Opportunity Found

Author: Thayer Willis
Modern healthcare has made it possible for many to live very long lives. This can create money and legal concerns that need to be planned with financial advisors and attorneys. What can get lost in the preparation for these practical steps is that an exceptionally long life can bring about psychological challenges as well.
Several years ago, when I was planning an event for wealthy, successful individuals and families, and was lining up speakers to address engaging topics, I asked Domingo P. Such, III (Such bio), a brilliant attorney from Chicago, to present a session. I told him to choose the topic, anything he wanted.
What he decided to talk about was the many health challenges that can plague wealthy benefactors as they age and, without in-depth preparation, the devastating effects these challenges can have on relationships in the rising generations. Since that talk, I have regularly checked in with my clients about their estate planning, always including their preparation for the many kinds of later-life decline.
I have had plenty of time to think about this as my own mother struggles with her advancing Alzheimer’s. My parents did much to prepare: they had purchased and funded a long-term healthcare policy that was an excellent investment, and they had attended to estate planning.  We now have their skilled professionals to work with. I am very grateful they addressed many financial and logistical questions for us. However, my mother’s decline raised questions regarding our personal relationship.
When the movie Still Alice came out, I was excited to have the chance to learn from it. Mainly, I learned to talk to my mother with the respect that she is still there, validating her fears, assuring her that I would feel afraid, too, and encouraging her with curiosity like, “Tell me more about how you really are….” I resist the temptation to talk to her like I would to a toddler, and I’ll admit it is difficult to resist at times. She can’t remember much except at random times, she is legally blind, and she can’t hear very well. She says she has been here too long. Consequently, I can’t help being saddened when I think of her quality of life.
However, there has been one silver lining for me in her decline, one that I would have never predicted. From my own childhood through adulthood, until the onset of my mother’s physical decline, she and I had a contentious relationship, very contentious at times. We did our best to get along, but overwhelmingly, I have memories of her telling me in no uncertain terms that I could have done better in many of the choices I made. She had high standards and was extremely ambitious. It seemed to me that nothing I did was ever good enough. So I pushed back and our relationship was strained for many decades. Eventually I learned to manage our relationship-and for the last thirty years before she entered dementia, we got along all right, not great, but all right. But all along I wished and hoped we could be on better terms.
And now, since the dementia set in, she has become sweet, kind, and compliant. I never leave a visit with her without receiving multiple compliments-compliments about how I look, what I do, and sometimes compliments about my very character. She never criticizes me. What a silver lining to have while present for her decline! Naturally, I have questioned what has happened. My theory is that ambition is necessarily fueled by the past and the future. She no longer has either. She lives entirely in the present, and there is absolutely no context for ambition. It took a while but now I feel relaxed around her, and allow myself to be real with her. It is an unexpected gift.
And I wonder how our relationship has shaped my life. Would I have developed the fighting spirit and mettle in my twenties to build inner strength and make a life for myself? Would I have prioritized my children highly and always looked for ways to encourage and praise them? Would I have persevered and built a successful business, with all of the inevitable ups and downs? Maybe I didn’t reject my mother’s ambition; maybe I inherited it, adapted it to me, and fueled my own dreams with it. And now, wonder of all wonders, now I get to have some loving time with her.

My message to you is this: take care of your relationships with the older generations of your family, talk with your siblings, advisors, and trusted friends about all aspects of care in later life. Read an excellent new book written by our doctor, Elizabeth Eckstrom, and her co-author, Marcy Cottrell Houle, “The Gift of Caring: Saving our Parents from the Perils of Modern Healthcare”.  This book is full of practical advice to help guide you to the best healthcare decisions.  Glean what you can learn and set up methods to deal with financial, legal, and health concerns in ways that fit your family. Contact your attorney to review and update what you have. Carve out the time and commitment to do it. In doing so you, too, may discover an unexpected silver lining in the clouds that can gather in the sunset of a life.

© 2016  Thayer Cheatham Willis. All Rights Reserved.


Contributed by: Thayer Willis

A few weeks ago, in a rise of curiosity about social media, I started posting tips, observations, and resources on LinkedIn and Facebook. Though I had had accounts on both, I had rarely used them. I appreciate it when people find what I have posted useful, and then like, comment, and share it.

For those of you who enjoy reading my newsletters, there is a lot more for you to see on my social media. I have two Facebook pages; click here to see my personal page, Thayer Willis, or here to see my company page, Thayer Willis LLC. As many of you know, LinkedIn is mainly for professionals, and you can find me there under the name Thayer Cheatham Willis, or simply click here. Some of the posts go up in all three places, but some are tailored and appear only where appropriate. I invite you to take a look and connect with me!

Here is a recent post that I have been told was most helpful. There is a slightly different version of it on LinkedIn that I wrote for professional advisors to wealthy families.

How to Use Beyond Gold for your Own Family

I wrote Beyond Gold to be an interactive workbook, helping clients identify and clarify their values, thought processes, and priorities. This naturally leads to better action planning. Now, I would like to share with you my suggestions on how best to utilize this workbook to ensure maximum effectiveness, deep thought, and rich dialogue for those participating in the learning experience of the book. I framed the book to be effective without my presence or active involvement. Unlike other workbooks, mine contains a bit more text, with the written and spoken exercises all designed to personalize the concepts and to make them more meaningful to the reader.

I recommend taking your nuclear or extended family through the book one chapter at a time. All of the chapters except the first have exercises in them. So, assign a chapter or group of chapters, bring your family together again, and now you are ready to help family members build on what they have learned in the book.

One important note: people will self-select into Chapter 8 or 9 depending on whether they are married or not. This will be a straightforward distinction for them to make, of course, but there is no need for anyone to work through both chapters, as the first one addresses dating and the next is “after the honeymoon.”

Sometimes the motivation to work through a book like this is a crisis, or pain that has increased to a point that a family member is not willing to live with anymore. For these readers it is workable to just cherry pick what is needed from the book. This is especially useful if a family member has a specific kind of crisis on their hands. Help them go straight to the part of the book that addresses their challenge. For instance, a young adult may have a friendship crisis, which brings up the challenges of unequal wealth. Go straight to Chapter 7, which is about this, and start there. The rest can wait until later. It is a book that a reader can jump into anywhere and work around in, following their interests.

The chapters and exercises in the book cover all of the major territory of the psychology of wealth. By mapping this territory out in chapters with exercises to support all of the teachings in the book, Beyond Gold is a ready-made tool for you to use to add dimension to financial literacy in your own family.

For instance, Exercise 4.3 “Financial Values You Caught,” is a short worksheet designed to help the reader identify how their financial attitudes and behaviors have developed, and how these are working in their lives now. Once completed, for another step of learning, it is a great springboard for discussion. Another exercise, which appears at the ends of chapters, is a gratitude practice. This exercise helps each reader reflect on the gratitude they have in the area of the chapter content, progressively one’s self, one’s parents, siblings, extended family, and more. The real value of this exercise is the repetition of it and the experience of cultivating a gratitude practice.

A key bookend exercise is the “Wealth Attitude Assessment.” It appears at the very beginning of the book and is the first exercise readers will encounter. “Wealth attitudes” are recognizable to all of us, but hardly anyone ever talks about them. This exercise is a self-assessment, and presents statements such as: “I have not yet taken charge of my life or of my wealth” and “I’m afraid to ask for help for fear of embarrassing my family.” People know the attitudes they have about these subjects, and can use the rating scale to define how true the statements are for them. A scoring chart follows the exercise, so that readers can see how to interpret their “wealth attitudes” as they begin their journeys through the book. The same “Wealth Attitude Assessment” appears at the end of the book. It is the last exercise in the last chapter of the book. After working through the entire book, the reader’s score will inevitably come down (this is positive), and it is an effective means of showing the development of healthier attitudes about wealth. Seeing this tangible evidence of one’s own personal growth encourages everyone. Family members will associate you with their success, and this is affirming for you too.

On the exercises that call for more private introspection, I often invite participants to discuss their answers in pairs. Afterwards, I bring everyone together for a group discussion and simply ask for anyone to volunteer something they learned. I don’t ever put anyone on the spot or go around the room and have everyone say something. The volunteer response approach is more respectful. Some people learn very well in these kinds of written and spoken exercises. Most people benefit by interacting with others on these topics, which are rarely spoken of in other contexts, and really learn a lot from others’ experiences.

Working through this book together as a family adds great depth and dimension to family meetings. It is an opportunity for you to give your family the gift of basic financial literacy, awareness, and maturity.

© 2015 Thayer Cheatham Willis. All Rights Reserved.

Purposeful Trusts

Almost everyone reading this has lost a parent, grandparent, spouse or child. We all know immediately what the sting of “words left unsaid” and “deeds left undone” is.
I believe there are two great barriers, Misplaced Priorities and the Illusion of Difficulty, which get in our way when it comes to creating a Purposeful Legacy, Gift or Trust.

Misplaced Priorities

If we knew we only had seven days to live, wouldn’t we make time to have meaningful conversations with those we care about most deeply and to leave something behind that would be a lasting reminder of our love for them.
Unfortunately, the busyness and business of life gets in the way of our best intentions. We assume there will be many tomorrows in which we can have these conversations. The reality is we seldom know when the gift of time expires and we lose our opportunity to act on our best intentions.
We don’t have to be a prisoner of our past. We each have the power to be the architect of our future. We can start now to refocus our priorities and create small blocks of time for Purposeful Gifts. And, from these foundations of Purposeful Gifts we can also create Purposeful Trusts and Legacies.

Illusion of Difficulty

Another artificial barrier that blocks our commitment to create Purposeful Gifts and Trusts is the illusion of difficulty. We don’t know how or where to start. We assume that to be impactful a Purposeful Gift requires more than we have to offer.
The truth is that every time we create a Purposeful Gift it becomes easier to do it again. And, every Purposeful Gift we make can be a powerful building block towards a Purposeful Legacy.

And while we overestimate the amount of time or the difficulty of creating a Purposeful Gift we ignore or greatly underestimate the positive impact our effort will have. I have created two tools to help me and my clients overcome these barriers. One is called Purposeful Visioning Exercises. The other is what I refer to as Purposeful Conversations. The Purposeful Visioning Exercises are self-guided, easy-to-use 30 to 45 minute exercises, which will help you create a Purposeful Gift you can deliver to your loved one today. It can also warm up your estate planning documents if your planners and attorneys are familiar with Purposeful Trusts and Wills. Purposeful Conversations work best with a guide or facilitator who will ask you the questions and record your answers.
But let me take us back to that Harriet Beecher Stowe quote. How can we best overcome Misplaced Priorities and the Illusion of Difficulty so that we leave no words unsaid and no deeds undone? I’d love to hear any thoughts you have.

The Most Powerful Sound in the Universe are words of love and encouragement – John “John A” Warnick