My wife and I got married in 1980. For several years, I had a variety of hobbies. They were the usual guy things: hunting, fishing, and in my case, bicycling. Even after we started having children (eventually three boys), I was able to keep my hobbies for a time. The kids then got older, participating in this and that, and like so many young parents, family life was life. The hobbies went away or were just occasional pastimes. However, there are no regrets, and I would do it all over again in a heartbeat.
During those years, I remember that sometimes on Saturday mornings, I would catch a few minutes of a fishing show. The one that always excited me was about tarpon fishing. A tarpon is a game fish famous for its fighting and jumping when it takes the lure or bait. It is typically done on the “flats,” an area many times just off shore, that is sandy, shallow and flat (hence the “flats”).
It is usually just a guide and one or two fishermen. The guide stands on a platform rigged on the back of the boat, above the engine. There he looks for schools of the fish, and with a long, wooden poll, polls the boat over near the fish where the angler tries to lay the lure near them. Once an attempt is made, there is usually no second chance at that school.
At the end of May, we had our family vacation. I “discovered” that the place we were going was famous for its tarpon fishing, and that the good season started in May.
Off we went on our trip, 10 of us together. Some of you might have organized such vacations, but the phrase “herding cats” is applicable. As we were scheduling events for the week of vacation, a free Wednesday popped up — a day everyone wanted to use as recovery between two other events. I grabbed the chance and scheduled a day of tarpon fishing, eager to scratch something off of my bucket list.
I made arrangements with a guide two doors down from our rented house. To say his establishment was homey is an overstatement. I visited with him, and he seemed to be someone I could work with. His name was Eloy.
I learned a lot from spending the day with Eloy. I would like to share with you some of what I learned.
Eloy had been in business for a long time. In fact, for 37 years. He started his business the same year I started practicing law. His business operated from his home, and his wife was his partner. He had three or four other employees.
My first Eloy lesson: Take care of your stuff, so it is ready when you need it.
Before we went out, we needed bait — live bait. Bait that Eloy was going to catch. He was looking for big sardines. He wanted to catch them quickly, as afterwards we needed to cross the water on a trip that would take 45 minutes. It was a trip that would be much longer and more difficult if we waited until the wind came up.
Eloy had an old boat. You could tell it had been fixed and repaired numerous times. The boat had battled the ravages of ocean rust, barnacles and hurricanes, all determined to destroy Eloy’s vessel. But the engine still purred as we motored around to find the sardines.
Finally, we spotted a school of sardines the size Eloy wanted. I watched carefully as Eloy got out his net, untied it, looped a band around his wrist that was attached to the net, and within moments he had some sardines, but not enough. So Eloy refolded his net, tying it with special knots, and put it in a special hole on the boat.
We moved to a new location. Again, we found more sardines, and again, Eloy removed his net, untied it, put on the wrist band, and then threw the net to catch the fish. Once the process was finished, off we went.
Sometimes, what seem to be the simplest things can make a profound difference in our lives. They need to be ready, when you need them.
Recently we were working with a family, and their mom had lost capacity. We really needed to access a long-term care policy to help pay for care. The family had presented the insurance company with a power of attorney. The insurance company was not going to let them access the long-term care policy because of the restrictions in the power of attorney. The company wanted the family to go to court to get a guardianship/conservatorship. The family then discovered mom had completed a new power of attorney with my office. When we made the power of attorney with mom, I was aware of the long-term care policy. We put some special language in the power of attorney that would allow access to mom’s agent, as well as an easy guide to determine mom’s incapacity — without going to court. It worked, and we were able to get the benefit flowing right away.
Without that special language, however, the family could have spent several thousands of dollars going to court.
Mom’s stuff was in order when she needed it.
Back to Eloy. Eloy had a process to be sure his net was ready when he needed it. He had a process to be sure he did not lose it. When he was done using it, he took time to clean it, fold it properly and stowed it away in its place. Using his bait net was only 30 minutes of a long successful day of fishing. But if that process of catching bait did not work, if the net was not there, not ready or had fallen in disrepair, it would not have been a successful day of fishing and I would not have been a happy customer. Eloy had a routine that he went through to protect his property, his business, his guests, and to be sure he provided exceptional services.
It is one thing to have a net. It is another thing to care for that net so it is ready to go when you need it.
What I discover in my practice is families have “things” in “place.” They have a trust (with nothing in it), or a power of attorney (several years old and perhaps one of the agents is dead or the laws have changed). Even in the case that I was involved in, the family does not know the existence of documents or where they are located.
Eloy taught me that though he had thrown out his net thousands of times through the years, he always will follow a procedure so he does not lose his net, and that the next time he needs it, it is there, ready to go.
Randy Clinkscales founded Clinkscales Elder Law Practice in 1985. He is a 1980 graduate of Washburn Law School and has represented clients at the administrative, county, state and federal levels.