Does your estate plan account for working longer?

Jackie Bedard
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There's a not-so-funny joke we hear some clients in midlife say when they don't have a retirement plan engaged: "Oh, I'll never retire. I'll just keep working."

That's a pretty naïve outlook when you consider the many potential health, housing and financial pitfalls that can eliminate even the wealthiest client's life savings.

USA Today recently highlighted a new survey of American workers that found 82 percent of respondents age 60 and older either expected to keep working past age 65 or already were. Their reasons involved less of a desire to stay active than more practical concerns about simply staying afloat. Many said they were afraid of outliving their investments and savings and that they would be unable to save enough to last their lifetimes. 

Preparing a strategic retirement and estate plan is in our experience the best way to address those worries-and it's crucial once clients consider the curveballs that happen to all of us, especially as we age. Our firm hears occasionally from prospective clients that say they're really worried about outliving their resources and being unable to leave anything to loved ones.

USA Today cited another study that found that even though one in ten workers said they never planned to retire, some were still forced to do so unexpectedly because of health problems or some other disability. Other reasons were changes at the workplace, such as downsizing; having to act as a caregiver for a spouse or relative, and changes in the skills required for their jobs.

When a client's energy and interest are at their peak, it's tough to imagine walking away from a great job or a career that he or she loves. But many retirees stop working earlier than planned because of job loss or poor health. 

If you think you might wait to retire and continue working after age 65, USA Today offered some general tips:

•    If you don't already have one, you should start a financial plan to account for all possible outcomes. This plan should include budgeting and cover everything from insurance to taxes to nursing care to estate planning.

•    You will need a cash cushion. We encourage most clients to set aside a minimum of three months of living expenses, but consider stashing away more to cover expenses that are not insured or only partially insured for reimbursement. 

•    Since many workers suddenly retire due to health issues, such as disability, we have clients check their employer's benefits package. They might need to buy additional insurance. While individual disability policies can be expensive, it may be possible to purchase through a professional association or trade group. 

Healthcare costs can be difficult to gauge for individuals far into the future. What's more, there are life changes that can affect a retirement and estate plan that a client might not have considered while still in the workforce. A sudden illness or accident could lead him or her to a change in housing needs-say, where snow removal, yard care, and even stairs are now barriers-or the loss of the ability to live independently. 

If clients don't have relatives nearby willing to lend a hand, they also might encounter hurdles with available quality facilities or caregivers for short- or long-term care. It's not uncommon for couples to be unable to live together when one of them needs a higher level of care, increasing not only expenses but emotional stress.

Barring any health issues, a client's future as a viable member of the workforce is iffy. Employment prospects among retirees vary greatly. Add in the effects of inflation on a fixed income, interest rates that can reduce retirement income, and fluctuations of the stock market, and they have a higher likelihood of outliving their retirement resources.  

For Baby Boomers who are still working and haven't taken any action to save for retirement or long term care, the window of opportunity to create an effective plan is shutting soon. Don't allow these clients to wait another second to meet with you and an attorney skilled in trusts and estate planning. 

And to any mid-40s members of Generation X that are tempted to postpone planning because they think they've got another 20 to 30 years to save accordingly, we also encourage them not to wait longer.  Their window has already started to narrow. 

We are here to help you develop a viable strategy. If you have any questions about whether working past 65 will affect your estate planning and what actions you can take now to protect your future retirement, give us a call at 919-443-3035.
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