Updated on 05.14.07

What Would You Do With Your Money If You Had Only One Year To Live?

Trent Hamm

Ahh!I came across this article at Grad Money Matters recently and it got me thinking about the question on several levels.

First, what would I do with my money in that situation? This was the aspect that Grad Money focused on. For me, I’d do everything I could to set things up so that my son and daughter would have every opportunity that life afforded them, and then I’d spend the year with both of them and with my wife, doing as much as I could to enjoy every second with them. My son might be old enough that he could hold onto a fragmented memory or two of me as he grew older, and that would be enough for me.

That’s nice and pleasant and everything, but why is the question important at all? That’s where things get interesting…

First, the answer to that question indicates what you really value in your every day life. For me, it’s clearly my family – nothing else comes close than the joy I have just having a conversation with my wife or rolling a ball back and forth with my son or writing in my daughter-to-be’s baby book or reading a book to my son or making dinner for my family. Those are my key values in life – those are the things I really love more than anything else.

From there, those values indicate what I should be doing with my money. What can I do with my money to make those things that I value as good as possible? Right now, we’re shopping for a house with the idea of family above all – for me, this means a big family room, a good-sized kitchen, and several bedrooms. I’m putting money into a 529 for my son and have filed the paperwork to open one for my daughter four months before she is born.

My savings and financial planning also revolve around this idea. The emotional and material needs of my son are very simple right now, but they won’t always be that way, so for now I am socking away a tremendous amount of money so that when he grows older, we have the money to be able to support great opportunities for him. For example, I’m going to encourage him to spend a year or two out of school doing something that’s either about self-exploration or a volunteer project of some sort, and I hope to be able to fully support the endeavor (of course, when he goes to college, that’s a different story).

It also indicates how I should be handling my estate planning. My wife is a stable, functional person, and we’ve discussed what would happen if I were to suddenly pass away, or if we both were to go away. We carefully selected guardians for our children and have the mechanisms for a trust in place for our son – and we’ll alter things to put a trust in place for our daughter, too, when she is born.

I encourage you to spend some time today really thinking about the answer to that question in your own life, and then see whether or not the answer to that question can point you in some directions for your own financial planning.

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  1. PT says:

    Thanks for the reminder! Great post.

  2. ispf says:

    “That’s nice and pleasant and everything, but why is the question important at all? That’s where things get interesting…”

    Trent, Good point! I think it depends a lot on *who* you ask the question to. For instance, the better half and I don’t have kids – so when we asked ourselves this question, it really wasn’t that important and we immediately blew it off making grand plans for travel to exotic places :) There are some comments on my blog from people who I think are in a similar situation as us – they made some nice witty comments too and moved on.

    However, when the question was posed to you (ie, when you read the question), you immediately thought about your family and kids. Because of where you are in life, there is a lot more weighing in on this question for you. And suddenly things are not that funny anymore!

    Thanks for picking up on this and pointing a more serious side of the issue! I really enjoyed reading your post!

  3. Dy says:

    It’s funny when you put things into perspective. I was fighting with my wife before this about something that had happened earlier this morning. Thanks for the reminder.

  4. Laura says:

    You sound like a really great dad, and that is one of the things that makes me really like this blog.

  5. plonkee says:

    I also read this post, and like its author ispf, I immediately decided that I would travel.

    But, to me that is still the more serious side. I’ve known for ages that one of the things that I really enjoy doing is travelling, and I work (at a job I enjoy) so that I can travel. Part of the point of my existence seems to me to see as much of and learn as much about the world as possible.

    Trent is right, this does indicate what I should be doing with my money – its that just for me these are travelling and learning and not family.

  6. Lior Haner says:

    First, I would also take care of my next of kin (This post actually helped me make some decisions). Saying that, I think I would continue normally but I would take more financial risk with my investment funds. Besides that, I will probably also travel as much as possible. Maybe to one of these places: http://yedda.com/questions/9510571917851/

  7. ck_dex says:

    Double emphasis on the estate planning. Anyone who has spent years as an executor for someone who did not attend to planning will appreciate this.

  8. anon says:

    you can also vary the timescale to test your values and priorities. For example, what would you do if you had only

    – 3 days,
    – 3 months,
    – 3 years

    to live?

    It helps to reframe the question.

  9. Rich Minx says:

    It’s also worth asking the same question every few years or so – you find your answer changes as your priorities change.

  10. Michael Moulton says:

    Whatever your situation, don’t run out and spend it all. There was a story recently about a British man who was told by the doctors that he had cancer and less than a year to live. He quit his job, dug into his savings to enjoy lavish meals with family and friends, and spend time with his significant other. He took vacations, donated clothes to charity because he would no longer need them, etc.

    A year later, it turns out the doctors were wrong and he NEVER HAD CANCER. Now he’s virtually bankrupt because of a false diagnosis.

    Not having a wife or kids, I would certainly be tempted to do what he did– go out and spend it and enjoy the last year of my life as much as possible. But what if something like that happens?

  11. wise owl says:

    In reference to the last post. Did the British man really loose his self? I think that if you give him about ten years he will tell you that it turned out well.

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