Christmas 2012 was a special time in the home of Doak & Pam Fling. Like most years, they enjoyed many blessings with their family as they celebrated the birth of Christ. But a dark cloud hung over the celebration.

Doak had learned through a routine physical that he had several enlarged lymph nodes. A series of tests had been done to explore what was going on. After Christmas, Doak and Pam met with his physician to get the test results.

The news hit them hard.

Doak was diagnosed with Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL) and lung cancer. “One minute, you’re feeling immortal, and the next minute you have lung cancer,” said Doak. “It’s shocking how quickly your perspective and your priorities change.”

The charming and active Georgetown couple suddenly came face-to-face with their mortality. Doak underwent nine months of treatment, which successfully addressed the cancer. “For now I am cancer free, and the CLL is in check,” said Doak. “But I’ll be monitored for the rest of my life.”

Both Doak and Pam credit the prayers of many friends and family, along with the healing hand of the Lord, with his cure. One major lesson they learned from this process was that Pam was completely unprepared to manage their financial affairs.

“I was in shock,” said Pam. “There were so many questions. I realized that since Doak has managed every detail of our financial affairs for 40 years, I didn’t know anything about our current or future situation.”

“As a Certified Financial Planner, this is what I do for other people all day every day,” said Doak. “So when I got home at night, I just didn’t want to talk about it anymore. The result was that Pam knew very little about our affairs and our estate plan was not as solid as it should have been.”

Thankfully, Children At Heart Ministries had established a relationship with Thompson & Associates, a values-based estate planning company that works with nonprofits and their donors to help them understand their personal planning priorities and to help carry out their plans.

“It was a huge relief,” Doak said, “when we learned of the opportunity to get a thorough review of our estate plan from Thompson & Associates. And to get the service at no cost was a great blessing.”

Pam was so thankful for the process because it helped her have a voice in the planning and to understand the plan when it was complete. “Our Thompson & Associates consultant, Don Cramer, was an answer to our prayers,” said Pam. “The process is staggered over several months and it’s carried out in a way that helped us understand our values and priorities before any strategies were put on paper.

“We never felt any pressure,” she explained. “Don helped us understand our individual beliefs and priorities for how our estate will be distributed when we’re gone. The best part was that the process helped us talk through the areas where we didn’t agree and, in the end, we came to full agreement about our plan.

“Even better,” says Pam, “because I was so involved in the process, I understand the plan more than I have ever understood any of our financial affairs.”

Doak says that the Thompson & Associates process opened his eyes to an important reality that most Americans’ estate plans do not address. “Almost everyone has tax-deferred retirement accounts in their estate,” Doak said. “And distributions from those accounts are almost always taxed unless they are given to a charity. When we realized that our retirement accounts would be taxed at 30-40% if inherited by our daughter, it became clear that we would rather see 100% of those funds go to a charity like Children At Heart, than for such a large portion to be taxed by the government.”

Doak and Pam have named Children At Heart Foundation as the beneficiary of one of his retirement accounts, which has a balance equal to the amount they wish to see benefit children and families served across the Children At Heart family of ministries.

Far beyond addressing their charitable intentions, the process also helped them craft a plan to address how their estate will be passed to their daughter, Amanda, and her family. “Amanda and her husband Bryan both work hard and they are on solid financial ground without an inheritance,” said Pam. “But the plans we’ve made through the Thompson & Associates process will strengthen their long-term stability and provide for our grandchildren to go to college. These things mean the world to Doak and me.”

Looking back, Doak says there’s no reason for anyone to not take advantage of this service. “There is no pressure. There is no expense,” he said. “It’s a great way to get a thorough estate plan, or even a review of a current plan. Don’t wait for that crisis to get things in order. You don’t always get that chance.”

Dawson Clark, CFRE, is Vice President for Mission Advancement at Children At Heart Ministries. Dawson received a bachelor’s degree in Journalism from Texas A&M University and has over 30 years of fundraising experience. He and his wife, Leanne, have two adult children.