By Benjamin Schenker
When using dating apps, I’ve often seen a question to the effect of “Would other people be shocked by something you own?” Personally, I don’t know, but I am sure that I have some things that I’d rather people not see that I own. In general, my friends are not rooting through my cupboards and closets. However, there are situations where they could be!
One thing that people, especially younger people, might not consider is the possibility of an accident. Something bad could happen and you could wind up in the emergency room. Do you remember your mother chiding “Make sure that you wear clean underwear in case you get into an accident”? Whether it be a car crash or an accident on the job, accidents happen.
The question is what would happen if you were in an accident and were incapacitated for a substantial period of time? Someone would have to make arrangements for bills to be paid while you’re out of commission, and while it’s possible that friends could be understanding about you not being able to pay, professional landlords, utility companies, student loan lenders, and credit card companies are unlikely to be forgiving.
When a person becomes incapacitated, people close to her might be able to file for “guardianship” during the incapacity. This means that someone closely related to you would petition the court to allow her or him to be the guardian over your person and/or your property. (See Md. Estates and Trusts Section sections 13-102 et seq; D.C. Code 21-2001 et. seq.) That would mean that they would have the power to pay your bills and handle your affairs; it also means that they would have significant access into your personal affairs.
A similar situation happens when a person dies without a will. A family member would petition to be the personal representative of the estate, and then would have access to personal accounts and personal property. (Md. Rule 6-101 et seq.; D.C. SCR-PD Rule 403 et seq.).
However, by acting ahead, you can control who these people will be. Who do YOU want looking through your cupboards and bank accounts (and browser history!)? The equivalent of clean underwear in an accident is to prepare in advance a durable power of attorney and a will (which, by the way, is a good idea to do for a variety of other reasons!). You cannot plan to avoid accidents, but you can plan to ensure that your very religious aunt is not the one sorting through those battery-operated devices in your nightstand!
Addendum: These documents are not just important for protecting privacy, but they can be helpful for a variety of reasons. One of them could be to help same-sex couples. Even married couples can be subject to people who don’t want to recognize their marriage (Kim Davis is a famous example of this). Maybe “religious freedom” laws can protect people who discriminate because people are married, but having these documents can prevent the discrimination. A power of attorney can be granted to anyone, so even if someone wants to discriminate because you are in a same-sex marriage, they won’t be able to do so if you have a power of attorney (or, at least it would be more difficult).
Disclaimer: Nothing in this post is intended as legal advice or to create an attorney-client relationship. If you have any legal concerns, please contact an attorney qualified to practice law in your state or district.