By: Columnist Bob Grafe
March 4, 2010
When should senior citizens begin their estate planning?
Perhaps the better question should be “When should a senior citizen finish his or her estate planning?”
The correct answer is probably that true “estate” planning goes on forever throughout ones life.
The term “estate planning” has some puzzling interpretations.
If the term “estate” is essentially the “whole” of a persons property, then one could argue that estate planning starts the minute someone begins to gather “things” or “belongings” at an early age in life.
Some senior citizens are better at actually holding on to all of those life-long gathered possessions than others.
However, the end result of that holding onto process may not always be desirable.
It’s hard to accurately estimate just how many of our 31,025 days upon the earth (assuming that one lives to the mature age of say 85) are devoted to the estate “gathering” chore.
Suffice it to say that probably not enough days are spent in the actual estate “planning” process — a process that should actually be a work-in-progress throughout life.
This actual planning process is the antithesis of the typical later-in-life ritual of finally sitting down at the desk of a financial guru attempting to determine if you have managed to gather together enough material “stuff” in terms of financial wealth or assets to keep you going at the spending rate that you prefer until you are the guest of honor at your own wake.
The recent national, state and local news is filled with horror stories of those who tried to “get ahead” financially by investing in “high return” (and very high risk!) questionable financial schemes — only to find at the end of the day that there was no pot of gold at the end of the scheme’s enticing wealth-building rainbow.
While the clock of life ticked away for many chasing “the almighty dollar” in recent years, those attempting to build their excessive estates lost track of their real wealth in life — time — especially time with loved ones.
Time to experience the real joys of life without being saddled down with the burden of being an effective caretaker of “stuff” — stuff that seems to actually own you rather than the other way around.
I can think of many acquaintances who have spent way too much of their time on earth “protecting” their material assets — severely neglecting their personal relationships with friends and loved ones.
For example, take the elderly couple who spend hours each day searching their expansive land holdings just to make sure that no one else has ventured onto their “estate.”
It’s a common flaw in the financial planning process when one owns so much stuff that it takes all their limited waking hours just to make sure that no one else has taken something from them.
By the time their children and grandchildren have come and gone, it frequently is too late to build the relationships with those who we declare are the “loves of our lives.”
Would it not make better sense to create ones financial plan with the goal in mind of simply having “sufficient” for one’s needs — and to do some real soul searching to determine exactly what one actually “needs.”
After all, most senior citizens realize that the day will come when they will be that guest of honor mentioned earlier — when their life comes to an end here upon the earth.
It is very doubtful that our “needs” then will include any of that “stuff” that we affectionately refer to as our estate and have spent so much time gathering together during our limited days here.
Perhaps your financial planning includes leaving your vast estate to your children and/or grandchildren — wealth that is far beyond their actual needs.
While noble in appearance at first glance, it becomes questionable when you calculate the amount of their time on earth that you are saddling them with just so they can care for their inheritance — which is usually in the form of more “stuff.”
Senior citizens owe it to themselves, to their families and others to carefully complete the estate planning process with the end result providing them sufficient means for their needs with the remainder going towards well thought-out good works intended to be of real help to others.