On Record: Sarah’s husband

If I ran the world, I would make “What We Didn’t Plan For,” by Sarah Bartlett in the January 2005 issue of Inc. magazine required reading for all small business owners.

“It all started with a cough,” Sarah writes. Her husband John, an architect, had just dissolved a 10-year partnership to start his own company. He was full of ambition, creativity and dreams for his new venture. Before his company even began, however, X-rays revealed this health-conscious man was riddled with Stage IV cancer.

What follows is an account of a couple trying to face this disaster head on, yet still failing in critical areas.

The questions became persistent: Why would any bank want to finance John’s sole proprietorship company, especially once the ravages of chemotherapy became apparent? How could he work just enough to qualify for the company health insurance and yet still be able to claim the $1,500-a-month disability payment that became a lifeline for his family? How could he keep and attract clients when his energy had severe limits?

The financial quandaries really took flight after John’s death. Sarah was left with a $200,000 life insurance policy – enough to help put their two children through college, she thought. Then she learned there was a $1.245 million lien against the combination family home/business offices John had built just prior to being diagnosed. An unexpected $50,011 bill came in the mail. And because John had refused to pay a water bill he was disputing, Sarah received a letter saying they were in technical default on their mortgage.

Why tell you about Sarah’s husband? As I read her account of tragedy, sorrow and finally once again reaching a sound financial shore, I was reminded of you. So many of you, no matter what gender, are like Sarah’s husband. You’re full-speed-ahead people, putting all of your creative juices and efforts into your dream of owning your own construction firm. It never occurs to you there may be a full stop just around the corner.

As Sarah puts it: “The things that made [John] such a great entrepreneur and exciting life partner – his optimism, his irreverence, his stubborn refusal to follow norms – these same traits hurt him when he found himself facing a door that simply closed too fast.”