How the Wealthy Define a Life Well-lived

If you were to rank what elements are essential to a life well-lived, what would be at the top of your list? Financial security? Leaving a legacy? Family? What about having the financial wherewithal to do good for others? In one of the largest national studies of high net worth individuals with more than $3 million in investable assets, researchers uncovered the wealthy ranked health as the No. 1 element to “a life welllived.”

We caught up recently with U.S. Trust wealth management advisor, William Griffin who says that although many people can identify the No. 1 element to a fulfilling life, such as health, most will say there is at least one area of their lives that needs greater attention to make their life more fulfilling. Can you relate?

Q: According to the study you shared with us, the wealthy believe that the most valuable asset they have is their health, and investing in health is as important as investing to build wealth. Does this statistic surprise you?

A: What we learned from the 2015 U.S. Trust Insights on Wealth and Worth study is that 9 in 10 wealthy individuals are willing to spend more money on their health and, not surprisingly, given the high value placed on it, 31 percent of those over age 70 say they would spend any amount if they could have good health. Unfortunately, despite this willingness to spend substantially on maintaining or restoring health, we find that half have not planned financially for an unexpected or degenerative health issue and that millennials say their wealth comes at the expense of their health.

Q: Can you tell me more about how the generations differ in the way that they approach investing in what matters most to them?

A: Older individuals are more likely to be focused on medical and restorative health measures and they’ll seek the best doctors for their care—no matter where they are located. Younger individuals are more likely to invest in proactive, preventive measures to maintain good health. The millennial generation, in particular, is driving interest in fresh, organic foods and nutrition. Nearly half are interested in hiring a personal chef to prepare it. There is also significant interest among those younger than age 50 to invest in holistic or alternative medicine and there is a growing awareness of mental health among younger groups. Twice as many young people are willing to seek counseling, for example.

Q: So health is extremely important to the wealthy, but what else ranks at the top for a life well-lived?

A: The wealthy are driven by a sense of purpose and desire to succeed, but what makes life fulfilling is not money; it’s what they do with it. Beyond health, family and financial security are essential, but so is strategic philanthropy and investing for social impact. The study found that family clearly represents the greatest source of enjoyment in life and is the motivator for financial success and security. Surprisingly, while three in four wealthy parents say it’s important to leave an inheritance to the next generation, only a small amount agree strongly that their children will be prepared to handle the wealth they receive.

Q: Once someone has identified what is essential to them for a life well-lived, what do you suggest they do to ensure that they move through life fulfilled?

A: A majority of the wealthy seek advice on one technical aspect of planning, such as portfolio performance, tax planning or estate planning. However, only about a third are talking with an advisor about strategies around the goals they consider to be fundamentally more important, like identifying family needs and planning for increased longevity. It’s important that anyone, whether they have $30,000 or $3 million to invest, consult a professional to make sure your money is in greater alignment with the factors you’ve identified to a life well-lived—whether it’s getting and staying healthy or growing, preserving or passing on wealth to your family or making a difference in the world.

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