If we measured human lives like football or basketball games, halftime would come for most of us when we are in our 40s. Just don’t say that to Gertrude Weaver, 116, who began this year as the oldest living American.
The remarkable Ms. Weaver is reportedly still active and alert at her home in a Camden, Arkansas, nursing facility. Very few of us are likely to approach her longevity, even with the advances in health care that have been made and that will come in the years ahead. Yet if you are in your 50s or 60s — or even in your 70s or 80s — there is, as they say, still plenty of time on the clock. And most games are won in the second half.
Winning in life’s second half is one of the main themes behind our firm’s new book, Looking Ahead: Life, Family, Wealth and Business After 55. (You can find it in print at Amazon and Barnes & Noble, and there is a Kindle version, as well.)
Looking Ahead is a collaboration by all of the client service executives, managers and senior staff at Palisades Hudson Financial Group. We divided 19 topics among ourselves, and each of us signed our own chapters as authors. Besides the introduction, my topic was the family business. This is fitting, since I started and still own our firm, and also because my journalist daughter, Ali Elkin, edited the book.
I am 57, so I am part of the book’s primary target audience. People my age typically have kids who are grown and, we hope, independent or on their way to independence. Our careers are moving through their late stages, or we are just transitioning to retirement.
But our stories are far from over. Children and grandchildren may not live with us, but we still play a significant role in their lives. We often have time, energy and some money to devote to second careers, to hobbies and to community and charitable endeavors. The assets we inherited from our families or accumulated from our work require thoughtful stewardship, in part to protect them from exorbitant taxes. We also tend to give more thought to arranging and paying for our own care once we can no longer look after ourselves.
Many of the topics in Looking Ahead are relevant at almost any age; examples include education funding, planning for incapacity, and investment psychology and strategy. I suspect the book will find an audience among younger adults, and I also suspect that many will pass it along to their parents.
To succeed in life, we must first define success. In business, this is easy: The goal usually is to achieve maximum profit or the highest possible return on investment. However, life is about much more than business, and success is not usually measured by the bottom line. I have been a personal financial adviser for nearly 30 years, and I have yet to hear a client tell me his or her goal is to die with the maximum possible net worth.
Setting goals, and setting priorities among conflicting goals, is one of the most important exercises in financial planning, yet it is often slighted. Many people fail at investing because they start by chasing the highest returns with the riskiest investments, then sell their holdings at the worst possible time. This usually happens when we do not set realistic goals or fail to evaluate our risk tolerance for achieving those goals.
Such mistakes regularly occur in many areas of financial life besides investing. Businesses fail for lack of thoughtful succession plans. Insurance dollars are wasted on the wrong products. Opportunities to save on taxes are overlooked. Children and grandchildren are burdened with education debt, or are not given the right incentives to help them use family wealth to make the most of their lives.
Far too much of what is called “financial planning” is conducted as though the adviser and the client are wearing blinders. Accountants talk about income taxes. Lawyers offer to write wills and trusts. Insurance agents sell the solution to every problem. Often, the term “financial planning” is used almost synonymously with investing, which makes no sense. We should save and invest to achieve goals that matter to us, not just because we want to outperform the market — or our friends.
Our firm’s philosophy, which focuses first on the big picture and only then on the details, governs our daily work and inspired us to write Looking Ahead in the way we did. We included chapters on “hard” topics such as federal and state income taxes and estate planning, but we also wrote about so-called “soft” subjects such as the relationship of family wealth to children and grandchildren, and about personal priorities such as philanthropy, retiring abroad or starting a post-retirement business.
It has been 20 years since I last wrote a book, Financial Self-Defense for Unmarried Couples. As you can imagine, the process was different this time. Even my earlier topic, which I chose more than a decade before the first same-sex marriages in this country, is much less relevant to the world in which we live today.
Back then, a publisher paid me an advance, half when I signed my contract and half when I delivered the manuscript. The publisher had in-house editors to work with me, a graphic designer to create the layout and cover, and a publicity department to send me on a national media tour.
This time, there was no advance, because our firm published the book using Amazon’s CreateSpace platform. Besides my daughter Ali, we had ample talent in-house to create the book. Communications manager Amy Laburda helped with much of the drafting, and our graphic artist Ashley Dandridge produced a handsome book design. Ashley handled all of the interactions with CreateSpace and with Amazon’s Kindle unit, which generated the e-book from our manuscript.
We have bigger goals for Looking Ahead. Though it will probably never make any best-seller lists, I think we published a book in which we can take pride, and through which we can reach a broader audience than we could ever hope to help in person. And although I may be biased, I think Looking Ahead is a fine showcase for the varied talents of the people who wrote and created it. I want our firm’s clients and friends to see it, and I want their families to have it as a keepsake.
As for me? Well, in the hope that most of my co-workers do not read this far into my articles, I will let you in on a secret. I am looking ahead to another book. Not right away, but not 20 years from now, either.