How to Live to Be 103 And Not Regret It

Ann Miller |

I am fortunate enough in my practice to have multi-generational involvement in the lives of my clients. Being involved in many aspects of their lives brings many benefits – I am witness to births, weddings and in sadder instances, funerals. I help clients plan for payment of these events as well as college and retirement, and not necessarily in that order.

So when a client of mine was reporting about her 100-year-old Father and said, “Pops fell,” I was concerned. I asked how it happened, envisioning him prone in the middle of the night, perhaps pushing a button for help.  She answered, “at Pilates”. I know are you are right now imagining a 100-year-old Pilates student.  You would just have to know this man. In the interest of client confidentiality, I’ll call him Oliver. And I want you to know the secrets of his financial success as well as his personal achievements.

Oliver passed in 2015 at the age of 103.  He left a legacy of a loving family, a successful business and many friends and admirers.  He lived at home with minimal help.  He was a Father, Grandfather and Great Grandfather and very good friend. I know, you are still wondering how he did Pilates up until about 6 months before he passed.  You have to know more about this life to explain this and understand the elements that went into this remarkable man’s life.

Of course, I first knew him as a client for almost 30 years.  At a time when I very young and working hard to build my business, Oliver told me that he wanted to work with a woman because he trusted women more, that he felt that women were more open and so he could read them better.  This was and still is a wonderfully progressive way to view the professional world and built on the confidence I carried in myself.

Nothing happened to ensure his success like a family inheritance or Ivy League education.  He was by far not my wealthiest client but he planned well and listened to professionals.  He paid very close attention to his investments.  A story I like to tell is when we generated quarterly reporting, we would hold his out for extra review, because even when he reached an advanced age, if a decimal point was out or a cost basis off or a typo was present, Oliver would notice it.  I began writing market comments some time ago and when I found myself lacking time to make them a personal product and began to utilize statistics and third party information, Oliver, when asked, told me it was ‘turgid’.  Did I mention that he was honest?  But I took it to heart and began writing from my own heart and voice.

We reviewed his portfolio on a regular basis, and he was constantly curious about the decisions we made about the portfolio, how much risk he was really taking for his outcome and even why we had chosen specific investments. He was curious that way but also shrewd. He kept a consistent budget and we reviewed it in relation to his portfolio on a regular basis.

So how does one live like Oliver? How does one live honestly and authentically, plan well for retirement and enjoy life?  Obviously genes play a factor – Oliver has three children who are active and healthy, but they have also inherited his zest for life and an abiding passion for family, friends, and activities.

Paying attention very much impacted his financial plans.  Early on, before most people in my experience begin to plan for a long life, Oliver created a succession plan for his successful business that reflected the confidence he placed in his three children who to this day own, operate and participate in the business.  He gifted funds to his children, grandchildren, relatives. He was charitable and generous. He created trusts into which his assets would land both during his life and beyond. 

When I was starting my own business in 1995, I asked him for his advice and he told me to be certain to have funds to last for at least one year while I got on my feet.  He said to always send clients birthday cards and to acknowledge these events in their lives.  Yet when I asked him what he would do differently, he stated simply, “I would spend more time with my family”.  Now, this is not to say that he did not spend a great deal of time with his family because he did, by most measures, and most pointedly that of his family, but that at the end of a career and especially a life, one tends to reassess choices.  Does anyone listen to an 83-year-old man?  I did and the relationship that I now have with my 15 nieces and nephews (most are blood, all are heart) can be partly attributable to that one moment of openness, from a slight sharing that can make one pause and think about potential regret.

Aside from genes and good financial planning, what did Oliver do to ensure a rich and fruitful life? A lot of it is what we read on a daily basis – but who gets to be the 103-year-old beta tester for life?

He was mentally active and passionate about his interests. He did extensive genealogical research into his family going back generations and wrote many articles on the subject. He attended genealogy conferences and when he could not travel alone, his children gladly accompanied him. He did the daily crossword and Hot Sudoku – once obliterating my attempts at winning against him!

He had an interest in young people. His Grandchildren visited him frequently and he invariably recounted to me specific details about their lives.  One whistled a beautiful tune at his memorial service, because ‘Pops’ had taught him how to whistle as a child.

He had a sense of humor.  After his 100-year birthday party, which was attended by over three hundred people, my assistant apologized to him for not being able to attend and told him she would see him at the next one. He asked, “How do you know that?” She was taken aback, but to know Oliver was to understand that wry response.

We can all take and keep life lessons from this man- both to ensure financial success, but mostly personal!