The lady who outlived her lawyer
During our client advisory board meeting this week, I shared the story of Jeanne Calment who lived in Southern France and died on the 4th August 1997 at the age of 122 years 164 days old. Madam Calment had the longest confirmed human lifespan on record.
To put her life in context, Jeanne Calment was born a decade after President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated.
She met Vincent van Gogh as a girl, when he visited her father’s art supplies store. She later remembered him as a “dirty, badly dressed and disagreeable” man.
Calment was in incredible health throughout her life. She took up fencing at age 85 and continued to ride her bike until her 100th birthday.
Jeanne lived independently until her 110th birthday when she moved to a nursing home after starting a small fire in her house in a cooking accident.
Whilst still in good shape, she unfortunately fractured her femur during fall shortly before her 115th birthday.
And of course she was a smoker throughout her life; only 2 cigarettes a day from age 21, but she didn’t inhale. She credited her exceptional longevity to a diet rich in olive oil and eating nearly a kilogram of chocolate each week.
As Financial Planners, we are particularly interested in something Jeanne Calment did back in 1965.
At 90 years old, with no living heirs, Jeanne signed a contract to sell her apartment to lawyer André-François Raffray.
She used a contingency contract, which is very common in France. This meant she could live in apartment for the rest of her life, while her lawyer agreed to pay a monthly sum of 2,500 francs, about £330 a month, until she died.
You can probably guess what happened next! Raffray, our savvy property lawyer, ended up paying Madam Calment a total of 918,000 francs, more than double the value of the value of the apartment.
The lawyer actually died age 77 in 1995, when Madam Calment was 120 years old, and his family continued making the payments until she died nearly three years’ later. Her only comment on the situation? “In life, one sometimes makes bad deals.”
Madam Calment was exceptional, but she might not be in the future.
One in three babies born today in the UK are expected to celebrate their 100th birthday.
Life expectancy at birth has improved dramatically over the past century. By 1900, life expectancy was about 47 for a man and about 50 for a woman. These were of course averages and averages can hide a wide range of outcomes. In 1900, death in childhood was still very common and this had a big impact on average life expectancy.
But as of today, according to the latest data set from the Office for National Statistics, a newborn baby boy could expect to live 79.1 years and a newborn baby girl 82.8 years. Life expectancy at birth has increased by 13.1 weeks per year on average since 1980 for males and 9.5 weeks per year on average for females.
Why are we all living for longer? There are lots of reasons including improvements in public health, nutrition and medicine. Vaccinations and antibiotics greatly reduced deaths in childhood, health and safety in manual workplaces improved and fewer people smoked.
However, rising life expectancy combined with a falling fertility rate means we have an ageing population.
Our ageing population is one of the most important trends of the 21st century, known as a mega-trend. It’s going to pose all sorts of challenges for society, but also opportunities for businesses and policy makers to make a real difference.
So, what does an ageing population look like in practice?
Right now, there are 11.4 million people age 65 or over in the UK. There are now more over 60s in the UK than under 18s.
People aged 85 and over now represent the fastest growing segment of the UK population.
We’re living longer but not necessarily healthier lives. 69% of people age 75+ have a long-standing illness. 85 years old is typical age of people going into care.
£700 per week is the average cost of private residential care, although it’s much more here in Surrey, up to £1,600 per week for better quality care homes in the area.
There are however several things you can do to address this mega-trend of rising life expectancy
1 – Make a Lasting Power of Attorney.
Appoint an attorney, someone you trust, to make important decisions about your property and financial affairs, health and welfare, in the event you lose mental capacity in the future. Alternatively if the Court of Protection appoints a deputy on your behalf, this can be a slow process, more expensive and you lack choice.
2 – Talk to your family.
Living longer means spending more during your lifetime, with less potential for inheritance.
Tell the kids about this early to set reasonable expectations!
Also have open conversations about your preference for care in later life; in your own home, in a nursing home?
And we need to talk about death too. Share your end of life wishes and plan a good death.
3 – Take steps to stay fit and healthy.
As I mentioned earlier, we’re living longer lives, not necessarily healthier lives.
Exercise is important here; it protects the body and the brain. Regular exercise is a good way to prevent the onset of dementia because the brain is an organ.
If you eat well and work up a sweat on a regular basis, you reduce your risk of developing dementia. The government guidelines are to get at least 30 minutes of exercise, five times a week.
But you probably shouldn’t take the advice of Jeanne Calment and smoke or eat a kilo of chocolate a week!