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By: Heidi R. Kemp
Emens Wolper Jacobs & Jasin Law Firm

Get comfortable being uncomfortable. In law school we had a professor who was in charge of helping prepare us for the bar examination. Her motto was “get comfortable being uncomfortable.” At first, I didn’t really understand what she meant. But, as time went on and I started really studying for the bar exam, I quickly realized that there was no way in the world I could know everything. Plus, at that time in my life, passing the bar exam seemed to be the most important thing – this huge hurdle to the rest of my life. The pressure was daunting. The exam itself is meant to weed out the weak. Repeating the mantra of ‘get comfortable being uncomfortable’ ended up being very cathartic. It became clear that that was the real key to success. There was no possible way to be truly comfortable in a pressure situation like the bar exam. But, I could control my reaction and feelings to the situation by accepting that I was going to feel uncomfortable. This helped me tremendously in the exam when I did not know the answer. Rather than stressing about that fact, I made something up and moved on. This motto / mantra has become helpful to me even years later, especially now.

2020 has been a year of uncertainties and unexpected events. While certain people may have foreseen some of the events, many of us were taken off-guard by the coronavirus and the protests (and even the threat of murder hornets). It has felt like each month has ushered in some new situation for us to deal with. My advice for this year is to get comfortable being uncomfortable.

How do you do that? I think you do that by understanding that there are things going on out in the world that you cannot control. Try to educate yourself but know that it’s okay to be unsettled and uncomfortable. The other thing to do is to focus on what you can control. These might be small little things in your everyday life. But, having some control and certainty in your life should help ground you.

From a legal perspective, I realize it’s a difficult time to think about doing any kind of legal work. But, there are often small things that you can do right now to feel in control of certain situations or to clean things up so that your life feels more certain and organized. There are several things that come to mind.

Estate planning documents, including powers of attorney, have never seemed more important. Getting your documents in place will give you a peace of mind in a crazy unsettled world. Another thing would be to look at your deed. Almost all of the couples I talk to tell me their deed is in survivorship – meaning that if one spouse dies the other spouse owns the property automatically without the need for probate. But, when I look up the deeds, it’s not unusual for me to find that the deed is not in survivorship. This is easily fixed and can save lots of time when the first spouse passes away. Another real estate issue happens when the first spouse passed away and the deed was in survivorship. It is true that legally the other spouse owns the property without needing to do anything else. However, the surviving spouse needs to file an “Affidavit of Survivorship” with the Recorder in their county. This Affidavit tells the auditor to change the tax records to only the surviving spouse and it goes on record documenting the first spouse’s death and that the surviving spouse is the sole owner. Often, I’ve found this doesn’t get done and then when the second spouse dies, we need to go back and clean up the title to connect the dots. Again, this is an easy fix.

These are just a couple of ideas from a legal perspective that you could tackle if that makes sense for your situation. Take control of what you can. Stay safe and healthy. And, get comfortable being uncomfortable.