During a recent meeting with a client, I was forced to ask some difficult questions. Clearly uncomfortable, my client said, "Tim, that's not going to happen. I don't even want to think about it."
Obviously, I hope she was right. I don't want a client to suddenly become incapacitated while raising young children. I don't want a client's young children to pass away before receiving their inheritance. While I understand the probability of a catastrophic event is low, I would be a poor estate planning attorney if I didn't consider every hypothetical.
This past weekend, I learned a valuable lesson in contingency planning playing fantasy football. I have little shame in admitting that I've caught the bug. For the past five years I've held the sacred position of commissioner of our family league. I've enjoyed really good years and suffered through terrible ones. This year was surprisingly going really well. My starters were playing at a really high level and I was racking up the points. My two best receivers were Reggie Wayne and Randall Cobb. Reggie Wayne was ten games away from breaking the record for consecutive games played at the wide receiver position. Randall Cobb has been a steady contributor for the Green Bay Packers for a number of years. Because of their reliability, I filled my bench with running backs and backup quarterbacks.
My fantasy football season took a turn for the worst two weeks ago when Randall Cobb suffered a serious knee injury. Early reports indicated he would not return to the lineup for six to eight weeks. I was able to shuffle my lineup and salvage a decent team despite his injury. This past Sunday night was devastating, however. Reggie Wayne, my dependable stalwart, suffered a season-ending torn ACL in his right knee. It was a fluke injury. He was attempting to catch an underthrown ball with no defenders within ten yards when his knee buckled and he fell to the turf. As he laid there writhing in pain, I commiserated with him as I suffered a similar fluke injury before beginning my collegiate basketball career.
I watched him walk gingerly to the locker room. I heard early reports detailing the severity of the injury. Then, I thought about the impact on my fantasy football team. What was I going to do? I had no backup at his position. My team was depleted. I checked out the waiver wire – nobody worth adding. How could I have been so short-sighted? BECAUSE IT'S REGGIE WAYNE! He never gets hurt. It just doesn't happen.
I learned a treasured lesson that applies to my estate planning practice. While most contingencies will never occur, taking the time to plan for such contingencies is an investment in peace of mind.
Parents with young children should establish a guardianship to express who they would trust to love, protect, and care for their children. All individuals should execute living wills and designate an agent under an advanced healthcare directive to make health-related decisions for you. People that are concerned with family contentions over their assets should establish a living trust or a will to direct the fiduciary on how to distribute the assets.
Playing Elliot Ness in the movie The Untouchables, Kevin Costner said, "Planning is half the battle. Surprise is half the battle. Being prepared is half the battle. Lots of things are half the battle." While we cannot predict the future, we can certainly plan ahead for the surprises that this wonderful life offers.