Celebrations this New Year were overshadowed by the death of beloved actress Betty White at age 99. Social media was flooded with images of White being greeted at the gates of heaven by the other “Golden Girls” and cast members of the “Mary Tyler Moore Show ,” and the many dogs she rescued.
Last week, we also lost a big-screen icon, Sidney Poitier. He was not just an Academy Award-winning actor; he was an ambassador, director, Presidential Medal of Freedom winner, British knight, novelist, and Grammy winner. He passed away at age 94 on Jan. 6 in his Beverly Hills home, where he was cared for by his wife of 45 years. His five daughters, grandchildren and great-grandchildren were by his side.
Ideally, many of us aspire to stay active and healthy as long as possible, live comfortably into our 90s or even 100s, and then die from natural causes while surrounded by loved ones. Unfortunately, for the famous and us not-so-famous, this isn’t often the case.
For the past couple of weeks, our column has discussed celebrities and, most notably, the common mistakes that stars make, especially with their finances. Many celebrities are great role models of how to live well into old age. James Earl Jones and Rita Moreno recently became nonagenarians. They join celebrities Mel Brooks, Harry Belafonte and Angela Lansbury, all in their mid-nineties.
What can we learn from active, senior celebrities, especially regarding their finances?
Most successful celebrities learn one lesson early on: Value time and hire agents to promote careers and financial professionals to manage the money. Before hiring professionals, some celebrity clients had friends or family members who mismanaged their finances and almost ruined them financially.
CPA firms specializing in celebrity and high net worth clients refer to themselves as “business management” firms. I trained to be a CPA at reputable business management firms, and many clients were happy to share life advice.
A story last week about White reminded me that many of our clients who were “household names” had long, close relationships with their management team. In interviews, Ella’s White’s agent claimed he played gin rummy with her during the last few weeks of her life. You could tell she had people she trusted who cared about her and took care of her. I think as we get older, we all need that as well.
Work past retirement age. Many on our list of nonagenarians have continued to work past retirement age. They write memoirs, make guest appearances, and work behind the camera. William Shatner, 90, just went to space. Tony Bennett, 95, performed his last concert this past August while battling Alzheimer’s.
Stay married if you can. It may have taken them a few times to find the right person, but most of the senior celebrities mentioned here have been married for many years. Remember Johnny Carson? Divorces are expensive and stressful.
Buy a comfortable home. One of my clients wanted to sell me his small Brentwood cottage many years ago for $475,000. Today it’s worth well over $2 million. (Maybe I should have listened to him.) Most of our celebrity seniors bought homes in the LA area close to the studios early in their careers. Because they purchased in desirable locations, sometimes their homes were their best investment.
Put some of what you make aside. Another surprising lesson is that many older celebrities do not feel the need to spend all they have, even if they are very wealthy. White had an estimated net worth of $75 million when she died, and Poitier was worth $20 million. Jay Leno, a relative youngster at 71, says he kept his childhood habit of having two jobs, and he spends the income from one and invests income from the other.
Support causes that matter to you. According to Look to the Stars, a celebrity charitable news website, Dick Van Dyke, 96, has volunteered at Los Angeles’ Midnight Mission for over 20 years. The site lists many senior celebrity philanthropists who created foundations and used charitable gift planning techniques to maximize donations and minimize taxes. For example, Quincy Jones, 88, gives 23 charities that support the arts, children, and medical research.
Stay positive. If we live long enough, we will experience health challenges and losses. Poitier revealed in a Vanity Fair article in 2007 that one of the “happiest” moments of his life was when he beat prostate cancer. On the loss of the love of her life for her, Allen Ludden, White said, “You ca n’t be a professional mourner. It doesn’t help you or others. Replay the good times. Be grateful for the years you had.”
Yes, be grateful for what you have. While many celebrities might not share details of their finances with the public, it seems that many of them are open to giving home tours, and what you notice is that they do not show off the grandness of their homes but, instead are proud of the souvenirs, pictures, and awards.
As Barbara Eden, 90, said as she shared her genie collectibles, “I’m really lucky. I have dear friends. I have a wonderful family, a very supportive husband, a dog who is adorable, but a brat! Yes, I’m very happy. I think life, everything, has to work itself out. There’s a reason for most things, and I can’t wish for it.”
We can learn some practical life lessons from seniors on the screen and in our lives. My favorite post about White was that if you die at 99 and people say you’re gone too soon, you have lived your life right!
Michelle C. Herting specializes in estate, trust and gift taxes, and business valuations. She has three offices in Southern California and is president of the Charitable Gift Planners of Inland Southern California.