For years, I’ve had an increasingly difficult time seeing in dim light (like when trying to read the menu in a “romantically lit” restaurant). It got so bad that I had to place a super bright lamp on my desk and over my favorite easy chair – – and I avoided driving at night because I was fearful of possibly hitting an unseen pedestrian!
My Problem Becomes A Golden Opportunity
I knew something was wrong, but I wasn’t sure what. So I went to an eye specialist. He told me that I had, at the young age of 61, already developed cataracts! (This came as a shock, since my Dad didn’t have cataracts until his 70’s and my Mom, now age 88, still has perfect vision!) The lenses in my eyes had become brownish toned. The doctor said I could live with it for a few more years until it got so bad I couldn’t tolerate it or, as he advised, I could get surgery.
My immediate reaction to the choice of surgery wasn’t very positive. The thought of someone, even a specialist doctor, cutting open my eyes was too scary! I was resigned to just continuing to live with the problem… until the doctor said something startling. “You don’t know how lucky you are to have cataracts and get this surgery!” (to which I responded, “what?”)
My doctor then asked how long I had worn glasses to correct my vision. When I paused to recollect, I realized I probably had poor vision since I was born. I remembered how, when I entered first grade and they gave me an eye chart exam I, much to my dismay, failed it and had to wear glasses (which weren’t very “cool” at that time, making me the target of many snide classmate remarks). Over the years my prescription glasses got to be so thick that I looked like Mr. Magoo (remember him?). So I moved to contact lenses (which were real torture when they only had hard lenses and later when I had to wear two soft lenses in each eye because they didn’t make them in a strong enough prescription!). Eventually, about 20 years ago, I got surgery on the front surface of my eyes known as “RK”. I saw better, but I never was completely corrected to 20-20. Not in my whole life.
The doctor went on to explain that, as part of the cataract surgery, he would replace the lenses inside my eyes with new prescription lenses – – so that for the first time in my life I might see perfectly! That “sold” the surgery for me!
Surgery Phobia? Fugeddaboudit!
(as they say in Jersey, where I grew up)
Of course, when the surgery day arrived I was extremely nervous about my eyes being cut open (I’m a big baby when it comes to any surgery and my attorney mind could only think of everything that might go wrong!). Fortunately, my doctor had a quiet, calming manner and assured me that this cataract surgery was relatively routine, has almost a 100% success rate, is painless and takes only a few minutes. That – – plus a sedative and some numbing eye drops – – made me feel a lot better, but I was still a little skeptical.
Then they wheeled me on a gurney into the operating room. The doctor said, “Relax, it will take a few minutes to prep you.” He quickly did a few things on my eyes, but my vision was so blurred I couldn’t really see what he was doing. All I felt was a little pressure.
Then the doctor asked, “How are you feeling?” I said, “Fine!” He asked, “Any questions?” I said, “Yeah, when does the surgery begin?” To which he responded to my surprise, “It’s done!”
I was then summarily wheeled back to the waiting room and right away I could see that my eyesight was improved! It was still a bit blurry, but I could see the minute marks on the clock across the room (before the surgery, I could barely even make out the numbers!).
The whole thing was a simple, painless, out-patient procedure. I was good to go home in an hour (provided someone else drove me, as a precaution). I didn’t even have to wear an eye patch or some oversized, funky looking sunglasses (although the doctor did give me a sporty pair of sunglasses, just in case, so I wouldn’t squint while my eyes were recovering).
The Fisherman and the Hockey Puck
The day after surgery, I took my usual morning walk along the beach and soon realized what the surfer dudes mean by “awesome”. I looked out toward the breakwater, where early-bird fishermen always try their luck before heading off to work. In the past, I could barely see the rocks and maybe a fuzzy figure or two. I could now see every rock clearly, the foam at the ocean’s edge as it hit the rocks, a fisherman standing there – – and to top it off, I could see his fishing pole and even the line going into the water! I was overcome with joy and gratitude!
But the best was yet to come. As you may know, I am a huge Kings ice hockey fan. When attending the games in the past I could make out most of what was happening but even with glasses never could clearly see the small puck, particularly when it was shot at high speed. After goals were scored, I always had to look to the Jumbotron screen in order to see what had happened. For the first time ever, I could actually see the puck! (Now I’m one of the first to jump out of his seat to celebrate a Kings goal!)
By the way, I also was able to get rid of my close reading prescription glasses! Now I just use some cheap magnifying glasses I purchased at the pharmacy to help out when my eyes get tired.
Come Half Way?
As it turns out, my decision to get surgery now, rather than later has been one of my best decisions ever. Now I’ll be able to enjoy many years of good eyesight and wonderful life experiences I might have missed. And, as the doctor also pointed out, having done the surgery at an earlier age has made the recovery even easier and quicker.
Sadly, the doctor’s statement made me reflect upon my Dad’s passing. He encountered health problems as he grew older, but he (like so many of our firm’s clients) had that WWII soldier mentality to just “suck it up” and only would finally surrender to see doctors when it already was near crisis. Unfortunately, at a more advanced age, his recovery even from minor surgeries was much more difficult. This kind of procrastination cost my Dad many more years of life – – I feel like he would be here today if he had acted earlier.
So I implore you, please don’t succumb to procrastination. I talk about procrastination all the time as being the big hurdle when it comes to getting an estate plan or keeping the one you have up to date. Take care of your health too, immediately as soon as problems arise. Modern medicine has made great advances, but you have to advance or come half way yourself – – at least go to see the doctor! You and your loved ones will be glad you did.
P.S. If you are looking for a great eye doctor, mine is Dr. Brian Boxler-Wachler. (boxerwachler.com)
Business Survival Threats
Are you a business owner? Are you the first one to arrive in the morning, as well as the last one to leave in the evening? Have your employees ever taken home paychecks while you sacrificed your paycheck to the bottomless pit called accounts payable? Have you ever paid your mortgage on a credit card? Over the years, you have worked through physical, mental and financial pain that would have caused other folks to close shop and look for a job elsewhere. As a business owner you have survived untold challenges. If your business is a family business, then you may face some unique challenges to protect and preserve your business … and your family.
It would be an understatement to say that family businesses are the backbone of the American economy. Some 90 percent of all businesses in this country are either family-owned or family-controlled. They come in all shapes, sizes and colors, representing all sectors of our economy. From agriculture, to services, to technology, to manufacturing, family businesses generate an estimated one-half of the U.S. Gross National Product and pay half of all wages earned in this country. Not all family businesses are traditional small businesses either. In fact, about one-third of all businesses included in the Fortune 500 are family businesses. But not all of the family business statistics are rosy.
Family businesses do not tend to outlive their founders. At any given moment, 40 percent of family businesses are in the process of transferring their ownership. Unfortunately, two-thirds of all initial transfers fail. Of the one-third that survives an initial transfer, only one-half will survive a second transfer.
Why such a dismal success rate? The reasons are as varied and unique as the businesses and business owners themselves. Nevertheless, many of the failed transfers can be traced to three causes: people, taxes and cash.
The family element in every family business can mean the difference between its success or failure during the transfer process. Common triggering events include the retirement, disability or death of the business owner. Tough questions must be asked and answered. Otherwise, a business that took you decades to build can be destroyed overnight. For example, who will run the business after you? Will it be your spouse, one of your children or a non-family member key employee? If not your spouse, will your spouse be financially dependent on the business or financially independent of the business? What arrangements have you made for the inheritance of your business-inactive children? Have you in-law proofed your estate? Thinking ahead to the second-generation transfer of your business, what provisions have you made to encourage thrift and industry among your grandchildren?
Aside from the people planning issues, what effect will estate taxes have on the survival of your business?
Estate Tax Uncertainty
The only certainty about the federal estate tax is its long-term uncertainty with each change in Congress and the White House. Additionally, many states have imposed their own estate taxes, independent of any federal estate taxes. Accordingly, careful monitoring of the economic, political and legal climate is required. Why? Without proper estate liquidity planning, your family may have to sell the family business just to meet an estate tax cash call.
Unless you carefully coordinate your financial plan with your estate plan, there may not be enough cash to fund your ultimate objectives. An appropriately funded estate plan can meet all of your people planning objectives and provide liquidity for estate taxes (and business debts). Life insurance, owned in the proper amount, type and manner, may be effectively used to fund such money matters.
True or false: Most family business owners want their businesses to be liquidated when they retire, become disabled or die. If you answered false, then you are correct. In this article, we will survey the fundamental key to the survival of a family business – a Buy-Sell Agreement (BSA).
A BSA is a lifetime contract providing for the transfer of a business interest upon the occurrence of one or more triggering events as defined in the contract itself. For example, common triggering events include the retirement, disability or death of the business owner. An interest in any form of business entity can be transferred under a BSA, to include a corporation, a partnership or a limited liability company. Also, a BSA is effective whether the business has one owner or multiple owners. As a contract, a BSA is binding on third parties such as the estate representatives and heirs of the business owner. This feature can be invaluable when the business owner wants to ensure a smooth transition of complete control and ownership to the party that will keep the business going. Subject to certain Family Attribution Rules under Internal Revenue Code § 318, a BSA can help establish a value for the business that is binding on the IRS for federal estate tax purposes as provided under Internal Revenue Code § 2703.
A BSA is commonly structured in one of three general formats: an Entity BSA, a Cross-Purchase BSA and a Wait-And-See BSA. Under an Entity BSA, the business entity itself agrees to purchase the interest of a business owner. Conversely, under a Cross-Purchase BSA, the business owners agree to purchase one another’s interests. The Wait-And-See BSA gives the entity a first option to purchase the interest before the remaining business owner(s).
In addition to these three general formats, a One-Way BSA may be used when there is one business owner and the purchaser is a third party. The selection of the appropriate BSA format is critical for a variety of tax and non-tax reasons beyond the scope of this discussion. However, no BSA is complete without a proper funding plan. Like a beautiful automobile without fuel in the tank, a BSA without cash to fund the purchase is going nowhere.
Some common options to fund the purchase obligation under a BSA include the use of personal funds, creating a sinking fund in the business itself, borrowing funds, installment payments and insurance. Of these options, only the insured option can guarantee complete financing of the purchase from the beginning. Accordingly, a proper BSA will include both disability buy-out insurance and life insurance. Since the health of the business owner determines their insurability, any delay in acquiring appropriate coverage could be fatal to the success of the BSA and, with it, the survival of the business itself.