How I Learned to Stop Worrying – Wise Ways to Respond to the Covid-Linked Life Expectancy Decline

How I Learned to Stop Worrying – Wise Ways to Respond to the Covid-Linked Life Expectancy Decline

In the year 2020, the life expectancy of the US population dropped by 1.8 years, measured against 2019.

This decline was the worst for any single year since the Second World War. 

A mighty, terrifying drop, until you pause to think about it.

Over on the PBS News Hour website, there is a quote from Dr. Zinzi Diana Bailey, who is described as a social epidemiologist. To me, the loss of nearly two years in life expectancy is perhaps unexpected in the circumstances of a pandemic. Yet Dr. Bailey voices alarm: “[It] seems limited, but that’s rolling back decades of progress.” 

Warns Bailey, again: “We are going backwards.” I fail to follow the logic underlying her conclusion. We experienced a pandemic, after all – not a mass plague of national self-destructiveness involving volcano crater jumping or the vaping of car exhaust. The colossally deadly virus whirled its global course and we were caught in its tornadic path. Not unexpectedly, life expectancy stats trended down in every land you might be prevented from visiting.

Yet the grim coronavirus in all its variety shall pass. When the next novel spirochete will raise its virulent head, we cannot say. Hopefully, governments and health experts will be better prepared next time – they could hardly be less so.

I don’t like fear mongering, readers, and I hate when public health matters are politicized for self-serving ideological gain. This is just what I’m seeing in commentary on the life expectancy issue. 

Let us not unsettle our equanimity in the festive season – I’ve taken all the torment I can stomach, these last two years. I suggest my usual course: we should take matters into our own hands. What have we learned? And what can we do to be ready for next time?

‘Don’t be shy, don’t be scared – be prepared’, runs the scurrilous song. The pandemic revealed our vulnerability. It was a shock, particularly for young adults, who have grown up in a world of great safety and assurance, whether they know it or not. 

When I was a kid in the 1960s and ‘70s, you didn’t set out on a road trip without your route marked on a paper map. We carried a full-sized spare tire in the trunk with a 20-pound jack – tires blew routinely on hot summer roads. Fan belts and hoses weren’t so reliable either, so you stashed a full set of spares, tools, duct tape and engine coolant in the back. 

Smart Alecs, like my father, guys who’d been through the Depression and War, were ever ready. Dad had a good story, how with Uncle Jim and the wives, they’d driven up from New York in the ’50s, and the car heater blew out in a blizzard. Dad had ratty old wool blankets in back, hot coffee in a thermos, which kept them alive, ran dad’s account of the drama. 

So years ever after, Papa Alec packed water and oatmeal cookies, and the same ratty old blankets, in the trunk of his Oldsmobile. Kids can’t get hungry or cold, and you don’t want them scared, he said. So, be ready.

Life was full of annoyance in those bygone days. All of our stuff was unreliable – toasters, televisions and radios, autos and kids’ monkey bars – even lethal (change a TV tube carelessly, zap!). Stuck by the roadside with no cellphone, you had to wait, hope a tow truck passed by or a state trooper would see you, have mercy, and put in a call for help. 

There’s no romanticizing the old days: we’ve got it good, today. Just as long as we’re healthy and can provide for ourselves and dependents. 

And so we arrive at our first destination: the will. All year long, I’ve presented my case. Forty percent of billionaires do not have a will. They’re doing well: sixty percent of average earners have let the will slide, too. 

Get me, all advice. To prepare for this article, I checked my own will. Un-updated residential address; out of date account information; passwords all garbled. Digital assets – I recently started an online business – not even mentioned (see my post: Avoiding Imperishable Embarrassment – Protecting Your Digital Assets). I am a hairsbreadth more prosperous now than three years ago at my last will review, so I can assign small legacies to deserving parties. I can’t sugarcoat it, friends: my whole plan was a botch – obsolescent. Good thing I was alive to fix it. 

Getting started on making a will is simple. First, value your estate; list all assets, great and small. Personal belongings of emotional value should be catalogued, too. Debts are commonly forgotten, but they survive us and our estates must pay up. Mortgages, credit card balances, and other loans should be clearly recorded with instructions on paying them off.

Second up: decide which of your loved ones gets what, and consider charitable giving. There’s plenty to ruminate, but getting rolling is easy. Lawyers specializing in wills will help assure nothing is missed and notarize the results – that final, unmissable step. Some punters fear the cost, but wills are cheap, particularly for a document so invaluable. 

(For a detailed discourse on wills, I ever recommend this post: For Want of a Will – Prince’s Chaotic Legacy.)

We’ve discussed life insurance this year – it’s one of our favorite things – yet Washington politics and the ‘budget that may never be’ have distracted us lately from delving in depth. To cover this shortfall, take a look at Chance Favors Her Courters: Pandemic Spurs Interest in Life Insurance.

Most people are properly served by term life insurance. The more affluent – and this includes young professionals who aren’t quite there yet, but hopeful – should find permanent life policies an effective long-term shield and investment. Interested parties may wish to examine: Wholly Appealing: The Planning Benefits of Whole Life Insurance for HNW Clients.

In the holiday season, as in our business, traditional ways triumph. As I examine the chestnuts roasting in Cavalier’s blog library, it occurs to me: in 2022, life insurance, wills, estate planning and taxes will remain on the agenda, as always. The unbearable unpredictability of politics and pandemics cannot break eternal rhythms. 

No matter what pundits warn is in store, whatever the gusts and tremors of 2022, you can take smart steps to plant your feet on firm ground. In life insurance, estate planning, investment advisory and law, we’ve been enduring blows for centuries, and are ever ready to help. So with no trepidation or fear, I wish you all a Happy New Year.  

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