Earlier this year I received a call from a very dear friend (and client) that would set in motion a series of events that has impacted my life in ways I would not have imagined.

I met Cleland about 22 years ago when his business manager referred him to me. He was about to have his first child, at the fairly advanced age of 46, and while already married for 10 years to his wife, who was 10 years his junior, he had not yet done any financial, life insurance or estate planning. At the time, Cle was an extremely accomplished cardiovascular surgeon in private practice in Los Angeles and lived a wonderful lifestyle. Our first meeting consisted of a “get to know you” session where I learned about Cle’s personal and financial circumstances, and his goals and objectives for himself and his family. On our second meeting, where I presented my recommendations, we had dinner together and we learned much more about each other.

He enjoyed drinking bourbon and beer, and I loved wine, of which he was self-admittedly a philistine. That was then! After getting to know Cle well and inviting him to attend a few wine and food events, he quickly became an oenophile, then wine collector, and soon his knowledge (and collection) of wine far surpassed my own.

Over the years, our friendship grew through our mutual enjoyment of food and wine, joint travel with our spouses, many, many meals together, and continued financial counselling. About six years after we met I received a distressing call from him. The retina behind his left eye had become detached, and while doctors were able to reattach it, he was very concerned about his continued ability to practice as a surgeon. The reattachment proved successful, and he was able to return to practicing surgery … for about six months, when the retina detached a second time. This time he was not so lucky; after another reattachment, he was left with some blurred vision, which prohibited him from performing any very fine motor actions—like cardiovascular surgery.

He and his wife had two young children and were living a wonderful, very busy lifestyle in Los Angeles. His world looked like it was about to spin out of control, but a combination of his resilience and a very special feature of his disability policy took a dire situation and turned it into an opportunity that he embraced fully.

His maximum benefit disability policy was specific to his “own occupation,” meaning simply that if he were unable to fulfill the specific duties of his medical specialty (regardless of what else he might be able to do) the monthly benefit would be paid per the contract. As Cle could no longer practice his medical specialty, he began receiving substantial monthly disability checks after a 90-day waiting period. Cle, a Harvard-trained doctor, was intellectually brilliant, otherwise physically able, and was not prepared to let his knowledge, years of experience and intellect go to waste.

Shortly after going on disability, he was offered the role of chief medical officer for a rapidly growing biotech company specializing in heart disease.

While he very much missed the direct interaction with patients in a literally lifesaving role, he embraced his new life with vigor and enthusiasm. A relocation to San Diego for this new role meant Cle and I saw less of each other, but we still spoke regularly. And anytime we were in San Diego, Terri and I (and sometimes our kids) would stay with his family and him. Whenever we were together, we enjoyed a meal and always more than one bottle of fabulous wine from his ever-growing broad and deep cellar.

Sadly, this joyous period in his life did not last. About five years ago, Cle and his wife separated, and although still deeply connected both through their two boys and their continued affection for each other, they could no longer live together. This naturally put in motion a series of major changes for Cle, including the sale of his home and the transfer of his share of the wine collection to a large walk-in rented wine storage locker in the San Diego area. However, he continued to enjoy life through his kids, his friends, his active involvement in a number of charitable organizations and, particularly, the consumption of some amazing wines.

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