Gene Wilder was one of a kind as a comedian, but he also may be unique for a different reason: the relatability of his retirement success story.
On this site we often highlight celebrity deaths, elder battles and estates, and invariably, their planning is a mess. We derive some schadenfreude at their expense and hold them up as examples of the value we can provide to our clients: “Even someone who has everything in life can let it all fritter away in their later years without the proper advice.”
Gene Wilder’s case appears to be different—not for the quality of his estate plan, necessarily. Details on that front still aren’t readily available. (Though, when an estate plan goes wrong, the public typically finds out about it pretty quickly, so no news is likely good news.) Wilder looks to be the rare celebrity who was able to enjoy a “traditional” retirement.
Celebrities don’t usually retire like the rest of us. The concepts of defined accumulation and decumulation phases that are so often applied to civilian clients’ retirement plans don’t necessarily hold water for someone who’s famous. Take for example an athlete who made a huge salary early in life and “retired” at 38. That retirement, however, only marked the end of their sports career. S/he then moved into broadcasting, set up some new business ventures and all the while continued endorsing products for the rest of their life. So, while our hypothetical athlete’s “career” was fairly short, accumulation and decumulation phases are more difficult to determine. When did their retirement begin? At 38, or sometime much later? Actors often have a similar experience, where their stardom, if they achieve it at all, is likely fairly short-lived, but they continue acting in smaller roles in movies, television, commercials, etc. long after they’re out of the spotlight.
But Wilder, unlike many of his famous peers, stepped away from acting at 58 (not too far off from typical retirement age) and pretty much stayed away (bar a handful of television appearances) for the rest of his life. Instead, as described in an interesting write-up by Scott Martin on TrustAdvisor.com, Wilder is the rare celebrity who died neither filthy rich, nor destitute, but simply comfortable. He spent the last 25 years writing his memoir and other books in a humble (for a celebrity) home in Stamford, Conn. He also volunteered his time and money to support ovarian cancer research. And, he appears to have been more than able to make his money last (particularly notable considering he went through two divorces in his life). No late-in-life mailed-in performances just to pay the tax man here—please move along.
For many, I just described their ideal retirement scenario. Leaving the rat race behind to pursue other passions while you’re still able to enjoy them. There are already a ton of high-profile examples to offer clients of what can go wrong without proper planning. Positive examples are few and far between. Gene Wilder, thankfully, looks to be one of the latter.