Remembering Gene Wilder

Remembering Gene Wilder

Way to success on the red carpet (Barrier rope)

When a celebrity’s retirement or estate plan is discussed posthumously, it usually tells a cautionary tale about the consequences of poor financial and estate planning.  We tend to use these stories to emphasize the importance of planning (even for celebrities who seem to “have it all”).  This isn’t the case for the iconic actor and comedian, Gene Wilder, who recently passed away at 83 after his struggle with Alzheimer’s.  In remembering his legacy, we learn that even non-celebrities have a lot in common with Wilder’s retirement.

Although atypical for a celebrity of his net worth, we are pleased to identify three aspects of a fulfilling retirement Gene Wilder embodied:

1. Replacing a career with meaningful hobbies

Clients often share aspects of their careers that fuel passion but can also be accompanied by downsides, sometimes significant enough to become the catalyst for retirement. In Wilder’s case, he admitted “I don’t like show business, I realized.  I like show, but I don’t like the business.”  He walked away from the spotlight at 58, not far from the average American’s retirement age of 62.  Career coach Bill Ellermeyer finds that the happiest retirees tend to be engaged in meaningful activities.  For Wilder, this meant writing his memoir and other books in his Stamford, Connecticut home, surrounded by three acres of greenery to suit his newfound writer’s lifestyle.

2. Living simply and modestly

Despite his estimated $20 million net worth at death, Gene Wilder lived humbly in retirement.  He spent the last 25 years of his life nestled in his Stamford home, valued at about $1 million upon passing, modest for a celebrity of his net worth.  The concept of saving during the working years and sustainably spending from the portfolio during retirement isn’t typically applied to celebrities with abundant resources.  Not much has been publicized with respect to his retirement planning, but it is evident he took measures to ensure the financial pieces were in place, enabling him to live comfortably.  Refreshingly, Wilder didn’t die at either extreme that we so frequently see with celebrities: filthy rich with a poorly planned estate or flat broke with creditors fighting to dip into royalties.  Wilder’s observable retirement supports a University of Michigan Health and Retirement study which found that after you’ve amassed about $3.5 million, more money doesn’t necessarily contribute to more happiness.

3. Volunteering and supporting meaningful causes

Ovarian cancer became an important cause Wilder supported after his first wife, Gilda Radner, passed away.  He spent decades raising awareness, becoming one of the first celebrities to speak openly about the disease.  Wilder’s activism aligns with a growing body of research that finds volunteering to be a key ingredient to a fulfilling retirement, contributing to “lower mortality rates, lower rates of depression, fewer physical limitations, and higher levels of well-being.”  He directed much of his financial abundance to supporting ovarian cancer research through creative charitable giving methods, many of which are feasible even for those with modest resources.  Learn more about charitable giving strategies we can help you explore.

Despite Gene Wilder’s fame and fortune, it is evident he preferred a lifestyle that deviated from the typical celebrity extravagance.  His story leads us to believe that non-financial aspects like replacing work with fulfilling hobbies, living simply, and supporting meaningful causes, combine to satisfy even those with abundant resources. This is an idea we embody at Yeske Buie and have shared through our Live Big® list; as we like to say, it’s about the size of your life, not the size of your wallet®.  Furthermore, Wilder’s story reminds us that entrusting professionals with the financial aspects of our lives enables us to fulfill our non-financial vision for retirement with peace of mind.