We often hear, “If life gives you lemons, what do you do?” If only it was so easy as to make lemonade…
As professional people, we advise and prepare clients to face all challenges in life. Lawyers advise on legal matters and estate planning, financial advisors on financial, retirement and estate planning, and medical professionals on medical procedures, medicines etc.
As professionals, we often say, ‘Don’t worry; we have you covered’. Doctors like to assure us not to worry, ‘this won’t hurt’. Some four years ago during a procedure that involved a local anaesthetic, the specialist said, ‘These injections don’t hurt more than a dentist’s injection’. My comment to her afterwards was that she should change her dentist or give me the name of her dentist so that I make sure I never visit him!
The point that I am trying to make is that if we personally have never experienced the matter at hand, how can we, with certainty and confidence, give others the assurance that ‘things will be okay’?
When we sit down with clients and start with the financial planning journey, we try to establish their goals and objectives, what their income requirements will be when they retire, and how much their families will need should they pass away unexpectedly. We spend time on cash flow modelling, wills, portfolio structuring, and the list goes on.
Have you ever sat down and thought about what your major concerns are should you die tomorrow? Think about receiving a call that a loved one is in a life-threatening situation and that you must make a life-or-death decision. One can think about these situations, but one can never prepare for when it really happens. Life is unpredictable.
If everything happened with certainty and in a planned manner, then preparing for the unexpected would have been so much easier. Unfortunately, life does not work like that…
Recently the same doctor that I referred to earlier referred me to another specialist to discuss a relatively simple procedure. The procedure was a bit time-consuming but not too technical, and this specific specialist had done more than 500 of these procedures without any major complications. All good. The duration of the procedure would be around three hours, with one night in hospital and a week’s recovery. As per protocol, the specialist had to disclose what could go wrong, and this included the possibility of a stroke, excessive bleeding and a puncture that would require more invasive surgery to repair.
In preparation for the procedure (and with an outside minuscule chance of something going wrong), I made sure that all the ‘things’ I was busy with were finalised, and I added a codicil to my will to address the proceeds of a property that I recently sold. Then I started to think about what would happen if something went seriously wrong. I do not have many concerns, but I most certainly started doubting whether my planning was sufficient.
I don’t think my concerns are indifferent to most people, but top of mind were the following:
- If I die, I will be letting my loved ones down. My ex-wife passed away unexpectedly just short of two years ago, and her last words to me were that I should look after myself because there are many people who depend on me. These words are stuck in my memory…
- Have I made sufficient provision to ensure my wife’s financial security? How will she cope with the loneliness of a widow?
- Is my will fair and equitable? Will there be sufficient assets and funds to provide my children and grandchildren with a financial ‘kickstart’ in life?
- Have I made sufficient provisions to take care of my aged mother, whom I financially support, and will she receive her weekly visits even though I knew that my wife would diligently do so?
There were some other issues that I thought about, but these were top of mind.
The day of the procedure arrived, and the medical team went through their checks and preparations. I was looking forward to a good general anaesthetic-induced sleep. When I woke up, the surgeon was there to greet me, and he informed me that the procedure did not go as planned and that I spent eight and a half hours in the theatre after complications set in.
I only realised the urgency of the matter when my whole family was there after they were requested to come to the hospital because “it does not look good”. Slowly but surely, reality set in, and I realised that this could have really turned out badly. The emotional rollercoaster that followed was a challenge. Not just for me but for my whole family. I remained in ICU for four days and was discharged after five days with strict instructions to rest and recover over the next six weeks.
I decided to visit my 92-year-old mother on the Friday after I was discharged since I did not see her the week before. She was frail but looking good, and we had an enjoyable visit. Monday evening, her frail care unit phoned me and informed me that my mother was vomiting, and I asked them to request an ambulance to take her to the hospital for observation. My wife went to receive her at the hospital and, on her return home, informed me that my mom was comfortable and they were taking care of her.
Tuesday morning at 7:30, the physician phoned me and said they needed my decision in terms of putting my mother on life support and continuing with blood transfusions. I was flabbergasted! I was told that her health had deteriorated, and her prognosis was not good. It felt like I held her life in my hands. The doctors could not/would not make the call, I had to! I could not think about it and get back to them, I had to decide there and then. After the physician informed me that intubation and blood transfusion would probably extend her life by a couple of hours, I gave the instruction not to intubate her and make her as comfortable as possible.
We were at her side at 8am and she passed away at 10.45am. Even though she was frail, we expected her to live another two to three years, but we always knew that her time may come soon. It still comes as a shock when it happens, and I never in my wildest dreams thought that I would have to make the call to keep my mum alive or not…
The story above is personal and probably does not relate to financial planning and the purpose of these articles. My message relates to the importance of communication and preparation. Talk to each other, tell others what you want and don’t want. Make sure your affairs are in order. Not tomorrow, today! Treat life and each other as if today is your last day. Erase the phrase ‘tomorrow is another day’ because we just don’t know…