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Basic Strategies for the Fourth Quarter in the Game of Life

I remember well the eve of my thirtieth birthday. I was thrilled…and relieved! As a young business person, I had long awaited the opportunity to answer age queries smoothly with “Actually, I am older than I look! I am in my thirties.” Once achieved, that period of my life seemed to last about thirty seconds. Before I could blink an eye, I was almost 50, and AARP cards started invading my mailbox. Now, a few years further down the road, I completely understand what people mean when they say, “Wow. I still feel young; but now, I look in the mirror and wonder, ‘Who is that wrinkled person?’” The velocity of aging is indeed a stunner.

Nevertheless, I submit that life is grand! There are those who grumble that the Golden Years are overrated, given the challenges associated with aging. In reality, these years are just another stage in the Game of Life, and like every stage, have their ups and downs all along the way. Challenges usually revolve around healthcare and financial issues, but fortunately these can often be managed. Of course, healthcare troubles can be frightening and frustrating, but elders are becoming more sophisticated healthcare consumers. We are pursuing healthier lifestyles, and most of us are able to reasonably co-exist for long periods with chronic illnesses thanks to improved treatment options. Money strains can be addressed with thoughtful financial planning that matches your lifestyle to your wallet. Almost anything is possible if you approach your life with flexibility and a positive attitude. The point is to clear the way to enjoy the major benefits associated with this time of life: the freedom to pursue family time, travel, and avocations which sometime blossom into dream second careers.

After forty years of observing elder lifestyles, I prefer to think of this period of our lives as the fourth quarter in the great Game of Life. Based on these observations, I have made a short list of the key elements to experiencing a successful fourth quarter. Each can be a subject for elaboration in future blogs, but for starters, here is the list:

    1. First, critically observe and list what you truly enjoy in life, then make those things your fourth quarter goals. As Will Shakespeare said, “Above all, to thine own self be true!” For some, the fourth quarter is a time to write the great American novel for others that would be torture. This is a time to refresh goals, then to test them against your resources. Sometimes, goals and resources need to be right-sized through a financial planning process, and there is no better time than now to do it. Sometimes, major asset repositioning needs to be considered to meet your goals, and this being the fourth quarter, maybe it’s time to pull the goalie, get tough, and go for the gold.

    2. Reassess your assets and make room for that which you love by removing all of the noise and clutter that keeps you from the pursuit of your goal. To quote a lesser but very wise writer, Marie Kondo, author of The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, ”If an Item does not spark joy in your life, thank it for its service, then eliminate it!” This process can be minor or quite dramatic. In its simplest form, you can clear your closets of all non-essential clothing. Once done, you will then be amazed by how much more you can actually “see” in your closet. In another example, you can let go of old, labor intensive ways of doing things and adopt new, simpler approaches. For example, if you enjoy gardening, but truly relish travel, consider replacing fussy perennials and high maintenance annuals with low maintenance perennials such as day lilies or variegated hostas. Taking simplification a step further, consider this: If you hesitate to visit your darling grandchildren in a distant state because you worry about weather-related power outages, shoveling snow, and other home maintenance issues, consider thanking your residence for its past service and a lifetime of memories, then sell it and embrace an easier lifestyle in a condominium or apartment. Grandchildren frequently spark more joy than the obligation of shoveling winter paths. The point is, where there is a will, there usually is a way. In the fourth quarter, holding fewer “use assets” – those that use your personal and financial resources, means more freedom, and often much more financial flexibility.

    3. Exercise relationship wisdom. Understand that the people you love may not be your best financial support system. Thoughtfully structuring your affairs to separate affection and business, keeps you strong. Strong people can focus without distraction on maintaining their relationships with those they love. Elder abuse, especially elder financial abuse, is front and center in the media today. It is plastered across car bumpers, and flashes regularly across television screens. Who, among fourth quarter players, has not been plagued with cold calls touting new healthcare plans and other financial “opportunities”? Too many of these deals are fraudulent. Yet, annoying as these callers may be, the sad truth is that the most egregious financial abuse is usually carried out by friends and family. Sometimes, it comes in the form of well-meaning help, but that help may still result in you eventually knitting in your child’s back room after having depleted all of your resources. Our advice is to work with financial professionals to organize your affairs in a self-sustaining businesslike manner long before you need assistance running your affairs. Additionally, embrace the opportunity to designate a Trusted Third Party (sometimes described as a Designated Contact Person) for your financial accounts through your financial institution. The new laws that require your financial advisor to offer this opportunity are designed to allow him/her to speak with a reliable third party if something seems “out of place” or you do not respond to inquiries as you normally might. We recommend you consider naming your attorney and/or CPA as a Trusted Third Party. Any of us can find ourselves in a situation of isolation or undue influence, which may only be a result of a temporary loss of our power or judgement. The designation of a Trusted Third Party, is an important layer of protection that can shelter your resources, and therefore your independence and dignity.

    4. Finally, once you have selected, constructed, and embarked upon your fourth quarter path, stay true to yourself, stay positive, and stay the course. Be clear about the changes you have made and why. Dispensing with the mundane and confusing distractions that cluttered your existence leaves you free to focus on the richness of your relationships and enjoying your life.

The Game of Life is not won by accumulating the most toys. Toys are for the child in us. A few toys that truly “spark joy” in our lives may have their place. However, hanging onto too many toys, especially those we have outgrown that require relentless care and feeding, like multiple residences, too many vehicles, over-the top furnishings, and extensive gardens, can make fourth quarter players both resource and time poor. Investing a little time visioning and creating a thoughtful freedom plan that includes both the structuring of your financial affairs and designating a trusted independent third party can go a long way in making the fourth quarter the one that truly wins the Game. Please contact us and we can start designing your fourth quarter freedom plan today!