My father passed away three years ago.
That realization still sneaks up on me (and maybe smacks me on the back of the head) every time I clean out a file box or organize the family photos.
Another way to deal with grief is talking about it. This month I’ve shared my lessons learned in a very short video interview. Carefull is releasing the entire series of interviews from over a dozen of us caregivers at the “Stories” section of their site.
Dad retired from electrical engineering at age 53 and enjoyed 21 years of financial independence before he noticed signs of what he called his “slipping memory.” He lived independently in Grand Junction for another three years and then (after a medical emergency) moved into a Denver-area care facility for six more years.
I was already financially independent and retired before Dad noticed his symptoms, and I have him to thank for jumpstarting my FI plans. In the early 1990s, my spouse and I had just started our family and we were unhappy with our work/life balance. Dad was one of the first people to help me realize that we could reach FI on our military pay and our high savings rate. I’ve dedicated “The Military Guide” to him.
Between 1987 and 2008 Dad lived in a small apartment and spent several days a week hiking the local trails. He enjoyed traveling through the Rocky Mountains for weeks at a time, camping and hiking and fishing. Even in his 70s he was scampering over 30 miles per week at higher elevations. Today we’d call Dad’s years of outdoor lifestyle “leanFI.” He had a small 401(k) and a long-term care insurance policy, but he intentionally lived within his Social Security payments. He had far more money than he needed, and my brother and I wish he’d enjoyed his FI years a little more extravagantly. He didn’t like to talk about it: “I’m fine, boys.”
More importantly, I wish he had set up a better estate plan and shared more of his financial information with his family. (He didn’t realize that we’d be his future caregivers). It took us months of crisis management to figure out everything. My brother and I pulled together to help, and I can only imagine how much more difficult our lives would have been if our family relationship had turned adversarial. We’re grateful that we had the time and personal bandwidth to step up.
The irony is that during the early years of Dad’s FI, he was taking care of his father’s finances. My grandfather had developed dementia and, when Grandma suddenly passed away from a stroke, he was no longer able to take care of his affairs. Grandpa neglected his routine financial chores for nearly four years (and the bills piled up) before a property manager called Dad. He spent years untangling unpaid bills and filing delinquent income-tax returns and searching for missing assets.
Dad kept largely to himself. He didn’t get to know his granddaughter as well as he could have, and they never shared family life as adults. I’m not repeating that mistake with my granddaughter.
A family history of Alzheimer’s is a vulnerability, not always your destiny. There are people with susceptible genomes who never develop dementia. Researchers are learning more about the solutions but we already know about eating right, exercising, and getting good sleep.
That family history is just one more memento mori telling me what we’ve known for millennia: tempus fugit and carpe diem.
I’m very glad that I have the financial independence to live my best life for as long as I can, no matter what risk factors I have.
I’ve written extensively on the blog about taking care of Dad’s finances, and I also discussed it with Cameron Huddleston in her book “Mom And Dad, We Need To Talk.”
You can learn more from the videos of a dozen other financial caregivers– adult daughters, sons, and grandchildren– at Carefull’s YouTube channel.
Take a look at the company’s financial tool and consider how much time the app would save you each month.
Your call to action
Financial independence is more than just piling up the savings and investments. It’s your chance to design your new life– and your plan has to consider your mortality.
You might have less time than you think. Here’s your chance to learn from our family’s mistakes.
What will your FI look like? Are you saving and investing, or has your lifestyle defaulted to “Work until you can’t”…?
Have you figured out those awkward conversations with your elders, and have they shared what you need to know about their finances?
Could you help them out if they have a health crisis, or even step up if they need more care?
Have you had those hard conversations with your own family? Could your loved ones take over for you if you’re suddenly disabled?
Military families know how to deal with adversity. You know how to make plans and deal with life’s surprises. You adapt to your new circumstances and make new plans. You’ve also learned to take care of people and you know how to handle problems.
Here’s your chance to use your skills to take care of your life and your family.
Please watch the videos, reflect on how these events could affect your family, and make a plan.
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In Memoriam: My Father