Lessons from a Career in Planning

My work involves helping people understand what they value, create goals related to those assets, and execute plans for the use of those assets. I’ve approached this kind of planning from a variety of angles. All my jobs have related to planning — investments, insurance, accounting, trusts, and finally practicing law as an estate planning attorney.

Having worked with people for more than 25 years, a lot of that time has been spent helping them make financial plans for their mid-lives (age 45-55) and onward through their retirement years (age 55-70 and beyond).  I’ve learned a few things and I’d like to share those lessons here.

Things or ideas.  When you work in planning, people see what you do as either tangible, where they buy a product, be it an insurance policy, a bank CD, a will, or a trust; or as intangible, where they need your help creating a plan or establishing a system whereby their values are reflected in their activities, expenditures, and the legacy they leave others.

Planning doesn’t belong to any particular group or demographic.  People who want to create a plan that stretches from midlife on throughout their retirement years come from all walks of life, all levels of assets.  They value what they’ve accumulated so far in life, whether it’s experience, careers, or assets — financial or otherwise.

Planning is gender neutral.  Men and women both make plans. Many times, one spouse or the other takes the primary role with running the household finances and managing investments and debts.  Either spouse may do more of the cooking, handle chores, childrearing, or volunteer activities.  Everyone has ideas about what they’d like to do when they’re not working (inside or outside the home), whether that’s weekend, vacation, or retirement plans.

The least effective plans are no plans at all.  Some people think that life simply happens and we can’t really effect outcomes.  I disagree.  Most of the time when I or people I talk with are unhappy with a result, it’s because we didn’t do something in advance of the outcome that might have had a chance of affecting that outcome.  I’m not saying that every plan we make is going to work out just the way we want, but you can be sure you aren’t going to accomplish any specific goal by sitting back and letting life happen.

So-so plans come from a more tangible, retail product frame of mind.  Some people consider the tangible item, the insurance policy, investment, will or trust as a permanent representation of their planning efforts.  Once they go through the process of thinking through all the issues, they simply don’t want to go back there again.  They’re done.  This approach ignores the fact that laws, economies, living circumstances, and even families change.

The best plans are made by people who understand our work together only represents a starting point.  This means we figure out what we want to do based on what we know today and write it down. Then we are fully prepared over time to make changes as circumstances, laws, and people shift and change.  The best plans are based on intangible ideas and use tangible tools to execute those ideas.

 

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