You’re Never Ready for the Unexpected
You are never prepared for the phone call I got last week. The one where your client calls to tell you that their best friend, who is also your client, has Stage 4 cancer.
The treatment plan began this week and there is a lot of optimism and hope along with some of the best care in the world.
But I couldn’t help but think that while we have spent literally hours and hours working on their estate planning documents over the last few years with no timeline crunch, we never quite got things across the finish line. Things were complicated and needed some special trust language and funding mechanisms— we needed to see what others in similar circumstances were doing about these types of assets. And I don’t know if I could have pushed harder or encouraged action more forcefully. But regardless, it’s not done. And while we still have some time, it’s not how they want to spend their time right now. They want to think about recovery and seeing close friends—not about legal structures and articles of incorporations and operating agreements.
This is not the first time I have experienced this. I have had plenty of times when I received the call of a client’s diagnosis or passing, and they had put their houses in order before the inevitable event…and that felt good. But there were also cases where the issues were more complicated, and the client less motivated or willing to push forward, and the unexpected call came before we finished.
Each time this happens, I am reminded of the responsibility I have with every single client. I am reminded to bring up unfinished business at every review, to make sure all documents are current and reflect current desires, and beneficiaries are correct and reflect current wishes. I make sure a “love letter” of some type has been drafted that reflects the “heart and desire” of the testator so that there are fewer misunderstandings. It is my responsibility to make sure Health Care directives, POA documents, and Trusted Contact info is all on file and updated.
Because we just don’t know.
We don’t know when or how bad.
Every day, approximately 8,000 people in the United States die. The number of non-fatal strokes, heart attacks, cancer diagnosis, and automobile accidents surpass that number.
While we logically know this, we still tend to think we have plenty of time.
One of the things I have learned (or am learning) from living long enough to experience these things, is to try to have my own life in “shipshape” as well as I possibly can—to the extent that I have control over preparation and execution of all financial and legal documents, and to do the same for my clients.
Ringing of the Bell
One of the most iconic traditions in the world of finance is the ringing of the bell to mark the opening and closing of the New York Stock Exchange. You can still hear it on CNBC, twice a day, every day the market is open. It’s been consistent since the early 1900s.
Growing up in the investment business, I clearly remember the old parable: “No one announces the tops or bottoms of the market cycles. Nobody rings a bell.” Timing the market, even for the old-timers, is an impossible task.
The “Nobody rings a bell” Wall Street proverb takes on a new meaning for me these days. Yes, timing the market is a pointless exercise because we simply don’t know what’s going to happen or when. But can’t the same be said for all of life’s “what if’s?”
We don’t know what’s going to happen to us (or our loved ones) or when. But we can plan for it and make sure we have our financial houses in order.
Because nobody rings a bell…