The Elrod Firm

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Don’t Be Taken By Surprise

I’m not usually one to remember the exact details of specific plays in sporting events long after they happen, even when those plays were interesting or unusual. But there is one particular play from an especially important college football game that I will never forget. I remember the setting well. I was in Dallas for a conference of the National Elder Law Foundation, and on this particular occasion, my wife traveled with me. We were sitting in a Cheesecake Factory at a table near the televisions with appetizers spread all over the table. My wife generously agreed to sit with her back facing the televisions so that I could see what was happening in the game over her shoulder while listening intently to whatever it was she was talking to me about.

As the clock was winding down in the football game and the score tightened, it seemed like everyone in the restaurant gravitated toward the televisions. There were strangers squeezing in next to us watching the final minutes of the game while we were trying to eat our Buffalo Blasts and Fried Macaroni and Cheese. The date was November 30, 2013, and the game was the Iron Bowl between Auburn and Alabama. The winner would be the SEC Western Division champion.

With 32 seconds left to play, Auburn tied the game at 28 on a 39-yard touchdown pass. Alabama got the ball back near mid-field, and with only one second remaining on the clock, Nick Saban decided to try for a 57-yard field goal to win the game. I’m sure he thought, “What do we have to lose?” If the field goal attempt was successful, Alabama would win the game and be well on its way to a third straight national championship. If the field goal attempt failed – which was likely from such a long distance – they’d head into overtime.

As it turned out, neither of those scenarios occurred. The field goal attempt was not successful, so Alabama obviously didn’t win. But Auburn avoided overtime, too, as the ball unexpectedly fell into the hands of a waiting Auburn player standing nine yards deep in the end zone. That Auburn player proceeded to return the missed field goal attempt 109 yards for a game winning touchdown. It was one of the most exciting endings to a college football game ever – everyone in the Cheesecake Factory, and across the country, went crazy.

What really struck me about the end to this game was the fact that Nick Saban’s team was caught off guard. The field goal unit seemed completely unprepared for what occurred, when normally Saban-coached teams are ready for anything. It doesn’t take much imagination to relate this lesson to other areas in life. That is especially true in my field, where everything we do centers around being prepared for every possible scenario.

Being prepared starts with having thorough power of attorney documents in place to make sure someone is legally authorized to make business and health-related decisions for you if and when you’re not able to make those decisions for yourself. Families that don’t prepare by executing power of attorney documents can wind up in guardianship court, where a judge appoints someone to manage your affairs when you can no longer do so.

Being prepared also involves taking appropriate steps to keep your estate out of probate court. Probate is very time consuming and extremely expensive – no family wants to go through the probate process. In almost all cases, probate can be avoided with just a little preparation. But your estate planning documents should do more than just help keep your family out of probate court. Being prepared means thinking through all possible scenarios and laying out contingencies to deal with those scenarios. What if one of your children dies before you? What if one of your children is on disability when you die and will lose their benefits if they receive an inheritance from you? What if one of your children is going through a divorce or a bankruptcy at the time of your death? A good estate plan will contain provisions designed to deal with these and other (hopefully) unlikely scenarios.

Finally, being prepared means looking ahead to the costs of long-term care. The average monthly cost of a nursing home in Arkansas this year is $5,100. Most assisting living facilities charge between $3,000 and $4,000 per month. Caregivers in the home typically run about $17 per hour. For most of us, it is unrealistic to think we can cover these types of costs out of our monthly income. But through preparation, it is possible to preserve assets, maximize income, and cover the cost of long-term care without losing your home and without going broke.

Finish strong. Plan ahead to protect the people and things that mean the most to you. Don’t let your family wind up surprised like Alabama in the Iron Bowl. The consequences can be devastating.

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