By Laura Webb, of Webb Investment Services, Inc., in Asheville
It’s important to be prepared for life’s inevitable changes.
For years, I joked that I was a “Murphy’s Law” person, but I had never looked up what it really meant. When I did, I was surprised to learn the old adage’s meaning:“ANYTHING THAT CAN GO WRONG, WILL GO WRONG.”
Not what I thought it meant, and not what I believe. My philosophy is more like, “If you properly prepare, then things are much less likely to go wrong. If you do not prepare, then you are tempting fate.”
And, if, by chance, things go wrong anyway, you will have prepared to navigate those circumstances, too.
Several years ago, my father was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease, also known as ALS. If you know about how that disease progresses, you know how long and painful the decline can be. Our family started to think about how to help our parents stay in their home as long as possible. The two biggest needs were making the home’s entrance and their bathroom handicap accessible. What a tedious process! Construction during a time of crisis is not optimal.
After my father came over for dinner one night, I started thinking about my own life and the house I share with my husband. It would be nearly impossible for anyone with a physical disability to enter our home. There are stairs from the driveway, stairs to the front porch, and steep and narrow stairs from the garage. What would we do if one of us suffered an injury or longer-term debilitating illness? With my interpretation of Murphy’s Law, I knew we needed to figure this out now, while we were both healthy.
I asked myself, “What are our options?”
1. We could move to a house that had no barriers to entry.
2. We could modify our existing house to accommodate any long-term needs.
3. We could do nothing.
Given my penchant for “flip side” Murphy, the last one was not an option.
When I first brought up the subject to my husband, he joked, “What are you going to do, put in an elevator?” When I said yes, he looked at me like I had three heads.
I did my homework. I talked to an architect about plans, asked my real estate friends what it would do to the resale value of our home, and worked on solutions, even if it meant sacrificing a bedroom and John’s workshop for an elevator. Those who know me well are not surprised that I did not let the topic drop. So, we put in an elevator, modified our basement to make it more house guest (or caregiver) friendly, and added a whole new man-cave/shop for my husband. It made sense for us to take on such a significant project while we were both still working and healthy, as opposed to when we retired or were having a health crisis.
I am thrilled to be prepared for the future. And, there were unexpected benefits to the elevator. We have a sweet, 15-year-old dog, who is not moving around as well as he used to.
When he started struggling with the steps, we had a remedy: the elevator. So, until we need the elevator for something worse, we use it for our old dog’s comfort, and to move packed luggage through the levels of our home.
Murphy is a good motivator for me, including when I work with my clients. Planning can make life easier for them and, maybe more importantly, for those who love them.
It can be as simple as:
1. Letting the right person(s) know where important documents are housed. Create a list or complete an Estate Organizer like the one I use with clients.
2. Ask your financial advisor to help conduct a Beneficiary Review to make sure the beneficiaries on your retirement plans, insurance policies, and annuities are up to date. You might be surprised how often people have forgotten to update those after a death or divorce.
3. Simplify. See if it makes sense to reduce the number of banking relationships or investment relationships you have. Fewer statements to read and file, and fewer passwords to remember.
4. Keep your estate documents up-to-date. Share with your loved ones where to find them (maybe the attorney’s office or a certain file drawer at home). We highly recommend having computer access to these, especially for your spouse’s and your Health Care Power of Attorney and Living Will. This will come in handy if you are away from home and need to provide those to a healthcare provider. We use something called The Vault with our clients, so they can retrieve important documents from anywhere.
5. Hold a planning meeting with your key family members and your professional advisors to have those introductions made long before some type of crisis or health related event. Tell your professional advisors what they have your permission to share.
6. Consider developing a Capacity Agreement with your professional advisors, outlining with whom they have permission to share information if you exhibit certain signs of cognitive failure. Agreeing upon the terms ahead of time helps everyone look after your best interests.
Some of these preparation steps might take some time and effort. But being prepared for life’s inevitable changes is a smart and kind thing to do. And tell Murphy that you got things covered, so nothing will go wrong. And that you will see him on the flip side.
Laura Webb, CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ practitioner and lead financial advisor at Webb Investment Services, Inc. Securities offered through Raymond James Financial Services, Inc. Member FINRA/SIPC. Investment advisory services offered through Raymond James Services Advisors, Inc. Webb Investment Services, Inc., is not a registered broker/dealer and is independent of Raymond James Financial Services. Any opinions are those of Laura Webb and not necessarily RJFS or Raymond James. Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards Inc. owns the certification marks CFP®, CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ and CFP® in the U.S.
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