Americans are being urged to practice rigid sanitation and social-distancing procedures for themselves and family members in the war against the coronavirus.

Unfortunately, because the disease is indiscriminate as to time of infection, whereabouts and station in life, there are other pressing actions we need to take. One might be the proper execution of wills, testaments and other documents.

I realize that this might sound morbid to some, but the lessening of potential legal entanglements should help override that sensation.

“Lawyers insist newspapers can’t remind the public too often of the need for close attention to wills,” my reporter-columnist father, Charles B. Gordon, wrote in an article that appeared in The Clarion-Ledger one day before his 1982 death.

He specifically referred to a case in Pike County Chancery Court surrounding the search “of about 40 people whose homes range from North Wales to the United Kingdom to Del Rio, Texas to Vancouver B.C.”

Two siblings from a prominent McComb family, E.R. “Bob” Harlan and Marie Harlan Willis, had agreed early on to leave their wills to each other upon their respective deaths. She was married briefly and left no children.

As the years passed, their attention to final papers was remiss and the negligence left widespread kinfolk-claimants, bringing on the court hearing “to determine who are (their) heirs at law.”

The Harlan family had been well invested in myriad local businesses, including a Ford dealership that included the assembly of automobiles — forerunners, perhaps, to Mississippi’s coveted present-day enterprises of Nissan and Toyota, employing thousands of people in Canton and Blue Springs.

McComb banker Herbert Wilmesherr and lawyer John H. White Jr., as administrators, had toiled for more than a year before the court hearing to develop a list of the Harlan siblings’ cousins who might share in the estate.

A legal mess was at hand for a disbursement of assets that included a large sum of cash, land and mineral rights in four counties of Southwest Mississippi and a cache of First National Bank of McComb stock (now Trustmark).

No one who is infected with the coronavirus and dies as a result would want that same type of untidy business left for their loved ones to settle — or, worse, to fight over.

In this time of abeyance from the normal paces of life — when many have been forced temporarily from a job or other associations — doesn’t it make sense to go and prepare a place where important documents could easily be found in the event of an unexpected occurrence?

It could happen to any of us at any time due to this nation’s obvious lack of preparation for such a catastrophe that will result in many more deaths in the United States alone.

I envision three stacks of documents — the first for wills, including one of finality, but also for “living” and “power of attorney”; another for whatever insurance policies that might exist; and one for either an obituary or information to use by survivors in writing it.

Compiling an obituary on your own is not unthinkable or morbid. This is often done and would contain information that only you could have provided. Go ahead and try writing yours, to include the obvious items such as full name, date of birth and death and location, survivors, your career, any military, church, social affiliations and hobbies and other extracurricular activities.

The prudence involved in collecting these documents will come in handy when the time comes — and it will, sooner or later.

Hopefully, later — much later.

Mac Gordon is a native and part-time resident of McComb. He is a retired newspaperman. He can be reached at macmarygordon @gmail.com.

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