Friday, March 19, 1999

A Foolish Requiem

by Lydia Vorsteveld

I had a humbling experience in front of my computer the other night. I was mindlessly tapping in responses to my estate planning software's endless questions when suddenly I came face-to-face with my own mortality. I hit the enter key and like a glowing oracle, my computer screen displayed in business-like black letters on a conservative blue ground: "Life Expectancy: 91 years." I gave pause.

Taking my hand off my mouse I stared out past my monitor. My first thoughts were about my children. I thought about how it was a privilege to raise them, though sometimes it seemed like an endless march of dirty diapers, skinned knees, and sibling rivalries. But from the perspective of 91 years, the hours of child-rearing looked more like just one chapter of a long book rather than the story of my life. Having young children for twelve years was a mere 13% of my lifetime.

Next my thoughts turned to my investments. Although I'd invested in good long-term companies, some days impatience would take over. Stock prices moved up then down. "Where's this market going?" I'd wonder. Then I thought, what's one day if you're going to live through 33,238 of them? What's one bad week on Wall Street if you're going to buy and hold for 4,732 weeks? I'd have lots of time to ride out the market's short-term gyrations. In fact, after thirty years I would have almost another thirty years to enjoy the benefits of an historical average annual return of 11% in stocks. I could enjoy all that compounding so much that I'd eliminate the need for estate planning! But then, I remembered the children.

I fast forwarded to my intergalactic funeral, somewhere in the Milky Way in the 2060s. I gave myself a few extra years for unforeseen biotech/medical advancements with accompanying stock growth (hopefully by Amgen). I could just hear one of my great-grandchildren sweetly eulogizing me, "We're all going to miss
great grandma-ma. She surely was quite a person. She was kind and generous, independent and sassy, and thank goodness, she was a Fool."

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