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1 year left to live: How would you spend?

Readers explain what they'd do with their time and money if they knew their life would end in 12 months.

By Karen Datko Feb 12, 2013 3:05PM

Image: Man with tropical drink (© Stockbyte/Getty Images)MSN Money asked a provocative question on Facebook: "If you knew you had just one year to live, how would you spend your money?"

 

This is akin to asking people what they'd do if they won the lottery, except there's that somber and sad note at the end.

 

The responses were, as you'd expect, all over the map, but we can make some observations  based on the 100 or so replies (some of which are quoted here, lightly edited for clarity).

 

Travel. A great number of people obviously haven't traveled as much as they'd like. About 30 people said they'd spend their money going places -- whether it be Disneyland or a trip around the world. (Those of you with paid vacation, start using it. Americans are notorious for not taking all of their paid leave each year, sometimes allowing it to expire.)

 

"Cash out the largest 401k and TRAVEL while I was still well!" Lea B. wrote. That would be my plan.

 

Courtney M. said, "I would max out every credit card I own . . . taking trips to places I will never be able to afford!!" That might work just fine if yours is the only name on your credit card accounts (no joint cardholders) and you don't care how much estate is left once your creditors tap it to cover your debt once you're gone. If your estate is used up, generally the rest of your credit card debt dies with you. (Rules vary from state to state.)

 

Party. There were the expected responses about hookers and booze or controlled substances. (I didn't take the time to add them up. I'd rather live my last days with as much mental clarity as I could muster.)

 

Family. About 12 people put family first -- making sure family members were provided for.

 

Shaliza H.'s "Die debt-free" is admirable since the estate would pass unencumbered to Shaliza's beneficiaries. (Not a single person who responded to the question mentioned paying a lawyer to prepare a will.)

Charity. Giving to charity was a priority for about six or so people, including donations for homeless cats and healthy lungs. 

 

Some people said they wouldn't change much.

 

"Same as now, increasing net worth for my kids. He wins who has the most chips when he dies," wrote George B.

 

Most people assumed they would have the physical stamina to fulfill their dreams. That's optimistic. I know someone who was recently told he may live another year and he's embarking on a steady routine of energy-zapping chemotherapy and radiation to get that extra time. World travel would be difficult.

 

Some said they couldn't afford to do anything special, confirming what polls have shown about the number of Americans who live paycheck to paycheck, without savings.

 

"Can't spend what you don't have," Linda K. said.

 

Not everyone accepted that their death would be a sure thing after a year. Maybe a cure will be found, or the doctors were wrong. Ash R. wrote:

"(Spend it) wisely! In a balanced way, because maybe I somehow got one more year to live, so positivity would be part of the strategy! . . . Every day we never really know if we will be alive tomorrow, left alone in an year, yet we are always cautious about our money. We don't spend it all at once."

My pick for most thoughtful response would be that of Debbie V.:

"I try to live every day as if it might be my last. Plan for the future, but use your life energy to make the best impact on life while you are here on this planet because it is not about finding the meaning of life, rather making your life meaningful. No regrets."

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64Comments
Feb 13, 2013 10:31AM
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I had a friend who found a lump where there shouldn't have been one. A biopsy showed very aggressive cancer. The diagnosis was confirmed at the AFIP.  A few months later her lungs were seeded with tumor throughout.  She was soon to die. There was no treatment  Then a strange thing happened: It all started to disappear. She began to gain weight, her energy level increased. She eventually died many years later of something unrelated. Her physicians were amazed,as were her friends.  There's always hope.
Mar 17, 2013 10:11AM
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I didn't wait until I only had a year to live. 

In 1982, 30 year ago, I sold my business and real estate investments ,went back to college and undertook studies of Anthropology and Archaeology.  I have spent the past 30 years volunteering at Archaeological sites around the world, working with universities, governments and private research organizations about half the year and taking my wife and my children to places around the world that they want to go the other half. I was able to spend time with my family and my intellectual interests while I was physically well enough to engage in these activities. 

 I am 83 now with physical limitations, and don't regret a minute of it.  My wife died two years ago  thanking me for giving her such a wonderful and interesting life. My assets are greatly reduced by the expenses incurred but if I leave my children nothing else, I will leave them great memories of the family together and a happy father and mother enjoying the freedom to do what they chose to do.

Mar 17, 2013 10:47AM
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My husband is dying of pancreatic cancer. Money means NOTHING. As long as you have a roof over your head, a bed to sleep on and food to eat, material things mean nothing. You want to feel the sun on your face. Smell the rain. Take a ride through the mountains. You want to spend time with friends and family. My husband is happy watching a little television holding his loving and faithful old cat. You spend that year living. Not worrying about materialistic things.
Mar 17, 2013 7:38AM
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My late husband spent his last year getting in contact with the people that had been the biggest influence in his life. They had a good time talking about the past, but he also told them what a difference they had made in his life.


He also spent time with his sons talking about his past and what he hoped would be their  future.
He had a massive heart attack at home , he called me about 5 minutes before I arrived home to tell me he loved me.  I found him in the foyer when I walked in.
Feb 13, 2013 5:40PM
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This question kind of bothers me. How would I spend? Maybe life is more than spending money. I'm realizing that enjoyment in life does not necessarily correlate with spending at all.

Draining your estate and racking up credit card debt would provide only a fleeting sense of satisfaction.
Mar 17, 2013 3:39AM
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I would pay my bills and live the best i could because my luck one year later the doctor would say oops sorry i was wrong  you will be fine hope we didn't cause any inconvenience! 
Mar 17, 2013 7:23AM
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Though it wouldn't be enough my 1st priority would be to provide as much as possible for my wife.
Mar 17, 2013 7:03AM
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I wouldn't spend my money.  I would sell off everything I have, bank the money and leave it to my son.  
Feb 13, 2013 12:27PM
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"Healing cancer from inside out" is an excellent film for getting your health back in order and it covers multiple illnesses.  And why would anyone want to pass to the other side and be totally embarased by their actions on this side... it seems better to live as though your actions will be counted & recorded, as they surely will.

Mar 17, 2013 10:44AM
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Like most people, I live paycheck to paycheck. But that wouldn't matter. You can't take money with you anyway. What I would first do is to make sure that my little boy was taken care of. I would have a will drawn up specifically stating who would be taking care of him. I would make sure he was totally taken care of. I would get my affairs in order, and I would spend my remaining time with my little boy and my family. I would make memories. Memories to take them through their lives. We would have pizza and soda and watch Netflix or go to the movies or go bowling. It's the little things in life that matter the most. Granted, a trip to Hawaii would be nice, but I have to be realistic. It's more important that I spend the time with the kids. We would share memories. Make a memory book. Do lots of fun "kid" stuff. It would be different if there weren't children in my life, but there are. So they would come first. And I could die with them knowing how much I love them. My family recently lost al little girl. She was 5 years old and she took sick suddenly and died three days later. I know how short and unpredictable life is. Material things mean nothing. Savor the memories.
Feb 13, 2013 5:52PM
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In most states you don't have to pay a lawyer to make a will, you can download free state-specific forms from a number of sites and register it yourself.
Mar 17, 2013 11:09AM
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You should live every day of your life, like it's your last, without a death sentance. Life is too fragile and short, not to. There are so many things to see, so many things to experience and so many people around you to enjoy it with. Don't hold grudges, don't hang on to anger, because that will kill you, way before anything else does.

Feb 13, 2013 6:01PM
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I would try to do things I haven't done - like climb Mt. Kilimanjaro and skydive and I would try to experience things I've wanted by haven't done.  I am thrilled when I get to see things that have great historical worth or uniqueness, like when I walked on the Great Wall of China, entered the Tomb of King Tut in Egypt, walked the streets of Jerusalem, and stood on the walls of Troy in Turkey, realizing it was something that in my youth I'd NEVER have guessed I'd ever be able to do.  I haven't been to Machu Picchu, the Galapagos Islands, Antarctica, the South Pacific, the Serengeti, or approached a group of Mountain Gorillas.  I've never been able to play Scott Joplin's "Maple Leaf Rag" well enough to do it on stage.  If I had one year, I'd be going through such things on a weekly basis until the money ran out.
Mar 17, 2013 11:07AM
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Cheezy2 I have two years, if the doctors are right and I do not find it depressing. I am fighting pancreatic cancer and I look forward to each and every day, I am blessed to have this time.
Mar 17, 2013 10:06AM
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Time is fleeting. Just try and tell the people who made a difference in your life what they mean to you. Try to be the person you always wanted to be. Don't make your decendents liable for your funeral. Take advantage of the time and ability to live as best as you can. Try to live as best as you can! No regrets!
Feb 13, 2013 1:29PM
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Anyone, such as myself, who has no reason to believe there is just one year left before I die, can give a meaningful answer to that question. What one can do is show how much of a writer's imagination they have -- but that's not a waste of your time, and can be fun!

 

Once you believe you have just one year left to live, and only then, can you learn what you will actually do with your money in that year. It may be a little or a lot as you describe it today. But the answer must wait for that year to be now.

 

 

Mar 17, 2013 11:18AM
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Too bad you don't live in the real world . Your ideas sure are out of line with my world . "save money" ? What money ? House gone , 14 yr. old car , work two jobs , useless health ins. costs more to use than not .  Oh yeah , I can sure contribute to an IRA . Hah !   Just don't be too surprised when your world comes crashing down . Could be sooner than you think .
Mar 17, 2013 11:50AM
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I would enjoy all the chocolate and ice cream I could eat  :-)
Feb 13, 2013 4:12PM
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I would go out and help all the poor people of the world, give puppies to children, spend time taking in the homeless.
Mar 17, 2013 1:56PM
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I was faced with this question last year when I was diagnosed with stage 3, possibly stage 4, Melanoma Cancer. All from a little mole on my back. It was devastating! My daughter was turning ten, my son had just turned seven, and my husband of twenty years and I had separated three months earlier. Stage 4 cancer gives a 3-6 month window of life. My family rallied around me, my (now ex) husband found a girlfriend (jerk!)

 

I knew a man who had been diagnosed with bone cancer in his shoulder, and had died from it 6 weeks later! My brain was in overdrive. I have a will and life insurance, so I knew my kids would be taken care of, and loved, but I wouldn’t get to see them grow up. The thought broke my heart, I’m crying now just remembering. I thought long and hard about how I would spend those last few months, just in case.

 

I had planned on making a video for each of my kids, telling them how much I love them and how proud I am of them. Something they could keep for the rest of their lives, and watch when they needed a hug from Mom. I’m all about travel, the UNESCO World Heritage List is pretty much my bucket list, so I wanted to go to one of the places “I had to see before I died.” More importantly, I wanted my kids to see their Mom at her best, to have that memory of me, of us, exploring the world together. With lots of pictures!

 

Having three subsequent surgeries made it impossible to take that trip, but obviously saved my life. We’ll still take that trip someday, hopefully many trips…I’m very thankful to still be here, and hope I deserve the second chance I got. I plan to make my life everything I want it to be, and topping that list is being a great Mom. Even if we never make it anywhere, I’m thrilled just to get to watch them grow up, and be a part of their lives. For any length of time!

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