Most people dream of retiring one day. The problem is that many do not move beyond dreaming about it to actually planning it out. Fortunately, those who prioritize planning can make their retirement dreams a reality.
As an estate planning attorney, I advise clients daily on how to approach their retirement within the estate planning process. In an initial consultation, I like to begin the conversation by asking these seven simple questions.
Seven questions that people of any age can ask themselves when starting to plan for retirement.
1. What does retirement look like to me?
Retirement looks different to almost everyone who answers this question. That is why it’s an essential question to ask when beginning to plan for retirement. A good way to start is by jotting down your ideas and, if married, your spouse’s ideas for retirement. Also, it helps to ask more detailed questions about your ideal retirement, such as:
- Maybe your plan is to travel. If not travel, then how do you plan to spend your time?
- Will you want to downsize your home? Many people find that the home where they raised their family is too large or more than they wish to maintain it.
- Will you continue working? If so, how much do you wish to work? Part-time or contract work can give more flexibility while still providing a source of extra income. Many folks don’t want to completely drop out of the workforce, but rather be in full control of how much they work and what type of work they perform. This full freedom and independence can be achieved, but it takes planning and mapping out your potential income. You’ll need to account for what you have in savings plus any income from jobs you plan to take. This can reveal how close you really are to full independence.
- What’s on your bucket list? Many recent retirees are ready to switch to pursuing their bucket list; like spending time with grandchildren or volunteering for a good cause. A traditional retirement calculator can be helpful to provide an estimate of when this might be possible.
2. What assets do I have?
Make a list of all your assets. This is not only an important starting point in retirement planning; it’s also a first step in estate planning as well. In estate planning it’s helpful to ensure that your assets are protected and available to you and your loved ones throughout your retirement years.
Check all your bank accounts and retirement accounts and include any property you own. Other assets to consider are collectibles that have significant financial value. Be sure to include any investments that will be used to fund your retirement.
When you start listing assets, be sure to consider all the details.
- Who owns the asset? How is it titled? For example, is it held jointly with someone else?
- Is it considered a probate asset or non-probate asset?
- Do you owe a significant debt (like a medical bill)? Can creditors take this asset? In other words, is it creditor-protected?
- Does the asset have a beneficiary designation? Do you know who you listed as a beneficiary? Did you list any back-ups?
- If you were unable to make decisions for yourself, who would be able to access these assets? Are you okay with that person handling your personal finances? Learn more about financial types of power of attorney.
3. How is my health today?
Personal health can play a large factor in retirement planning. The first step is to make sure you are up to date on all of your health screenings and check-ups. Once your health has been evaluated, you can better assess your plans for retirement. Health can affect finances and quality of life in retirement. There is no better time than the present to evaluate lifestyle and, if necessary, improve health habits to improve your quality of life and extend it.
How about your Spouse’s health? Do your parents or siblings have any health issues?
Don’t Forget About Long-Term Care
In addition to taking proactive health screenings and lifestyle changes, it’s important to factor into your retirement plan the cost of long-term care.
Nothing ruins a good retirement plan like an unexpected medical diagnosis for you, your spouse, or family member. Even if you are not impacted by a health condition, you may find yourself in the caregiver role, which can impact your own health and earning power. This can be a burden if you are leaving behind a paying job and benefits.
4. When should I take social security?
There is no easy answer to this question and it is really a case-by-case decision that an attorney or financial professional can help you make. In the most basic terms, waiting longer to take benefits will increase the monthly benefits you receive. However, for many, this is not an option.
There are ways to supplement your income and not rely solely on social security and your savings. Aid programs can help financially, such as veteran benefits and medicaid planning.
5. How can I cut expenses to save more?
This is an excellent question for people of any age to consider. Cutting expenses can provide for extra savings to throw into your retirement plan. Cutting expenses can also help when creating a budget for retirement. If you can cut in some categories, then you can re-allocate to other categories in order to be able to live more comfortably in the future. Paying off debt also becomes more manageable when other expenses can be cut.
Is there anything I can do to make my money last longer for me? Can I make sure I leave something to those who are important in my life?
- Budgeting is important. What are your monthly expenses? Review your bank and credit card statements to make sure you are not being overcharged for basic services (cable bills are notorious for this). And watch out for those automatic subscriptions, they can really add up. Look into free resources and a guide to creating a budget. Use a strategy based on your budgeting style to get you closer to your goals.
- Find a financial advisor who can assess your expenses and help you make the most informed decision possible. Talk with a financial advisor about when to take Social Security and Required Minimum Distributions from your retirement accounts. They can help you with the timing of when to tap into those accounts and how to maximize the overall value of your monthly payment amounts.
6. How do I need to plan for the unexpected?
There is never any guarantee that the retirement you plan becomes reality. Many unexpected events can and will arise in retirement. These events can put a financial strain on a family, so it is important to plan a contingency for these events. While you plan for retirement, it could be a good time to talk to your family and think about future long-term care needs.
Good health today does not guarantee it in the future – in fact, the possibility of needing long-term care increases with each year we grow older. Creating a plan that includes legal and financial considerations that helps get all family members on the same page can greatly reduce stress should the unexpected occur.
Recently on a podcast, I mentioned how having a conversation with family members about planning for the unexpected is so important. “I see two sets of families in my office. One arethe families that have planned ahead, and the other group is the family in crisis. And the options are limited for [the family in crisis]. So the folks who should be in that conversation are the ones who are going to be making decisions or the ones who have the ability to monitor and be responsible for [you, your spouse, a parent].”
7. Anything else I should be thinking about with retirement planning?
Whether you have a clear, concrete plan in place or just have a rough idea of what your retirement will look like, make sure you have the proper documents in place to give you the protections and peace of mind. Your plan will continue to evolve according to your wishes.
Here are the minimum estate planning documents you should have in place to ensure your retirement plan successfully works for you:
- Revocable Living Trust and will
- Financial Power of Attorney
- Medical Power of Attorney
- Advance Health Directive (living will)
To understand why these documents are so important check out our free e-book which discusses the concepts and strategies you can’t afford to not know.
Considering these seven questions can help you to begin creating a retirement plan that will fit your future needs. An attorney can help you with the legal side of planning for retirement, especially to have the proper documents such as revocable living trust, letters of testamentary, and a will. The destination to retirement is easier when the roadmap is clear and you have a plan for any bumps in the road.