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Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I’m 64?

November 28, 2018

By Martha Sullivan, CPA, CVA/ABV, CM&AA, CEPA
Partner, Succession Planning Practice Leader

Martha leads HK’s succession and exit planning services division and is a regular contributor to Wisconsin’s InBusiness digital magazine.

The Beatles recorded “When I’m Sixty-Four” in 1966 when songwriter Paul McCartney was just 24 years old, and old age and retirement were a distant notion. Teenagers of the day sang their lungs out about the quaint image meant for their old man. Those same teenagers would probably sing along if it came on the radio today. However, it would be as more of a personal anthem rather than a wink and nod to mom, dad, or the grandparents. The boomers have aged!

The song, despite its upbeat sound, expresses one of our core fears — the fear of loneliness in our later years. However, in the song, Paul offers up a plan as he invites his beloved to share their older future together. There is a vision of what they will do and whom they will spend their time with. He had a strategy to stave off the loneliness. Rather than loneliness, there’s hope.

It has been proven that our health and vitality are linked to the degree to which we feel engaged and connected versus feelings of loneliness. In Judith Shulevitz’s 2013 article in The New Republic, “The Lethality of Loneliness,” she describes the lonely as “the outsiders: not just the elderly, but also the poor, the bullied, the different.” Differences show up in education (the more educated the better), gender and marital status (married men are the least lonely while unmarried men are the most), and employment status (unsurprisingly, the employed person is less lonely.) A common thread in loneliness is the feeling of being rejected in some manner, which can actually impact the brain in the same way that physical pain does. Further, it may release stress hormones that influence our autoimmune systems. This points to the importance of planning for one’s retirement in a careful and considered way. When we leave the workforce, our social connections change dramatically. The most successful retirees, business owners or not, have built or at least started building relationships outside of the work/business environment well before they transition.

In the recently released Wisconsin State of Owner Readiness Survey, it appears that we owners have decidedly not prepared. We know with certainty that having a plan for transitioning our companies and ourselves is important and valuable (94% agreed), yet 94% also have no written plan for what comes next for themselves personally, 80% have no written plan for transitioning their company, and 43% admit that they have done absolutely no planning at all.

Perhaps you’re in the same camp, but how do you know even where to start? I encourage you to consider taking the following steps:

  1. Commit to performing an objective, structured assessment of your personal, financial, and business readiness to make the transition. Wanting it does not make it so. There are clear markers of readiness for each one of those aspects of your live.
  2. Take the time to consider what you want and don’t want in this next adventurous phase of your life. What lifestyle do you want? What activities and interests will you pursue? Get to the “why” of those wants and desires. You certainly have things that are meaningful to you and would like to accomplish before life’s restrictions slow you down too far.
  3. Encourage your spouse or significant other to do an assessment of his or her own. Compare the results. Talk about it.
  4. Coordinate your aspirations with your financial plan, factoring in an independent valuation of the business. Do your aspirations and reality align? What adjustments are appropriate?
  5. Understand the substantiated strengths and risks associated with your company — as its next owner would look at them. What needs to be done to ensure that a new owner can step in and keep the company running at least as well as it does now? Did the business valuation come in as you had expected? If not, you now have the information and opportunity to improve upon it.
  6. Seek out trusted advisors who can guide you through the process. You’ve never done this before. Find those who have, either themselves individually or as professionals helping their clients.

During the personal discussions, identify the ways in which you can and will replace the social fabric that employment and/or business ownership provides. Further, map out a plan for your next phase — financially as well as personally. Done early enough, ideally when in your 50s, you can exert greater influence over the outcomes, such as pursuing new activities, building new relationships, and establishing a springboard for easing the transition.

In a way, this process gets to the heart of how Paul closes the song:

“Send me a postcard, drop me a line
Stating point of view
Indicate precisely what you mean to say…
Will you still need me
Will you still feed me
When I’m 64?”

And with that, there is hope for a happy ending — if you have prepared.

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