[One of the lawyers at my firm, Marshall, Parker and Weber, is a runner. Liz White recently completed the Marine Corps Marathon and drew some interesting estate planning lessons from her experience. She has given me permission to share her thoughts with readers of this blog.]
My Marine Corps Marathon Experience: Develop and Trust Your Backup Plan
On October 26, 2014 I ran the 39th Annual Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, D.C. In addition to the honor of running amongst the thousands of Marines who volunteered their time and provided enthusiastic “OORAHs” along the course, I was privileged to run for a team called ALZ Stars. ALZ Stars is a group of athletes organized by the Alzheimer’s Association to participant in events, such as marathons and triathlons. As a team member I raised money for the Alzheimer’s Association for research, education, and awareness to help find a cure for Alzheimer’s disease.
This was not my first marathon, but I gained a significant lesson from this run. That lesson is that you need a plan, but more importantly, you need a backup plan.
I trained for months for the marathon. I wanted to beat my personal record by 10 minutes, and based on my training runs I was ready to achieve my goal. My race outfit, including my purple ALZ Stars jersey and my trusty running shoes, were packed. Nothing could stop me!
The morning of the race I waited in line with much anticipation to get on a shuttle bus that would take me and fellow runners to the start line. Unfortunately, the shuttle bus driver did not know how to get to the start line between the Pentagon and Arlington Cemetery. My adrenaline level started to hit a high, but not on the race course. Rather, I sat full of energy in a bus full of runners, circling the Pentagon for 35 minutes. Thankfully, a local runner on the bus was able to use the GPS on her phone to direct the shuttle driver to the start line.
As I finally exited the shuttle bus, I heard the Howitzer shot to start the marathon and saw Marines skydiving overhead with giant American flags. I enjoyed the occasion, but it hit me that there was no way I would be able to get through all the runners to start in my correct corral and begin at my planned race pace.
I spent the first 7 miles of the marathon weaving in and out of the masses of other runners to try to get to a group that were running at my planned pace. I was mentally exhausted from the stress of the bus ride and the stop and go of darting between runners. I looked down at my watch and saw I was not making up for lost time. At that moment, I knew it was time to reassess my plan. Today was not going to be the day to beat my personal best time. I had planned ahead, but you never know what life is going to throw in your path.
Thankfully, I had my backup plan ready. During training I had developed my backup plan in case an unforeseen situation occurred. My backup plan was to not give up, finish in the best time that I could, and to take the time to enjoy the run in front of me. I was running for an amazing organization in our Nation’s capital, with 30,000 people from all over the world. The sun was shining and spectators were cheering. I had many stories from co-workers and friends of their personal experiences with Alzheimer’s disease to motivate me. So, I stopped looking at my watch, trusted in my backup plan, and ran. I didn’t beat my personal record, but when the Marine at the finish line placed the medal around my neck, I smiled proudly. I was blessed to even have the ability to run 26.2 miles.
As I look back on the race, I realize the planning lesson I took from this experience is not only applicable to my marathon run. It is a great lesson for estate and life care planning.
First, you need goals to make up your estate and life care plan. Without goals you cannot even hit the ground running. There is little chance of achieving your goals if you haven’t thought about what your goals are or taken the time to communicate these goals. Everyone’s goals are different. Your goals can include to have the best person making health care and financial decisions for you if you are unable, to ensure your estate will pass to who you want it to when you pass away, and to express your wishes for care options in the future, whether that be in your home or at a preferred long-term care facility.
Next, your goals need to all come together to make up your personalized plan. Our office assists with your plan. Documents are drafted, beneficiaries named, accountants and financial advisors consulted, care providers contacted, and family members prepared. These steps create your plan, but you also need to address what happens if something in the plan changes.
Importantly, you need a backup plan. Don’t fear creating the backup plan. It is there for a reason. Life puts up roadblocks, usually when we least expect them. What if your spouse could not act as your agent regarding your health care decisions? You can plan to have a trusted successor agent named in your documents as a backup. What if a beneficiary of your estate predeceases you? You can outline in your will or trust who you would want that share of your estate to go to instead and name contingent beneficiaries on accounts. What if your children cannot relocate to where you live to care for you in your home? You can employ a care manager to coordinate care services for you. Plan for the best, but reassess. You may need to revisit your plan along the way.
Finally, as you develop your plan, make sure to take a moment to stop, stay in the present, take it all in, and run with it. As I learned during the marathon, when you are in control of your backup plan it can sometimes turn out to be even better than the original plan.