The comedian Jack Benny “left an unusual but touching instruction in his will when he died in 1974. ‘Every day since Jack has gone the florist has delivered one long-stemmed red rose to my home,’ his widow Mary Livingstone wrote in a magazine, shortly after his death. ‘I learned Jack actually had included a provision for the flowers in his will. One red rose to be delivered to me every day for the rest of my life.’”1
I think that is rather beautiful.
The famous newspaper columnist, Lewis Grizzard, left most of his estate to his wife Dedra when he died in March 1994. He also added specific bequests to relatives and friends. “He had said he would remember an old college friend in his will, and he did.” Written in Grizzard’s Last Will and Testament was this provision: “To Gary Hill, who I promised to mention in my will, I want to say, ‘Hi, Gary.’”2
I think that is rather hilarious.
In Genesis 49 in the Old Testament, there is a wonderful description of the proper way to leave this life. After blessing each of his sons, the patriarch named Jacob gave final instructions regarding his burial, and then we read, “When Jacob finished commanding his sons, he drew up his feet into the bed and breathed his last and was gathered to his people.”3
I consider that great timing!
Something that is neither beautiful nor funny, and terribly untimely, is dying intestate. Actually, failing to plan for one’s own future, or the future well-being of dependents and loved ones, is altogether unsavory.
Planning for the Future—Your Help Is Needed
All of financial planning can be reduced to this: Preparing ourselves and others for days yet to come.
For many years I asked my prospective clients a very pointed question: “Are you a selfish or selfless person?” I would follow this up (providing they had not thrown me out of their home or office) with, “How do you treat yourself, especially your future self?” That generally bought me some time to explain my initial question.
Reasonable and prudent people simply look out for themselves and their loved ones by looking into the future.
Two Simple Examples
Example #1: My father had a modest collection of rare and valuable coins. I received that as part of my inheritance when he died. His death was sudden and unexpected. He did not get to see my reaction to his specific legacy instructions. I combined my own coin collection with what I received from my father and then split the total into three equal parts and gave them to my three children (and their spouses). I would have little use for these coins and they might need to sell them for needed funds in the future. It was rewarding to watch them look over what I gave them.
Example #2: My wife and I sold our family home in 2017. This was where, for 25 years, we raised our kids. You discover things when you move, like just how much crap you have accumulated! One thing I rediscovered was my childhood baseball card collection. It was very modest, but because I have lived long enough, contained valuable cards. I made the offer to my son and two sons-in-law to come and take any portion of the collection they desired. They did not respond right away, the cards moved with me (again), and memory of those cards slipped into the past. That is, until Friday, October 2, 2020. That is when Hall of Fame starting pitcher Bob Gibson died.
On October 4, 2020, I received the following text message from my son-in-law David:
I’ve been in our basement clearing out old stuff and I’ve come across my 2,000+ baseball card collection from my childhood.
Random question: While you guys were moving out of your house 2.5 years ago, you had asked if one of your boys would be interested in giving a home for your old cards. Did you ever find a place for them to go?
I think I mentioned it then, but If you still have them, I would certainly have interest.”
I searched around and found them again and took a photograph of the front and back of one of the cards situated on the top of the stack. Bob Gibson’s card. I texted those photos to David.
On October 7, 2020, I received the following text message from David:
“I see the card of Bob Gibson. My uncle just sent a long message about him when he died last week.
From Uncle Jim:
‘Today is a very sad day for me because of the passing of this legend, Cardinals great Bob Gibson. He was my biggest boyhood idol. My first memories of watching baseball were in 1964. I was a Cardinals fan because there was no major league team in Denver and my father was a Cardinals fan. He was a Cardinals fan because, as a boy in rural Colorado, the only radio signal that could penetrate the dusty plains where he lived and that broadcast baseball emanated from KMOX in St Louis, MO, 850 miles to the east.
All of us baseball nerds know the remarkable numbers posted by Gibson in 1968, especially the other worldly 1.12 ERA. That remarkable feat was the impetus for Major League Baseball to lower the mound the next year. Crazy, huh? But the numbers within the numbers are even more impressive. Bob Gibson pitched 28 complete games that year. 13 of those were shutouts. To add some perspective, last year two pitchers tied for the major league lead in complete games with three.
Now here is where it gets really crazy. Because each team usually had a four-man rotation, pitchers had to pitch on only three or four days rest. Despite the physical toll that had to have taken, from June 6 to July 31, 1968, Bob Gibson took the hill 11 times for the Cards. All of them were complete games. All of them were wins. Eight of the 11 were shutouts including five consecutive whitewashings. In the other three victories, Gibson allowed only one run per game. So that was 99 innings pitched, three runs allowed. That equates to a 0.27 ERA during that streak. By the end of July, Gibson’s season ERA was a minuscule 0.96.
My brother-in-law and I were laughing about a quote by Gibson’s catcher, Tim McCarver, who said about his ace: ‘Bob Gibson’s the luckiest pitcher in baseball. He always pitches when the other team doesn’t score any runs.’
For my money, I have never seen a pitcher as great as Bob Gibson. I can’t imagine we will ever see another like him. Rest In Peace Bob, and thanks for the great, great memories.’”
Consider the timing of all this. David randomly asked me about my cards. I randomly chose to take a photograph of the top one. Bob Gibson died just a few days before. David’s uncle sent him a meaningful text. It is hilarious that David was cleaning out his basement three years after I was cleaning out mine and we both found our card collections. It is a beautiful thing to give my son something he values while I am still living.
Fun, Beauty and Timing
You are a financial professional. No one needs to tell you that the people all around you are unprepared.
“In 2017, almost half (42 percent) of all Americans said that they have a will or another type of estate planning document. Fast-forward to 2020, and less than one-third (32 percent) say they have one or more documents—that’s a decrease of nearly 25 percent in just three years.”4
These people are not all selfish. In fact, they may be very selfless. Then what keeps them from acting in a reasonable and prudent manner by looking out for their loved ones’ futures? Answer: No one is there to make them do it now. No one is there to paint the process of estate planning and legacy planning in a fun and beautiful way. No one is encouraging them to use the time they have while alive to delight the ones they love most.
Question: Why shouldn’t you be the one to do so?
As in all things, it starts with questions. Consider presenting all your clients and every prospective client with these questions:
- Do you agree that people should plan for their eventual deaths by having a Will?
- Should parents name guardians for their kids?
- Do you think people should create a list of their accounts and assets to help their families make the transition after their death?
- Do you think parents should talk to their children about end-of-life issues like long term care and associated medical treatments?
Consider reaching out to people you do not know who are likely not to know where to even turn for such planning.
- “According to the 2020 survey results, disparities in knowledge and/or access to education about estate planning between different races may be playing an increasingly important role in who has a will.”5
- “Those of Hispanic descent are the most likely to put off getting a will or living trust because they do not know how to start the process.”6
- “In 2019, Black non-Hispanic respondents were by far the most likely to not know how to get a will or living trust.”7
Being selfless or selfish depends on whether or not we weigh doing something for ourselves today or subjugating today’s wants for something we may need in the future.
There is something wonderful about showing love to the people who depend on us in such practical ways as having a Will, having discussions about end-of-life planning and asking our loved ones what they would find most precious in terms of an inheritance.
None of us like to imagine being in a position where we cannot make our own decisions. Few people genuinely care so little for their family members that they would choose to neglect such important actions. That is why we need to encourage others to be prepared for all situations, and to do a little advance planning today to make things easier for our loved ones tomorrow.
For your clients: They need to foster an awareness of future needs, understand the opportunity cost of neglecting tomorrow, and maximize the time value of money.
For people you do not know: All around you are people who simply do not know where to go for help. This could be your opportunity to make all the difference for these prospective clients and their families.
Lastly, here are two quotes by Bob Gibson:
“Why do I have to be an example for your kid? You be an example for your own kid.”
“I owe the public just one thing—a good performance.”
What this author is asking you to do is to care about other people’s kids.
In addition, this author would ask you, as a financial services professional, to give the public (the unprepared public) your very best performance!