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Has your “mission” changed?

Has your "mission" changed? © Wangwukong / Getty

“Is this too much of a plane for me?” That question stirred in my mind a few weeks ago as I headed to Orlando for my yearly stint in what I’ve come to regard as the “torture chamber.”

Specifically, that means two days of nonstop training in a flight simulator, where I wrestle with engine failures, inflight fire, and whatever else a sadistic instructor throws my way. Certainly, the torture chamber keeps my skills sharp. But it also helps me answer that nagging question: As I age, is a high-performance twin still the right plane for me?

The heart of that question has implications far beyond flying: Has my mission changed, and if so, am I still using the best vehicle to accomplish that mission? Not coincidentally, such candid introspection is also vital for anyone with an estate plan.

Let’s face it, crafting a good estate plan is seldom fun. Typically, the process consumes untold hours with legal counsel and other advisors. Spouses may not see eye to eye. Less-than-ideal dynamics involving children and grandchildren may be forced out into the open.

And of course the raison d’être for the entire exercise is the ultimate downer: contemplating your own demise. Little wonder that estate plans are promptly tucked into a file drawer and ignored for a decade or two at a time.

Gradual, unnoticed change, with the passing of time, can render yesterday’s perfect vehicle totally inappropriate to the current mission.

What should prompt you to reevaluate your estate plan? Let’s bypass the obvious possibilities, such as the death of a spouse or a major change in tax laws. Hopefully, all of us will know to review and revise following such a triggering event.

Instead, what should concern us far more are the gradual, unnoticed changes which, with the passing of time, can render yesterday’s perfect vehicle totally inappropriate to the current mission.

Flying a twin-engine aircraft would seem inherently safer than a single, but the odds change drastically if the twin has an engine failure shortly after takeoff. A pilot must then quickly execute several steps, and do so correctly, to avoid disastrous results. My own pre-Orlando nagging question stems from an incident involving a friend of a friend who owned a twin similar to mine for many years. I will surmise from his age that his reaction time had probably slowed over the years. What had once been the ideal plane for his mission was no longer appropriate, a fact that neither he nor his family recognized, or perhaps owned up to, until it was suddenly too late.

So, what might be changing, or has already changed, in your personal mission? If your most recent estate plan was completed in your 50s or 60s, your focus may have been primarily on passing wealth to your children and grandchildren to help them get on a sound financial footing.

Yet soon enough, your children are at the peak of their earning years, and your grandchildren have either proven themselves ambitious or irresponsible. Will the substantial inheritance you plan to leave them be a blessing or a curse? Perhaps targeted lifetime giving makes more sense now, or a greater focus on charitable giving.

For most of us, declining mental acuity as we age will add to the challenge. If your ability to assess your mission and the plan you have in place diminishes, the importance of trusted advisors who know you well and will speak candidly grows exponentially. So, perhaps today would be a good day to dust off and re-read those powerful documents. Finish well. Your legacy depends on it.

This article is intended for informational purposes only and should not be construed as personalized investment advice. Please see your financial professional regarding your specific situation.

Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards Inc. owns the certification marks CFP® and CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ in the United States., which it awards to individuals who successfully complete CFP Board’s initial and ongoing certification requirements.

Savant Capital Management is a registered investment advisor. Please contact Savant to find out if the firm is qualified to provide investment advisory services in the state where you reside. Savant’s marketing material should not be construed by any existing or prospective clients as a guarantee that they will experience a certain level of results if they engage Savant’s services.

This article was originally published in the May–July 2017 issue of Worth.

Retirement Planning

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