Prince vs. The Barnes Foundation: do you even need a will?

Catherine wheel firework

I’ve found myself quite avoidant to the task of getting a will.

Then again, it’s a question worth asking: Do you really need a will?

Now, I Am Not A Lawyer, as the saying goes, but I do have some thoughts on the matter.

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How (not) getting a will showed me why we don’t think about finances


I’m really enjoying my life right now. More to the point, I certainly don’t have any plans for it to end anytime soon.

But, well, you know, let’s face it, I’ve read the statistics, and one out of every one person dies eventually. Even the Rolling Stones will have to stop touring at some point.

Rolling Stones live

Keep it going guys. Photo courtesy of Zhu

So I’ve been thinking about wills, and putting one in place for myself.

Unfortunately, this is as far as I’ve gotten. For about five years now.

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A Vanguard benefit for those without “elite” status


So Vanguard has “elite” status tiers with extra benefits for those who qualify. The tiers start at $50,000.

But $50,000 is a lot of money to many of you. Me too. And while it’s nothing approaching the roughly $1,000,000 that we’re all going need in order to retire well, the first $50,000 is always the hardest. (This is true for both psychological and mathematical reasons.)

Luckily, for those who despair that they’ll never get to $50,000 anytime soon, fear not: there’s another “elite”-like benefit that Vanguard offers that doesn’t require nearly that much money. Even better, it’s more impressive and relevant than things elite status offers, like “commission-free trades”.

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You can get “elite” status…with Vanguard

Magic carpet ride

I’m an unsophisticated investor, but I consider that a good thing. I’d rather do something simple that has a proven track record, rather than go for big bets that are unproven and even more risky. After all, this is my retirement we’re talking about here.

And Vanguard can be as unsophisticated as it gets.

I’ve extolled the virtues of investing with Vanguard for a long time here. Not only is their account-managing service painless, but what they are most known for, their low-cost mutual funds, are practically as thought-free as it gets. Put money in a fund that tracks an index of companies, and wait for the value to slowly rise over the long-term.

Vanguard as an account management service is not flashy, but that fits my style too.

Vanguard home page

Nothing slick here

They have a detailed listing of all investments held in every account, a reasonable amount of performance charts, and all the fund info you could want.

But did you know that Vanguard has “elite” status, just like an airline? Well, maybe not quite like an airline. There’s no first class cabin to get upgraded to, but it can still be valuable.

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How financial products are like mattresses

Mattress pattern

I wanted to come up with a good analogy of why a fiduciary duty is such an important regulation to have in place in our society.

And it made me think of mattresses.

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The meaning of “fiduciary”, or why others looking out for you is controversial

Stack of papers

A “fiduciary” is a person or organization that is required to act in the best interest of another.

I believe that everyone should be required to act in this way. If I’m going to work with anyone or anything in the financial services industry, I’m not going to do it unless I have assurances that this person or organization is acting in a fiduciary capacity. Wouldn’t you?

Mandating this seems uncontroversial to me.

And yet, it’s apparently very controversial.

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Why there is almost nothing redeeming about Uber

Barbed wire

So okay, maybe I don’t hate taxis so much anymore. I get their place in our society. When your time is worth more than your money, a taxi can make sense.

But while I’ve softened my stance on taxis (even while still feeling a little uncomfortable in them), there has shown up a new “taxi company” in town that is disrupting the industry in a very troubling way.

I refer, of course, to Uber.

So what’s wrong with Uber?

Interestingly, it turns out that the answer is: everything.

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In (surprising) defense of taxis

I’m writing this the night before I take off on a short trip, my first of the new year.

The flight leaves at 7AM. I have Pre-Check (because of NEXUS) so I don’t need to get there all that much in advance. But that still means leaving no later than 5:30AM.

And to get there, I will be taking a taxi. A real taxi.

This feels almost quaint, if not actually subversive.

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Calculate the opportunity cost

Sarasota dawn

Opportunity cost can be defined as “the value of the choice of a best alternative lost while making a decision.

Or, more colloquially, it’s “what you could have done if you had chosen differently.

I’ve talked before that one should consider the opportunity cost. But considering is one thing; how do you calculate the opportunity cost?

I had this put to me in a meeting with someone I was coaching. (Don’t worry, I got her permission before posting here!)

The question concerned an upcoming trip, with a cost of $300. The prospect of warm weather, from the vantage point of a city blanketed by snow, was compelling.

But what would she be giving up by doing this flight of as-it-were fancy?

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How my 1990 Geo Prizm helped me buy a home

Junk car

Small moves today can create big possibilities tomorrow.

In the same way, small moves years ago create big possibilities today.

I’ve certainly seen this in my own life.

The story starts, rather improbably, with a two hour wait on a train platform in the middle of the night.

And leads, also improbably, with the keys to my home.

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