I have been contemplating the maritime life for a while – 51 years to be close to exact. I entered Kings Point in 1965 and as the proverbial engineer that week could not spell “merchant marine.” In a wee I was becoming a mariner. Many turns of the screw and water under the bridge have passed but the essential conundrum of how to plan one’s life, career, money, marriage and family courses remains. How does one do that and make them all fit? As has been said, it ain’t easy.
What is Life Planning for Maritime People?
Let’s define the concept first. A life plan for maritime people is the careful, systematic and regularly reviewed set of written or electronic documents which tend to guide a person’s life and to express plans for events which could or will or should happen.
Nothing magic in the definition seems evident. However, parsing it carefully – lawyers do that when they put their fingers under the words and move their lips and whisper sotto voce while reading – some ideas are forthcoming.
People in the industry are either ashore or afloat. Surprisingly, the longer one stays in the industry in either mode the longer one is expected to stay in that mode for many reasons. The training for the business is sufficiently intense and the experiences so usually outside the realm of other industries that even when people leave the usual maritime endeavors they tend to stay in industries whether allied with shipping or behaving like shipping in form or function or in a contracted industry necessary to shipping. This is likely because shipping uses many if not most of the commercial services available to any business – but in a concentrated fashion.
Care and systemization and regularity are a part of the maritime discipline. However, most maritime people do those things arising from training and affinity with the industry – for the party paying them. Most do not do it for the party being paid – themselves. This lack of discipline for self causes many problems which good planning can reduce or eliminate. The problems are not theoretical. They are quite real when they occur and although there are ways to get out of most problems with enough time and money and assistance, it is far easier and more economical to plan for problems and have the contingencies available and sometimes prepaid or insured before they arise. Most people who have orderly careers and who make the most money in them are disciplined, systematic and regular about their own lives as well as for those who pay them. Studies have shown again and again that a person who runs his or her life using business discipline and skills succeeds faster and goes further and does it easier faster than those who do not.
Why documents? Don’t I know what I want? Why does anyone else have to know? Good questions but the answer is simple: one does not succeed without a social network of family, friends and colleagues succeeding with them. Loners lose. They may believe that they succeed but in fact with a good social network and managing the network properly success is manifold over that taken by the lone operator. The fact of a social network suggests mutual responsibility among those networked. Hence the person planning a life has responsibilities to those in his or her network and for those in the network and in the best networks each person feels that responsibility for each other person and accepts that others feel that for him or her. Hence, the cultivation and maintenance of a close network at any life stage helps the cultivator succeed and helps those in the network succeed.
Documents tie one to a social network as well as to the greater social network of the law and society. Why? Documents, whether contracts, wills, trusts, intentions, promises, statements of fact and the like are to some extent enforceable. Some are more enforceable than others but in human interactions writing confers on a concept a permanence not had by oral statements or handshakes or other symbolic gestures. One merely must recall Yule Brenner’s regal statement to Moses and his subjects -- “So it is written. So it shall be.” Some documents are necessary. Birth certificates, employment and pay documents, leases, bills of sale, death certificates, military discharges, various licenses ranging from the driver’s license to one’s maritime license, little cards issued by bureaucratic departments allowing one or forbidding one entry to places are but a few examples.
But how does one make sense of all this in a life plan? First there are some fairly clear stages of every life. Infancy, childhood, adolescence, young adulthood, mature adulthood, retirement, old age are an easy and intuitive way to think about them. The sum of the years spent in each is a lifetime. Each stage must be handled differently in planning and each stage must provide the results one wants in his or her own life to progress to the next stage efficiently and happily and with reduced stress. Each stage also represents different emphases on social responsibilities. Infancy places a large burden on the adults responsible for an infant. That burden is reduced a little for childhood but it is still strong. Adolescence suggests some burdens are shifted to the adolescent from the caregiver such as learning social and business and money skills and social rules as well as strong moral and ethical rules and lessons. These are foundations with education which make going to the adult stages much easier. In these three stages things can be planned and implemented by the cognizant adults.
Young adulthood is the stage where the social networks and learning of the prior three stages are harnessed to develop a career. In this stage money controlled by the planner begins to be meaningful and it is here for most that managing money so that it grows independent of earnings becomes increasingly important. Marriage may occur here and the cycle of infancy and childhood may start afresh with the concomitant responsibilities shifted from grandparents of the new child or children to the parents.
Adulthood is the time for completion of child rearing; the solidification of money put aside, the strongest strides in career gains and the like. It is also where divorces and premature deaths occur of those in the social network, sometimes dread diseases and accidents or sometimes the attainment of vary large amounts of money. Each is a life-changing situation which is wrenching but can be planned for contingently so that the going in any or all of these cases is much easier for the adult.
Retirement may or may not be golden depending on the planning of the past. Retirement can be long-lasting depending on conditions of health and money or can be short depending on those same conditions. Prudent planning is required in an era of increasing life spans and decreasing emphasis on planning.
Old age ends retirement and ultimately ends life. Planning for old age usually involves insurances and contingency planning. For a life lived gracefully and well-planned old age should be a gentle time and not one of unhappiness and penury.
A life plan then is not a luxury. In a complex society it is a necessity for a stable, active, remunerative and healthy life.
This series thus focuses on people in the maritime industry who of all people should have life plans for career, family and self to make the most of the few short years given any of us.
Mr. Cartner's discussions with Mr. Gardy are not intended to provide any legal advice but are informational only. A person interested in estate planning should consult competent legal counsel before developing a comprehensive estate plan for him or herself and families.