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Protecting the Rich and Fulfilling Life PDF Print E-mail
Written by John D. Buerger, CFP®   
Thursday, 24 September 2009 09:01
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"You've got to know when to hold 'em ... and know when to fold 'em" - Kenny Rogers from "The Gambler"

A very dear friend of mine, a mentor and also my father-in-law, Gary Owens, passed away yesterday morning at 2:41am after a brief (4 month) but fierce battle with cancer.  Gary was a legend and he will be missed.  To learn more about the past 4 months, go to richandfulfilling.com/gary.

Today's post is very direct and it has bearing on every person who reads it ... so don't click away until you have read and digested the whole article right down to the end.

I mention the lyrics from the Kenny Rogers song for a couple of reasons.  First, they are appropriate - there was no reason for Gary to continue the fight.  He was dealt a crappy hand and he needed to "fold 'em."  Second, Gary always reminded me of Kenny Rogers with his white hair and beard - only Gary was more handsome.

SOME BACKGROUND

Gary was a legend in these parts - most of his career was invested in selling radio and print advertising to local businesses.  He was a great salesman and could probably sell ice-cubes to an Eskimo if given the opportunity.  The thing was, you never felt "sold" by Gary.  You just always wanted to buy whatever he had to offer, and Gary always made sure that you got more than whatever you expected.  So much of business transactions are based on trust and Gary always delivered the goods.

But Gary's biggest gift was the WAY he approached you and every other human being he ever met:

Gary was always more interested in you than anything else.  He connected with you ... on your level.  He was motivated, energetic, ever smiling and always watching you with those beautiful blue eyes.  He had a zest for life, but it was more than that ... he had a zest for YOUR life and how he could make it better.

When I think of a person who lived that "Rich and Fulfilling" life that is the basis for this website ... Gary is THE poster boy.  It wasn't just about living a life that was full (and his life was very full), it was about SHARING a life that is full and richly rewarding.

BEING READY

Gary's death was relatively sudden.  The cancer was diagnosed in the middle of May.  Treatments began in late June.   Today we are in mid-September and he is gone.  The pain was limited and over a relatively short time.

As quick as it was ... by that last day (Tuesday) in the hospital ICU, Gary was ready.  He listened to Dr. Spillane, asked him for his advice and made his decision to "fold 'em."  He never sobbed or cried ... not once.  He just made the choice.  Then he did what only Gary would do, he asked each of us in the room one by one (about 6 of us) how we were doing with this decision.  As always, if you were in the room, he wanted to know how YOU felt.  He wanted to connect with YOU and he wanted to do right by you.

Gary was ready - but the rest of us weren't.

PROTECTING YOUR RICH AND FULFILLING LIFE

This is the point where some basic planning comes into play.  Here are some questions for you to think about and ask yourself:

>>> Do you have Medical Directives and Powers of Attorney legally drafted and ready to go?

In Gary's case, he wanted "No Extreme Measures" taken and he had a legal "Do Not Resussitate" order in place.  It is important that those be recorded at the hospital because without them, the doctors and nurses will make every effort to prolong your life.  So that begs the next question ...

>>> Are the people who are named in those documents up to speed on your wishes?

If you are in an accident or really sick, you may not be able to communicate this to the doctors and nurses who are caring for you.  Somebody else has to be your advocate.  If they don't know this is important, they will forget - not out of malice but more because this is a really stressful time and it may not be properly prioritized.

>>> Do key family members and friends know where those documents are?

Every person should carry in their wallet or purse a piece of paper that says, "If something happens to me, you should contact this person.  Here are their numbers.  They know where my important documents are."  In addition, key family members and friends should know where those documents are or (at the very least) who that contact person is.

>>> Do you have an Estate Plan including a Will and a Trust?

Each situation is different, but at the very least you should have a will.  It should be reviewed and updated every year or two.  Life changes ... your estate plan should change with it.  Talk to a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professional or legal counsel about these important documents.

>>> Do you have/need life insurance and is your coverage appropriate?

From my experience as a financial planner, I can honestly say that in most cases your insurance coverage is not appropriate.  Often, people are under-insured.  Sometimes folks have too much insurance.  If you have an insurance advisor and you have discussed this in the past two years, you may be in good shape - but there are many reasons why even then it may not be the case.  Most have to do with human nature, behavioral economics and how we all deal with challenging situations.

Estate planning is the hardest component of the financial planning process to get implemented.  Life insurance is right behind it.  Nobody wants to think about dying ... but death is a part of life.  It is guaranteed.  It is best to be sure by reviewing your coverage with a professional - preferably one who can help you articulate and understand the strategy around that life insurance.

IS EVERYONE ON BOARD?

Those are the basic financial planning concepts ... and again they are missed by a majority of Americans.  If you are one of those who has not addressed these issues appropriately, I suggest you change that.  At the very least, put that note in your wallet and talk to those people who have power of attorney if something happens to you to be sure they know your wishes and where they can find those important documents they will need.

But even fewer people have addressed this next issue and this is just as important if not more so.

>>> How clear are you on your fundamental values?

Fundamental values are the things in life that are most important to you.  These values boil down to concepts like "integrity, honesty or a healthy lifestyle."  In Gary's case there were two that were important: "Not ever wasting a moment" and "Connecting with every person."

These were the foundation of how he approached every minute of every day.

>>> What have you done to communicate your values and wishes to those you love?

Once you have clarity of your values it is important to share them with your loved ones.  Help them understand that these things are important to you and why.  Write letters, make videos or record messages ... and talk about it.  Talk about it with your kids, your spouse and your friends.  Be proud of your values - they are the reason you are YOU.

I used to think that just living a "values-based" life was enough.  My father did that and I did absorb many of his values just by being a part of the family - although we never really talked about it much (of course, I was the youngest of his children by 16 years so there were less chances to talk anyway).  When my father died in 2002, Gary became my surrogate dad.  I jumped from a great role model to an even greater mentor - they were both incredibly positive forces, but Gary was a step up - he shared his values.

When we were in that room on Tuesday and Gary was asking each of us how we felt - just a few days after watching him try to connect with each nurse that came in to take his blood or help him in some way (always more focused on them than he was on himself) ... it clicked.

LIVING AND SHARING A RICH AND FULFILLING LIFE

What made Gary the great man that he was were not just those two, simple values and his unending quest to realize them.  What made Gary so great was that he had always mentored these points to others (his kids, me, his grandkids and business associates) ... well, at least the first of the values (not wasting any time).  He and I talked about this many times and compared notes, usually in reference to observations about others and how they lived their lives.

As such, his final decision to "fold 'em" was completely in alignment with those values.  He knew that continuing forward with the hand he was dealt would be a waste of his time and energy.  I think the reason why I've held up as well as I have is that I knew it, too.  He got his wish.  He ended his life in alignment with his values and I was happy for him to see that.

THE ADVANTAGE OF MY POSITION

I have been blessed to do the work I do as a Values-based CERITIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ practitioner.  Much of the ALTUS Planning Process™ that I have developed revolves around helping clients understand their values and living their lives in alignment with those values.  As such, I'm highly attuned to other's values which is why it has been easier to make peace with his passing - it ended the way it needed to for Gary.

It was way too soon for the rest of us - the world lost some of it's luster - but it was right for him.  Since it was his life, that is really all that matters.

Comments (2)
1 Thursday, 13 September 2012 14:41
SHIRLEY SHANNON
I GREW UP KNOWING GARY SINCE GRADE SCHOOL AND HELEN SINCE THEIR MARRIAGE. WE HAVE REMAINED IN TOUCH THROUGHOUT THE YEARS AND I WAS IN TOUCH WITH GARY BY EMAIL RIGHT UP TO THE TIME HE WAS LAST ADMITTED TO THE HOSPITAL. MIKE AND I LOVED OUR TIME WITH THE OWENS' AND HAVE SO MANY GOOD MEMORIES. BUT THE LAST EMAILS I REC'D FROM GARY HAVE A SPECIAL PLACE IN MY HEART.
I DON'T KNOW HOW THIS HAPPENED, BUT TODAY AT WORK, I WAS LOOKING FOR SOMETHING AND FOUND THE BLOG SIGHT YOU SET UP. I REFERRED TO IT FOR A FEW WEEKS AFTER GARY'S PASSING, BUT HADN'T LOOKED AT IT SINCE.
SINCE MAY I HAVE BEEN DEALING WITH THE DEATH OF MY STEP-DAD (WHO DIDN'T DO ALL THE THINGS YOU MENTION). THE SAD THING IS THAT HE THOUGHT HE HAD. NOW I AM LEFT WITH THE MESS.
THANK YOU FOR SHARING! HELLO TO THE FAMILY.
2 Thursday, 13 September 2012 17:03
John D. Buerger, CFP®
Hi Shannon -

Thanks for the note. I am sorry to hear about your step-dad. Unfortunately, your situation is not all that uncommon. There are all too many reasons for this - everything from a natural tendency to avoid thinking about the subject to a general lack of education and understanding about a rather complex process (estate planning).

Let me know if you have any questions I can answer or if I can be of service in any way.

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Last Updated on Tuesday, 29 September 2009 17:21