08 May 2011

Why Bother?

It is hard to drive around Tuscaloosa and not be stricken by the randomness of the destruction. Beautiful homes were destroyed; housing projects were destroyed; family-owned businesses were destroyed. Yet, across the street, or even next door, life appears untouched.

One of the saddest stories heard from a survivor came from an older gentleman who was on the radio the other day. He is the owner of a small business that has seen diminished cash flow since the economic downturn started. After thirty (30!) years of paying on a mortgage for his home, he made his final payment last summer. Once the mortgage was paid, once there was no longer a mortgage holder who required that he have homeowner’s insurance in place, he stopped paying for it. He had been there for thirty (30!) years and no tornado. No one was making him pay for homeowner’s insurance anymore, so he didn’t pay for it.

So now, today, after a lifetime of paying for a home, he is left with nothing. Nada. Bupkes. I don’t know what his monthly payments were; I do not know what his annual premium would have been. I only know that he is left with nothing to show for all of those years of paying for his home. It is so sad, and it was so preventable.

It is also a story somewhat similar to my own, with lots of differences. And hopefully a happier ending.

I grew up in the leafy suburbs with a professional father, a stay-at-home mother, and relatively few cares in this world other than stuff like braces, the swim team, and music lessons. My father was the sole proprietor of a health care practice. My mother took care of us and was active in our community. All in all, it was a pretty idyllic existence.

Then one day, my dad got sick. And then he died. There was no disability insurance to help us out during his lengthy illness. There was no life insurance to replace his income which supported my mother and was to educate my older brother and me. Didn’t my father love us? Oh, my God, yes he did; that was never in doubt. But he was not a person who planned things. He figured that one day it would be time for him to stop working, so he would sell the practice and he and mom would have a nice retirement on the proceeds. I suppose that does amount to a plan. It just wasn’t a very good one.

So my life changed. We did sell the practice, and there was enough to pay off the house and provide a nest egg for my mother. She had been working at the local University library for a couple of years, which was a blessing. It allowed her to maintain her standard of living and save for her retirement through the University’s plan. She had never really expected to be a widow at 53, but there it was.

Not only did I lose a father, I lost the opportunity to make choices that I had once taken for granted. No, I didn’t go to a small private college where I had been accepted. Even with financial aid, the difference was too great to bridge. I stuck it out in the dorms instead of living in more expensive, and socially desirable, Greek housing. When I graduated on time, thanks to a full academic scholarship, I got a job instead of going to graduate or professional school. Am I any worse for the wear and tear? Who knows? I think that I’m a fairly happy and well-adjusted person. I know that God has been good to me. I have a savings account, several retirement accounts, disability insurance, life insurance, and substantial emergency savings.

This is why I bother: I want to have choices and, although I have not been blessed with children, I do not want to deprive anyone else of choices should something happen to me. 

Oh, we don’t have a will yet. Since we live in a joint tenancy state and have no dependents, and absolutely no bloody fear of bumping up against the estate tax limit, it may not be terribly necessary. But there are other estate documents that need to be attended to, and will. Feel free to keep bothering me about that.

Please, bother to plan. Bother for yourself, bother for your partner and children, bother for anyone else who might lose the ability to make choices if you are not here. Or if a tornado happens. 

No comments:

Post a Comment