How Much Time Is Left on Your Tape Measure?

How long do you expect to live?

It’s a big question and many of us don’t like to think about it, but it’s an important question. In 2020, the average life expectancy for a man in the United States was 77.8 years. The average life expectancy for a woman was 80.5 years.

To put your own life into perspective, I want you to try this exercise. Find a tape measure that is at least 8 feet long, or around 100 inches. With the tape measure rolled out, put one finger on your current age, then put another finger on the average life expectancy. How far is it?

This exercise gives you a perspective of just how much life you have already lived. But I want you to focus on those last 3 to 8 inches. These last few inches fall into the phase of retirement we call the “no-go.”

The no-go phase represents the last several years of your time on earth. Your days of travel are behind you. No more jet-setting. Instead, you’re spending more time at home, going to church, going shopping here and there, and doing what you can to take care of yourself. It’s about staying comfortable.

But as people plan for the no-go phase of retirement, they often overlook one critical part of the plan — end-of-life costs. I’m talking about things like funeral arrangements, burial plots, and even planning for the funeral itself. Many people don’t like to talk about this part of life, but it is still a part of life, and we have the opportunity to plan not only for ourselves, but for our families.

I’ve been blessed to be in a place to see our clients’ many life events — many of them good, many of them bad. I’ve seen them go through marriages, births, divorces, deaths, and so much more. But these things are just a part of life — good and bad. We all experience many of these things. I could list off everything that has defined my life.

My own mother, at 93, is 100% in the no-go phase of retirement.

If you asked her, she’d tell you she’s ready to go. She too has gone through all of life’s events — she’s even survived three husbands (and she’s working on her fourth)!

One thing I’ve mentioned in the past is that my mom wrote letters to me and my siblings. These letters were to be given to us on her death. The letters recount memories from our childhood to the accomplishments she’s most proud of in our adult lives.

I have survived two of my siblings. At their funerals, we read the letters my mom had written for them. All I can say is that when I receive mine, it will be the greatest thing I inherit from my mom and I will treasure it for the remainder of my own life. But these letters served as one part of my mom’s end-of-life planning.

Similarly, a few years ago, I asked my wife what she wanted to do for our wedding anniversary. Her answer was to complete our end-of-life arrangements. As part of the planning, we bought a headstone and had it engraved (we actually bought a used headstone, but that’s a story for another time!). We also found our plot and took care of the necessary paperwork.

We then talked about burial arrangements. I plan to be cremated, my wife does not. I also plan to go first between the two of us. After I’m cremated, my urn is to be placed into my wife’s casket. Then, we will be together for eternity — in body and spirit.

The planning doesn’t end there. I also have every detail of my funeral planned out from the music to the food. Yes, I have my playlist ready to go! While guests attend the event, I want them to enjoy sushi and pasta. And, even though I’m allergic to alcohol, I’ve planned for a full-service bar.

I want my family and friends to enjoy the occasion. Yes, funerals and wakes are a time of grief, but no one said you can’t grieve and have fun at the same time. We treat them as opposite feelings that shouldn’t exist together, but it’s okay to experience both within the same moment.

Again, pull out the tape measure and look at the timeline of your life. How do you want your family and friends to celebrate you? What songs do you want on your playlist? If you aren’t sure where to begin with this conversation, call us and let’s talk about end-of-life planning. Get those costs out of the way and put your wishes into writing — and give your family peace of mind as they enter the next chapter of their lives as they celebrate yours.

–Gary Mattson