Lessons Learned When in Flight…

“We have a fire in the APU” was the statement that came over the PA on my flight to Pennsylvania. My wife and I were flying East to visit her family for the Christmas holidays. Our plane was only 10 minutes outside of St. Louis when we got the news. The pilot made an about face and we were forced into a rapid descent back towards Lambert Airport.

My first reaction was outside of my control as my heart rate doubled in a Nano-second. My second reaction was to turn to my wife and say “I love you.”  I talked myself down in a few minutes and realized all would be well… despite landing with emergency vehicles pacing the plane as we touched down.

This 10 minute return flight reminded me of two very valuable life lessons to practice. The first is never forget the little things… and do them every day. Now, I don’t want to overreact and profess such clichés as “live each day as if it is your last.”  Although there is some merit to this philosophy in intention, it can be shortsighted in implementation. You need to live each day to the fullest, but planning to be alive tomorrow is responsible and statistically likely. The little things I am referring to is telling your spouse/partner/ significant other that you love them, asking your co-workers about their day, snuggling with your pet and don’t end your day going  to bed unhappy.  Essentially, slow down a little and be present in the moment.

The other lesson is to keep your affairs in order. Notice I say “keep.” This implies that your affairs were initially put in order, which I find is rarely the case. Most of us are so busy living day to day in hectic moments that we forget that “someday” will become “today” and it doesn’t have to give us prior notification.

Unfortunately when some people hear the terms “estate planning” or “putting affairs in order,” they assume that this is for the Bill Gates-es of the world and may not apply to them. In truth, it is for us, the middle class, that can benefit most from proper planning. No matter what your financial status, a lawyer can help point you in the right direction

Once you’ve gotten your will/trust/medical directives complete, it cannot just sit on a shelf. Life is dynamic and that means circumstances are always changing. You gain new possessions, you have children, your net worth increases, your beneficiary selection changes, your health declines…the list goes on. We seem to find the time to get our car’s oil changed every five thousand miles, go to the dentist at least once a year, re-stain the deck every 2-3 years and so forth. Revisiting your legal documents needs to be included in that list of items necessary to maintain your quality of life and to look out for your family. Now I know most of us do not want to hang out with an attorney (at least one that’s not a friend or relative…and that sometimes can be iffy) and we certainly don’t want to pay hundreds of dollars to do it. Ultimately, we need to make that appointment and we need to do it every couple years. I would add a financial adviser to this list too.

Estate planning is an investment, not a liability. It is a selfless investment though. My estate plan is not for me, because it only works when I am dead. This is not a morbid thought, as I have had a good run (but also am planning to live much longer – see the first lesson). The plan benefits those that survive me and I want my family to be successful and happy even after I am gone. Estate planning makes sure your wealth and possessions go to those you want to provide for and gives your family peace of mind so they can focus on grieving. Your lawyer will take care of the rest, under your clear posthumous directions.

Life comes at us fast. Next time that alert comes over the PA, I would prefer to have one less thing distracting me from telling my wife “I love her.”