What is true independence from an individual perspective? Being independent can mean different things to different people at different points in their life. When I was young, leaving home and joining the Navy was my version of rebellion and independence. I was on my own, bald from bootcamp but skinny, fit and ready to take on the world. I got 3 squares a day and I had my own place to stay. I was young and independent.
As I aged, I got married, bought a house, had children (not necessarily in that order), graduated from law school and started my career as a young attorney. Scared to death, in debt, but ready to take on the world, I was independent.
As I aged, I had more children, paid off some debt, incurred much more, started my own business, incurred much more debt, and set off as proud and headstrong as ever to conquer the world and take care of my family. I was independent.
As I aged, Stef and I continued to have kids, work hard, help people with our business which we now called McIntyre Elder Law, incurred much, much more debt, grew the business, bought another house and sent our oldest son to college. Sending my son to college is probably one of my proudest moments and I was amazed I could afford it. So far, so good. I am independent… Or am I?
I am a slave to debt. As much as I strive to pay it off, another need for debt rears its ugly head. College, cars, a home, all require debt for me and most everyone else in the world. Does that make me truly independent? No, it doesn’t. It makes me beholden. It exerts a certain amount of stress over my everyday existence; a debt cloud, so to speak, that follows me around. It affects me. To be free, to be truly free and independent, I know, would require some tough decision making. It would require me to pay off everything. It would require me to stop using debt leverage to buy things. There is a school of financial thought that glorifies debt as leverage to be used to acquire assets we could otherwise not afford. Obviously, most of us subscribe to that school. Can a person achieve wealth, assets, raise a family without using large amounts of debt? That is a question I have been asking myself lately. Oddly enough, I have also been reading the biography of Warren Buffet who abhorred debt. He has only been the richest man on the planet in the past so yes, it is possible. Although, I’ll note that Warren was extremely talented in a bizarre, financial genius from Omaha sort of way.
I find myself thinking about debt, taxes and other anchors that weigh down me and weigh down my clients as I peruse their assets and dispense legal advice concerning their estate and estate plans. Sometimes I just simply want to comment frankly on these things.
“Dump the debt”, I want to say.
“You are in retirement; you don’t need that mortgage. Pay it off and enjoy the additional income each month.” I think.
“Liquidate that IRA and protect the money in a trust. You may get taxed to death in coming years on the income you pull out. That IRA is totally unprotected and the coming long-term care costs you might pay is going to take it all!” my mind screams.
But alas, we are mostly all in the same boat. The only thing that sets us apart are our decisions; our decisions over time. Will I be independent as I continue to age? Will I find the tax free and debt free life I so long for? Perhaps. Sometimes we just need to look in the mirror and take our own advice. Sometimes the tough decisions are the right decisions. Most of the time they are. In fact, there is a voice inside of me, of all of us, that knows the right answer and always has. The problem is we sometimes ignore that voice or remember its whispers after it is too late. I am not waiting until it is too late. I am taking steps to pay down debt, to put myself in a better tax position and to protect my hard-earned money and property for myself and my family for years to come. The meaning of what independence truly means has changed for me over the years as I am sure it has for you. Let me know if we can sit down and discuss your independence together. Whether it be taking control of decision making with powers of attorney or getting the peace of mind that comes with finally completing your will, I can help you with these things. Maybe it is talking through reallocating assets to be more debt free, independent and protect assets with a trust. Whatever the conversation I enjoy working with my clients and friends. Call me today: 704-749-9244 or book your free conversation today at mcelderlaw.com/bookfreeconsult.
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Greg McIntyre Elder Law Attorney
Elder Law Attorney