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Wochner Law Firm

Wochner Law Blog: Putting Love in Print

My cousin got married during the pandemic, not at the date, time, location on the save the date sent to over 200 family members and friends before COVID-19 completely changed the narrative of 2020. Rather, the sacrament was performed as Governor J.B. Pritzker mandated:  outside with only ten people wearing masks on the lawn of his family’s parish. Bride and groom stood next to each other during the sacrament and pictures with their eight guests standing safely 6 feet apart were posted on Facebook to “virtually” celebrate the event.   

With Illinois in phase four, a family gathering gave me an opportunity to make good on my smiley face emoji and congratulate my cousin in person.  We talked about COVID-19 and how it upended our personal and professional lives and how in the dark days of shelter-in-place we learned who was on our teams at home and at work.  He and his now wife decided to forego a reception opting for a more casual celebration when it was safe to gather in person with the original 200+ guests.  He was matter-of-fact about the news, as perhaps most similarly situated couples whose journey to the altar took a COVID-19 twist likely are. I asked him what was most frustrating about COVID- 19 and his nuptials.  His response was that it took nearly a year to actually get married.   

This shocked me. Not because I anticipated a different answer but because of his short engagement: just under 12 months, even with a global pandemic in the mix.  This is a stunning fact because a 2019 survey by The Knot.com reports the average length of an engagement in the United States is 15 -18 months.  No wonder People Magazine’s social media feed publicized the one-year anniversary of Sarah Hyland, of Modern Family fame, engagement last month.  Engagement anniversaries are a thing. 

So why do I care? I care because while traditions and relationship norms are changing, our laws and institutions are not, or at least not as quickly.  

Why should you care?  In our ever-changing world with slow-to-change laws, regardless of your marital status, you should have some solid footing underneath you. 

The law in Illinois provides that unless written explicitly elsewhere, the order of people that will possibly make health care and financial decisions for you are: 

1.Guardian 

2.Spouse 

3.Adult children 

4.Parents 

5.Siblings 

6.Grandchild 

7.Close family friends 

8.Guardian of the estate 

Unfortunately, the person you may want to make health and financial decisions for you, like a fiancé, dear friend, or life—partner, may not show up on the batting order penned by the lawmakers. If you have not thought about who you would like to make these decisions for you if you couldn’t make them yourself, here is your reality.  Decisions about your life, health and legacy, regardless of tax bracket, income level marital status or number of dependents, will be left to Illinois lawmakers and a judge.  

Fortunately, there is a simple remedy. Illinois attorneys have a variety of tools, ranging from simple wills and powers of attorney to living trusts to help ensure every scenario has a contingency plan and every emergency; a solution. Proper planning and discussion can ebb back much of the craziness of this world, but only if we take those steps before disaster strikes. 

A great first step can be choosing a person who would act as a decision-maker when you physically or mentally cannot on health care and financial matters. A healthcare power of attorney and a property power of attorney are fantastic tools to provide a sense of control over your own life and ensure your choices always take precedent. 

A piece of paper can’t prove when your love begins and ends, but a few documents can let the whole world know who matters most.