"Lessons Earned" by John Sanderson: Do Not Put Things Off

by John Sanderson, CPA, CIMA® Jun 29, 2023 Lessons Earned

In this series, we share some of John Sanderson's favorite insights and anecdotes from his book, “Lessons Earned.” Throughout the book, John shares dozens of lessons he has learned, starting as a young boy and culminating with his leadership as founder and chairman of Sanderson Wealth Management.



My phone rang. It was a well-known attorney at a local law firm, calling to ask if I could handle his estate planning. He had been procrastinating for a few months—maybe longer—so we set a meeting for the following week. I was excited to talk with him, because I knew that Sanderson was uniquely qualified to assist him. I was ready to roll up my sleeves and get started.

But early Monday morning, his office called with tragic news—the attorney had died from a heart attack over the weekend.

This wasn’t the first time in my career that someone thought they would have plenty of time to deal with an issue. Unfortunately, it probably won’t be the last.

In one case, a former colleague called me to help with his financial planning. I asked if we could meet sooner rather than later, but he deferred—until one day he said he wasn’t feeling well, so we arranged a meeting for 10 a.m. the next day. Early that morning, his wife called to say he had fallen, hit his head, and was in a coma. Regrettably, he never recovered.

In another instance, I helped put together a beautiful estate plan—carefully layered with trustees, backup trustees, and executers—for a businessperson who delayed signing it because he wasn’t sure about one of the backup trustees. He died from a heart attack on a bear hunting trip before we could finalize the plan.

But the untimely death that affected me the most was my former managing partner at Arthur Young—a man I admired, respected, and loved. One year, on April 8, his wife called and said he wanted to talk about some important issues. I asked my assistant to set up a meeting on April 15, once I had buttoned up the tax season. Regrettably, his health was declining rapidly, and he died on April 12.

All of these gentlemen, may they rest in peace, knew that they had to update their plans. But, like so many of us, they thought they had more time. They deferred their planning, and left their families faced with unfortunate circumstances that could have been prevented.

(And yes, I have completed my own estate planning, which means now I’ll probably live for another 20 years, at least. But when I do take my last breath, at least I will know that my situation is thoughtfully planned and cared for.)

Procrastination should be avoided as a general rule. But estate and financial planning should be seen as especially urgent matters. Too often, people feel that they are indestructible, or simply don’t want to face their own mortality, and will defer their estate planning. Trust me—someday, you too will die. So will your clients. Learn from others’ mistakes, and don’t wait another day.


Reprinted with permission from "Lessons Earned: Stories from a Lifetime Spent Fully Invested," copyright © 2022 John R. Sanderson.

This story reflects the author’s present recollections of people and experiences over time. Some identifying details have been changed and some dialogue has been recreated. While the author has made a concerted effort to provide accurate information, neither the publisher nor the author shall have any liability or responsibility for any adverse effects or loss caused, or alleged to be caused, directly or indirectly, by any information included in this story.