Many of us believe that retirement promises a life of ease, free of responsibility. And in a way that’s true. We no longer have to show up for work, deal with uncooperative colleagues, manage self-absorbed employees or report to narcissistic bosses. We no longer have to bear the weight of important projects, needy clients or patients.
But there is one area where we do take on more responsibility. In retirement, we are in charge of our own lives and our own futures. We no longer have a boss who tells us what to do, a human resources department to figure out the intricacies of health insurance or a paycheck automatically deposited into our bank account. With the demise of the traditional pension, we shoulder more responsibility for our financial lives. And with increasing lifespans, we need to plan for longer and hopefully more rewarding futures.
Whether you’re planning for retirement, or already there, here are some questions you should ask to prepare for the rest of your life.
1. Do you have a good estimate of your retirement income?
Most of us start with Social Security, which pays out $1,360 per month for the average retiree, but can offer better than $3,000 a month for high earners who wait beyond full retirement age to start collecting benefits. But Social Security is only a start. Add to that amount your pension, IRA withdrawals, rental property income and the proceeds from a retirement job. You need to know how you’re going to replace your paycheck – or at least most of it – after you stop working.
2. How will taxes impact your income?
Withdrawals from traditional IRAs and 401(k) plans are subject to federal income tax and possibly state tax as well. Social Security is partially taxable above certain income thresholds. Retirement income is similar to earned income in that your take home pay is usually noticeably reduced by taxes.
3. Should you hire a financial adviser?
Some people are do-it-yourselfers, which is fine if you’re organized and comfortable with numbers. But your financial life can sometimes be complicated, and so you shouldn’t be afraid to admit that you might not have the best answers and could use some professional help.
4. Have you calculated your life expectancy?
This may not be a pleasant task, but it makes a big difference whether you’re planning for 10 years of retirement or 30 years. Your life expectancy may be longer than you think. The majority of 65-year-olds can expect to live into their 80s, while over 20 percent of men and 30 percent of women will live into their 90s. And the longer you live, the more money you need.
5. Do you have health insurance?
Most of us qualify for Medicare at age 65. Don’t forget to apply. If you retire early, you need to make sure you are covered for the possibility of a catastrophic event. And Medicare alone may not be enough coverage. Do your homework and make sure you have an appropriate supplemental plan for your health needs, which may change as you get older. So don’t pick a plan when you’re 65 and then forget about it. Review your situation periodically and make changes as needed.
6. Have you prepared health directives and estate documents?
It’s difficult to think about this unpleasant task. But you want to have your papers in place, not just for your own comfort, but also to put your loved ones at ease, and so they know what to do.
7. Where are you going to live?
Many people retire in place, while others move across the country to be with family or friends or in search of sun and sand. Moving is not irrevocable, so don’t freeze up at the prospect of making a decision. But remember, it’s a lot of work to move, so you should think things through so you don’t have to do it more than once or twice.
8. Who will you live with?
You might want to reside with a spouse, child or in a group home. Over the course of retirement your living situation may change. You should make up your mind about where you live and who you want to live with.
9. Do you have a plan?
Retirement is an opportunity to choose where and how you want to live. Instead of drifting along, take advantage of the options retirement provides.
10. Do you have a plan B?
You and your spouse might have plans to move to Florida or travel the world. But at some point your spouse will pass away. It’s hard to think about, but it will happen. What will you do then? Or, you might move to live near your child, and a few months later he gets a new job and moves out of the area. Do you stay or do you go? There are no right or wrong answers. You will probably need to make adjustments throughout your retirement.