelines like you’ve listed, it would have saved me and my sister a lot of heartache and trouble.

    Just the realization that someone else should be able to review the terms of current client contracts with down payment status . . . ! So obvious, yet so easily overlooked.

    Thank you.

    Like

    Comment by Cindy Bryan — February 5, 2020 @ 11:03 am


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