While training for a bike trip with her husband that year, persistent numbness in her arm prompted her to get an MRI. She was right in suspecting that doctors might find some compression in her spine, but they also found something more sinister: a multiple sclerosis lesion.
"In retrospect," she says, "I did have little signs that I had it, but not anything that you would see a doctor about."
The discovery marked the end of life as she and her husband had known it. When it came to planning for a different future, the experience was even harder than they'd expected. After the diagnosis, Shenkman recalls, "I was really taken aback that there was nothing available to help us plan for a chronic illness. The resources were nonexistent." If a physician and a planner-attorney were having such a tough time, the couple wondered, how hard was it for other people?
Ever since, Shenkman's goal has been to make this specialized planning information readily available, both for his wife and the other estimated 130 million Americans who live with chronic disease, often with inadequate financial preparation. In the past six years he has built an extraordinary pro bono second career - while traveling the nation in the couple's Airstream motor home - by helping more than 10,000 people to live with and plan for lives like his wife's, marked by chronic illness.
For his contributions to this pervasive, but little-recognized cause, Shenkman is the 2012 recipient of the Pro Bono Planner of the Year Award presented jointly by Financial Planning and the Foundation for Financial Planning.
Cathie Restivo, pro bono committee chair of the San Diego chapter of the FPA, is the runner-up for this year's individual award for her tireless work helping wounded military veterans. Two teams doing groundbreaking planning work in the Miami area and in San Diego are the winner and runner-up respectively in the team category. Read on for profiles of the recipients in this, the second anniversary of the awards.
"We thank these individuals for representing the profession as a whole and caring for people at all level and walks of life," says Jim Peniston, executive director of the planning foundation. "If you didn't care for people and you didn't want to help people, this wouldn't be the profession that you would be in. But I think it's important for all planners in their community to give back with some of their intellectual capital."
Contributions of the individuals honored this year are difficult to overstate. Many devote, or have devoted, hundreds or thousands of hours to clients who could not otherwise afford or access planners' expertise.
Two of them, Restivo and Jim Dell, of the Professional Alliance for Children, which helps families of critically ill children in San Diego, ultimately found their pro bono work so absorbing that they gave up their planning practices. Others have found creative ways to give hundreds of hours to others while continuing to serve their paying clients.
All of this year's recipients are incubating charitable models or services that they expect other planners and communities might copy or use, hopefully with fewer start-up challenges than they faced. "Everything I've developed I've put up on my website for other planners to use," Shenkman says.
Restivo says it's important to train people who will further your mission. "When you've created momentum you can no longer do everything yourself. That's why I started working on training other volunteers to do the same thing."
Their examples might provide ways to serve in your community.
Pro Bono Planner of the Year
For six weeks every year, Shenkman crisscrosses the country with his wife in a silver-skinned Airstream motor home accompanied by her therapy dog Elvis. They stop at conferences for financial planners, estate planners, trust officers, accountants and nonprofits, as well as patients. At each one, Shenkman teaches experts and those with illnesses to properly prepare their clients or themselves financially for a life with chronic illness.
In every talk, he shows a slide of the universally recognized symbol for a person with a disability, a blue stick figure in a wheelchair. "What is wrong with this?" he asks the crowd. The image, a symbol for all Americans with disabilities, represents maybe that 7% who require a walking aid, Shenkman says. The rest don't need any help getting around.