Two local entrepreneurs have come up with ways to help empower people as they plan for the next stages of their lives. Kohota, a retirement lifestyle planning website and the Final Path, a service that offers legacy planning and end of life consulting, both aim to create a more positive narrative about aging.
Free service Kohota helps people develop a customized retirement plan, said co-founder Mary Everhart of Kenmore.
“One of the reasons we started this venture was because nobody was really speaking to that audience from a lifestyle perspective,” said Everhart, who lives in Kenmore. “Nobody was talking about, ‘What are you going to do when you retire? Are you going to travel? What are your hobbies? Where are you going to live?’”
Asking those types of questions allows people to develop a vision of what they really want retirement to look like.
“People are talking down to that audience or coming off as disrespectful,” Everhart said. “We feel the opposite. This is an active, energetic, passionate and creative audience that’s really excited about their future.”
Everhart said the goal for traditional retirement planning was to “flip it on its head” so people feel excited and comfortable talking about it.
“We really focus on the sense of empowerment,” she said. “We’re not there to tell them what their plans should be, but to help them create their own journey. We give them tools, whether it’s calculators, quizzes or surveys that can help them decide and maybe think about things differently.”
Helping people think about things differently is emphasizing that it’s not just about money and numbers, but rather seeing the big picture, especially with changes to the economy and social security, and different challenges than previous generations. For example, the generation coming up is a sandwich generation, Everhart said, who may be taking care of their parents as well as adult children.
“Companies got comfortable focusing on money and individuals got comfortable because they were taught by the generation before them, who retired with pensions at a certain age after being at a company for 30 years,” Everhart said. “They all followed the same blueprint for retirement. Now it looks completely different for every person. Don’t believe since that’s the way it’s always been, that’s the way it always has to be.”
An even more daunting concept to face is discussing end of life preparations. That’s where The Final Path co-owners Kelly Fortner and Debbie Glass come in, providing legacy planning and end-of-life consulting.
“It’s about the quality of life versus the quantity, to make it meaningful and dignified,” Fortner said.
Fortner, an occupational therapist with a psychology background, and Glass, a registered nurse, worked together prior to founding the company, which is when they realized they both had a passion for helping people in these circumstances.
“We would do a lot of traveling and we would talk a lot about death and dying,” said Fortner, a Buffalo resident. “We were both very comfortable with it, and we realized people are not having the conversations. People feel death is very taboo, so we wanted to get the conversation started.”
Part of the issue with end—of-life discussions is that final wishes can be vastly different for the person considering end of life and their loved ones.
“We thought, ‘there’s a way to make this better,’” Glass said. “I see so much that a person doesn’t want to have the conversation, either because their children or significant other don’t want to have the conversation. Sometimes what they want and what their kids want are different. One of our goals is to let the person making the plan to be very comfortable making those choices.”
The Final Path humanizes the process, Fortner said.
“People plan for every event like births and weddings, but nobody really plans for someone’s death,” Fortner said. “There’s so much anxiety and stress and sadness around it. If you don’t prepare, it can be chaotic. Sometimes people don’t want to have these conversations with loved ones, so we are an outside source. We have the knowledge and the background to help.”
Fortner and Glass also help people realize what they’re leaving behind in terms of a legacy.
“People quite often didn’t understand what a legacy was in the past, like, ‘Oh, if I don’t have lots of money, I don’t have a legacy,’” Glass said. “But it’s important for people to understand that’s not the only part, there is a personal legacy. It’s a conversation. It’s a letter. Everyone has a legacy.”
Fortner and Glass advocate for people to begin end-of-life planning while they’re still healthy. Their process includes taking the time to get to know the person and creating a contract of sorts, sometimes working alongside estate planners and financial lawyers. And when the time comes, they ensure the individual’s needs are met and their wishes are honored, all while creating a meaningful experience for their client’s loved ones.
“We want people to explore and design their own personal legacy and have their end-of-life preferences honored,” Glass said. “And we want to offer this gift that will live on forever. We all know that the topic is challenging, but we feel passionate that we can make it so much easier for people.”