This time of year is one of reflection. We go in and out visiting the ghosts of the past, present and future. Just as in the classic story, A Christmas Carol, we all face the decisions we’ve made—but even better, we also have the opportunity to reflect on how to improve ourselves and others.
As the end of the year nears, there’s no better time to take stock of what we want to do now—and what is in store for the future. It’s also a time to recognize the many “angels” we have around us. As much I would like to believe in fairy godmothers, or plump, pink cherubs who fly about on their gossamer, feathered wings granting wishes, there are real angels who live, work and love right here among us.
These angels include Mary*, a JJ Burns client, and her long-time caretaker Sophia*. Mary will be 100 years old in 2017. We have worked with Mary to set up and oversee her life and wealth management plan for almost 20 years.
Mary worked for many years as a college professor in psychology and had a successful private practice. She never married and had no children. Early on she shared with me that she needed a financial partner to help her make choices to give her a life that she can enjoy.
As a philanthropic person, Mary always looked to help others before herself. Whenever she could give and still be able to afford a comfortable life, she did so. She contributed to children’s education programs, religious causes and medical care in less fortunate countries. I’ll always remember when 9-11 occurred, she made a contribution to the local firehouse and they came to her home to acknowledge the gift. It was uncomfortable for her and she felt it was unnecessary. Nonetheless, the fireman showed up at her door and it was they who were honored. Mary taught me that no matter how much or little you have, you should try to help others because every bit makes a difference. She shared many life experiences with me over the years I have known her and I walked out of every meeting with her reflecting on how much I learned.
We mapped out a financial plan that detailed how Mary would enjoy her life, and when she needed care, what her treatment would look like. As time progressed and her health began to deteriorate, Mary needed more care. What became a few hours per week, eventually progressed to a full-time aide. We evaluated each aide together with written expectations of what we wanted them to do.
When we hired Sophia there was a magical connection that occurred. To see her in action and the love she has for Mary is something I have rarely witnessed. Sophia cares for Mary in every way. She shops at natural food stores so Mary can maintain a healthy diet. Her meals are home cooked and made with large doses of love for another human being. If Mary is sick, Sophia researches herbal remedies that have brought her better health.
Over the last couple of years as Mary’s mental and physical health declined, Sophia has been with her every step of the way. She arranges for a yoga instructor, physical therapy and for friends to come by and visit. Getting her hair and nails done, having lunch, going shopping or simply looking at the holiday windows are all part of their weekly activities. Mary has continued to travel to Florida and the west coast to visit family members with Sophia by her side.
I have witnessed how Sophia cares about Mary in every way. And Mary recognized early on what a special person Sophia is. Together we developed a part of Sophia’s compensation that is based on Mary living… not dying. Additionally, without Sophia knowing, Mary established an educational trust for her so that when the day does come of Mary’s passing, Sophia can live her dream of becoming a registered nurse.
As I reflect on the stories of these “angels” I recognize that setting goals and planning were the key to Mary’s success. She knew she wanted to age comfortably at home while having a trusted caretaker help do her shopping, chores, and cooking, while continuing to travel and be the adventurer she always was. Living life on her terms was vital to her.
Of course, everyone’s financial situation is different and you probably have individual goals for how you want to distribute your finances. Investing and minimizing taxes were the original contributors to Mary’s personal and financial success. Sure, she had the past—some well-earned funds to invest. She has the present—the one she enjoys with her caretaker “angel” Sophia. And now she also has a future of income security thanks to good financial planning, which allows Mary to live her life as a centurion to the fullest.
You don’t need to be 100 like Mary to appreciate a generous life. No matter what your age, you also have some “angels” in your midst. At JJ Burns, it’s always been a privilege to help our clients create the lives they wanted for themselves, for their families, for charities and for those closest to their hearts. This is what it really means to be an advisor—to be of service in the best way we know how. In this year and the upcoming ones, take some time to plan the life you want and if you have already, check in for a progress report.
From all of us at JJ Burns, we wish you a Happy and Healthy New Year!
*Not their real names.