Forever Young

Warren Ward |

If someone asked you how old you were and you didn’t know your age, how old would you think you were? This question was raised by Satchel Paige, the legendary African American baseball player who was among the first Black players in the major leagues. Joining the Cleveland Indians in his early 40’s, he played professionally until he was two weeks shy of his 60th birthday.

If you ask, almost everyone has an immediate response to this question with no need for reflection. People younger than 25 most often respond with a figure older than their actual age. The answer from adults over 40 is generally about 80% of their actual age. The idea that we feel ourselves to be older or younger than we actually are has been described as Subjective Age.

While most of us know which birthday actually comes next, somehow our understanding can be very different. If you think very long about this question, our responses seem kind of odd. I’d guess that very few people are confused about their height or the color of their hair (although some of us do cling to recollections of a more youthful appearance).

People of all ages come to WWA for help but, regardless of when we meet them, our focus is almost always long-term, basically helping clients reach and then enjoy a comfortable retirement. While we never lose track of that overarching goal, we also suggest intermediate objectives to help clients lead a full life prior to that enjoyable retirement. One element of that “full life” that doesn’t always occur to people is managing risk. We help them do that by encouraging initial estate planning and ongoing reviews because updates are required as people age.

We believe that the need for estate planning begins with the formation of a committed relationship. Chances are, you’d want any assets to go to your partner but, prior to a marriage and absent a will, your parents will be named as heirs. Even for a married couple, the living parents of the deceased get 25% of the estate unless a written will directs otherwise. This is true for Indiana but laws differ from state to state so be sure to seek out competent advice if you live elsewhere.

As financial planners, one of the most difficult situations we face is when someone dies without a will and the associated documents. As I’ve mentioned before, if you don’t prepare your own, the state of Indiana has one for you but you’re probably not going to like it. A simple will is not expensive and won’t need updating for 3 to 5 years unless circumstances change.

One of those changes in circumstance is the arrival of children. Becoming a parent requires thoughtful consideration of guardianship – naming a person or couple to care for those children if you become unable to. It is entirely possible to name one person (or couple) as guardians of the children and someone else as trustee of any assets if both skill sets don’t coexist in the same household. In this situation, regular review and updates will be necessary.

In middle age, your children may already be out of the house but that doesn’t eliminate the need for continued updates. We are aware of a situation (fortunately, not involving a client) of a couple who worked together for years in a successful business. When he died unprepared in his 50’s, his wife did not inherit their business. Instead, she was suddenly an equal partner with their son – someone from a different generation who had never worked there and had very different ideas about the future of the company.

Once children are truly independent, planning for grandchildren often becomes a goal, along with managing the ownership of real property, perhaps in more than one state. Depending on the complexity of the assets, regular updates will probably need to continue. I have an attorney friend who says that every year on your birthday you should check the batteries in your smoke detector – and review your will. That might be a bit extreme, but an outdated will is certainly not going to accomplish your wishes.

My wife and I often say we seem “younger” than our grandparents did at the age we are now. Perhaps that’s because we’re as unaware of the difference between our subjective and actual ages as anyone else. However, there may be another reason for our opinion. As lifespans have increased, so have active lives. Sixty-five was once “old”, hence the Social Security onset, but today’s 65-year-old is expected to live into their mid-80’s: 84 for men and 87 for women. As a percentage of total lifespan, perhaps our perception makes a bit of sense.

Today’s retirees are also generally more active and living somewhat healthier lifestyles, including playing sports longer. That’s generally good for the cardiovascular system but maybe less so for joints and bones. Pickleball has caught the attention of lots of people in my age range but, according to the New York Times, injuries are increasing. Words to the wise: moderation in all things.

In closing, I turn once again to the Nobel Prize-winning poet, philosopher, and financial planner Robert Zimmerman for advice. Better known as Bob Dylan, he wrote and recorded a song with today’s title in 1973 when he was only 32. It has been recorded by other artists over 100 times. I think that confirms its status as a touchstone but do the lyrics provide any real guidance for us as we live our lives? Considering his age when it was written, I hear it as hopeful, with wishes for a long, full life.


May God bless and keep you always, may your wishes all come true
May you always do for others, and let others do for you

May you build a ladder to the stars, and climb on every rung

And may you stay, forever young

Indeed, that is our wish for you and those you love – that you stay forever young – at least in your own minds.