You do not have to be a Baby Boomer to benefit from reading Daniel P. Hazewski’s book Exit Right: Avoiding Detours and Roadblocks Along the Baby Boomer Highway. Hazewski uses his years of experience as a financial advisor to write this book. It is not solely about finances, though every topic is affected by money. Hazewski covers an array of topics such as living wills and advanced directives, long term care, Medicaid, beneficiaries and trusts. His style is comfortable, consistent and accessible. The chapters begin with an applicable quote and a brief vignette from the life of a particular client, a composite put together from Hazewski’s work as an advisor. These sections offer a preview of and provide a human face for the chapter content. Hazewski expands that personalized image to the topic of the chapter, occasionally adding details about what occurred prior to the scene or afterward. He adds commentary and discussion points, closing each chapter with clearly delineated lessons or take-aways for the reader.
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“I wish I had a crystal ball. Not to predict the stock market or which horse will come in first at the racetrack, but to better help my clients decide when it is time to make a change in their lives. Despite what the financial planning profession may profess, it is not a science, at least not in the sense that one can assemble facts, evaluate alternatives and reach identifiable conclusions.”
The underlying theme of the book is planning. Hazewski brings light to topics people often think they previously have taken care of or do not want to address. Through his scenarios as well as his discussions, Hazewski points out the wide variety of issues that can surface as people age and the diversity of unplanned events that can alter and affect even the most carefully laid plans. With the ongoing and expanding retirement of the Baby Boomer generation, these issues are being faced by significant numbers of the population. Exit Right: Avoiding Detours and Roadblocks Along the Baby Boomer Highway provides clear information and general advice written in everyday language. It is a good read for anyone ready to plan for their future life and inevitable death.
Interview of author Daniel Hazewski
Q: What’s the story behind your book, Exit Right: Avoiding Detours and Roadblocks on the Baby Boomer Highway?
A: I have been a financial planner for thirty years. Like me, my practice and clients have aged. I’ve seen a lot and there are two things that stick out for me. First, we pay far too much attention to money and investment, concentrating on performance, something we can’t control, and second, we don’t we don’t pay enough attention to where we are in our life cycle.
Baby boomers refuse to grow old. At least we refuse to recognize our aging. While that is great psychologically and certainly stirs the economy, it often leads to major problems in our planning. Despite our best efforts, we are aging. The choices we made as younger men and women are not necessarily the right ones for an aging population. How we own things is now more important than what we own. How we have communicated, whether through our legal documents or verbally to our families, is often the difference between calm and crisis.
Exit Right is about the things no one wants to talk about. It is not about dying. It is about learning from the mistakes of others. It points out areas and issues that we will encounter, whether for ourselves or another, and provides us a foundation to help with our decision making.
Q: What was the trigger that started you writing your book?
A: I could say it was back in 1991 when I realized that we lived in a system that forced poverty on nursing home “widows.” Typically, the spouse in the nursing home was fine financially. It was the one left to fend for themselves in the community that struggled to pay the bills and feed the family. I could say it, but that’s not it. That awakening drove me to learn all I could about the reality of bad things happening to good people, things completely out of their control. I concentrated on understanding the more difficult parts of planning. I learned about the technical things, how to keep most of what you have regardless of your health and about things that may jump up and bite us purely because we didn’t see them.
The trigger to starting writing was when I had to use this knowledge for my own family. Nothing brings you down to earth as quickly as having to do something for yourself. I quickly understood that despite all of my training and despite my associations with professional organizations and peers, this was very hard! Where do you turn to get your feet on the ground? Exit Right is my answer as to where to start.
Q: What’s the story behind the title?
A: I love the title! It is such a great play on words. It came from seeing life as a journey. Where we are going, I can’t say. I just know that eventually we reach the end, some of us sooner than others. As we travel this road we make choices. They are the decisions we make about the things we encounter along the road. We can continue down the highway, or if we know there is trouble ahead chose to take a turn, an exit, to avoid the problem. Knowing what is ahead, we may be able to keep the ride smooth and comfortable. If we make enough good decisions we may, in fact, Exit Right!
Q: Are there any other topics you considered putting in?
A: The hard part about writing Exit Right was limiting the number of topics. I actually began writing this book with a list. In the beginning it was a simple list. It consisted of names and situations. The common bond was that they all happened, and were the result of something that occurred due to aging. Whether it was the effect of dementia or declining health, some decision was made or something was ignored, and that resulted in crisis.
There are 75 million baby boomers living longer than ever before. Medical technology is prolonging life even when it is not wanted. We are spending enormous parts of our health dollars on the shortest part of life, the very end. I see Exit Right as only touching the very beginning of numerous topics – ethical, legal, emotional and physical. I also know that if you really want someone to understand, you need to keep it simple. I feel I have done this in Exit Right.
Q: If you did consider putting in other topics, what were they? Why weren’t they included?
A: It would have been easy to make this book about traditional financial planning, money and investments. In fact, one of the obstacles I had to overcome locally is that people who know me assume that this is what the book is about. I honestly believe that traditional financial planning often misses the most important things. Life is about more than your rate of return or the tax consequences of an action. The important things are people and how you will provide for them during and after your life.
I wanted to tell the reader about things they didn’t know. I did not want Exit Right to be just another retirement planning book. I wanted to point out pitfalls to avoid on our road of life. There are numerous books available to tell you how to succeed in retirement. Mostly they discuss investment and distribution planning, how to not outlive your money. Few of them discuss the realities of aging. Without a doubt, our health, dying too soon or living too long is the most significant financial risk we face.
Q: Are there any topics you would add today if you had the chance?
A: Sure. This field of elder law, elder planning, planning for the rest of our lives, whatever we may call, is enormous and growing every day. Exit Right has led me to examine end of life issues more closely. The ethical factors alone are fascinating but clearly too complicated for a short endeavor like Exit Right.
Q: If you would add topics, what are they? Why would you add them now?
A: I would add a discussion about the use of technology in our legal documents. Much of Exit Right is about communication. How do you convey your wishes to your loved ones? How do they interpret the intent of what you have written? I have attended several forums where the idea of using videos in conjunction with or replacing legal documents was discussed.
The whole area of final wishes is extremely difficult and emotional, often causing disagreements in families. Imagine mom talking to you in a video about decisions she would make about keeping her alive or allowing her to die. It could certainly bring calm to a difficult situation. The same could apply to all of her other legal documents. The clearer we understand her wishes, the better we will all be.
Q: How many of your clients listen to the advice you give on these topics?
A: If you practice long enough you get to actually experience a lot of things, both good and bad. Some of the most rewarding times of my career have been in the worst of times. When things have gone wrong, usually unexpectedly in a client’s life, I have been grateful that the things we have done together are the way they were supposed to be. While I can’t stop the hurt, I can help the recovery. I have been able to tell the client not to worry, that their affairs are in order and we are there to help.
I have to say I think most of our clients have taken our advice very seriously. It is always the first part of any discussion, review or meeting we have. As I said earlier, for me, it is the most important part of planning.
Q: Your chapter format is simple and straight–forward. Why is it set up this way?
A: The work I do is very complex and consists of many intertwined disciplines. A true professional will make it seem simple. That’s my job. In writing Exit Right I understood that for it to be of any use, the reader must understand what they are reading. The idea is not to impress anyone with my knowledge. It is to allow the reader to learn by breaking down the many complex concepts in Exit Right into small pieces. Nothing I write will do anyone any good if it can’t be applied by the reader to themselves.
Q: What’s the purpose of the comment and discussion sections?
A: I can’t tell you how boring most of the material I have had to read over my career has been. Much of what I write about involves legal issues and taxation. Often these concepts are at odds with each other and the reader must find his way through the maze. What is important, what actually applies to the situation, will vary from person to person. I hoped to make Exit Right more like a classroom experience. The short vignette at the beginning sets up a topic. The comment introduces the topic or issue to be discussed, and the discussion provides some basic education. The final pieces are the lessons which are bullet points the reader can take away and use for themselves.
Q: How would you like to see your book being used/read?
A: I would like to see the book used in two ways; first, by the reader to help them identify areas that may need some attention, and second, provided by professional planners to their clients as a simple educational tool.
I suspect that most people reading Exit Right will find some topics that are important to them, whether for themselves or for an aging parent. Hopefully this will motivate them to take action of some type, preferably using a professional. I also suspect that needed planning sometimes doesn’t happen just because it becomes too confusing. If I accomplished my goal, Exit Right will have made some of those complicated issues easier to understand.
A neighbor of mine recently went through the trauma of having to relocate her ailing mother. After reading the book she told me she thought I had written it just for her. While there would not be a happy ending to her story, hopefully I helped that family Exit Right!
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