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One Life to Live

Sundar Mohan Rao

DURING A GATHERING of retired friends, the topic of wills came up. Many had completed their wills and had their finances in order, while others were working on updating their wills. But there were several who hadn’t even started thinking about it. One of them said, “As a retiree, I’m just starting to enjoy my freedom and have some fun. It’s too stressful to think about death. I’ll get to it someday.”

As you might imagine, prioritizing tasks in retirement is a challenge. During your working years, your boss kept you on your toes. In retirement, there’s no such pressure, unless it comes from you or your family. Things can be put off for days, weeks or even longer.

Life has a way of forcing us to make quick decisions. I saw a friend get a life-changing medical diagnosis. He was given 18 months to live, leaving him scrambling to get his finances in order.

I’d hate to be faced with that sort of stress. How do we get ourselves to take action on important matters once we’re retired? Here’s a thought experiment that helped me: Imagine you’re in your doctor’s office and you’re told you have only five months or, alternatively, five years to live. What would you do?

Five months to live: You must focus on the things most important to you. In all likelihood, organizing financial records, updating wills and spending time with loved ones would take priority.

Five years to live: You might have time to do something meaningful. But again, you need to focus on your priorities with a sense of urgency.

This exercise, I found, brings life into sharp focus. It helped me clarify the most important things to do—and I’m now focusing on those things.

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