Preparing for the future: an accountant’s perspective on aging

When Ron Woltjer of Little Falls was in his 20s, he was a high school teacher. When he switched careers and became an accountant 32 years ago, he picked up 300 of his former students as clients. Now, the young kids who were once his students are grandparents. “I’ve aged, but my clients have aged as well,” says Ron.

Ron provides financial consultation to his clients in many ways, including business planning, nursing home planning, Social Security issues, estate planning and tax and inheritance issues, particularly with local families passing farms down to the next generation. In general, people procrastinate on these issues until they no longer can, Ron says. “It’s just human nature.”

In Little Falls, Ron says the nursing home across the street from his firm has doubled or tripled occupancy in the last five years. Ron says it’s not just the United States facing a rapidly growing aging population – Western Europe, Japan and China are facing it too. “My wife is Chinese so I go to China at least once a year,” says Ron. “They are much more prone to keep elders in the family household. You’re apt to see three-generation families under the same roof.”

Ron knows that the cost factor is often an obstacle to long-term care. “One family, they both made it to their 90s. But they hired family to sit and care for them 24 hours a day. That might not be so possible for some people.”

Ron assisted another family in passing down their third-generation family farm to the fourth generation. “They had taken care of eight of their parents’ siblings right there on the farm until they died,” Ron remembers. “But this is becoming a lot more uncommon.”

Throughout his speaking engagements around the country, Ron has noticed that people know there is a lot of things they do not know. “With Social Security, people don’t think there’s anything you can do, but you can do a lot of planning.” Ron does the taxes of his whole family and offers advice to help them prepare for the future. When his children were young, he set up retirement accounts for them.

At the end of this year, Ron plans to retire and sell his firm to two 30-somethings. “They’ll start a new generation, but I’ll stay involved as a consultant, and speaking around the country on Social Security and elder issues.”

Ron also plans to work in his orchard weeding, cultivating and spraying his 6,800 fruit trees. Apples, cherries, plums and more – Ron has it all. He hopes his daughter moves closer and comes into the orchard business with him, and as a bonus, he could see his infant grandson more often.

Ron points out that aging issues are relevant to all Minnesotans. “The younger can ignore it but next thing you know, you’re there. It kind of sneaks up on you.”


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