By Lynn Ballou
For a variety of reasons, women statistically continue to outlive men. In our final years, we may or may not have the ability to verbalize specifically what we want for ourselves. And worse, by the time we truly confront what we do want, we may have missed the opportunity to correctly plan for those costs, thus limiting our real choices.
Successful retirement planning for women needs to include a detailed focus on the later years -- the years that don't involve as much or maybe any physical and mental mobility. The planning for this time of life should be carved out and viewed separately early on in your planning so that, come what may, you know if your wishes can be met or if you need to change your thinking.
This should be a four-step process.
Research What's Available
The first step is to research what's available to you if you were facing this time of life now and envision dealing with older age where perhaps mobility and health are factors in daily life that cannot be ignored. Do you want to "age in place" in your current home? Would you prefer to move to a retirement community? Which one and what is the price tag both upfront and ongoing? Will they have care available to you come what may medically/mentally? Where will you want to be geographically? Will it be based on where your children and grandchildren live or perhaps the community where you lived most of your life? Or perhaps you and your close friends would like to be near each other and there's a community that you are all drawn to? What care costs do you see others later in life experiencing that are not covered by insurance and that you might face as well?
This is an overwhelming list, and as a result most of us just put it aside promising ourselves we'll deal with it later. Or we trust that others will handle it for us so we don't have to. However, instead of punting, think about reaching out to an eldercare expert in your community for assistance in working through these choices and all the available options and the real life price tag for each of these ideas.
As unpleasant as it may be to spend your time thinking about a future with limitations, this is the best way to stay in control of your destiny and be able to handle your real future come what may, not just the enticing sunset walks that are provided by well-intended PR firms.
Develop a Realistic Financial Plan
The second step is to incorporate these real scenarios into a financial plan. Using today's dollars inflated for the future, run the numbers to determine if you realistically will be able to afford what you would like to happen. A trusted financial adviser, such as a certified financial planner, can be key in this process, as they have the training and tools to help you view a variety of realistic options.
Also, they can keep you from falling into the trap of using misleading and glib shortcuts in your planning such as, "at retirement I only need 80% of the income I did in my working years." Or, "I am going to apply a specific inflation rate across the board to all my future expenses."
These can be detrimental to successful planning. Once you do run appropriate, realistic scenarios, you may find that an extremely important step in your planning could involve compromise. For example, let's say your goal is to age in place in your own home for the rest of your life. However, if it costs $20,000/month to allow you to age in place with 24-hour care (as it often does where I live in the San Francisco Bay Area) but a high-caliber retirement community with complete care built-in could run $8,000 to $12,000/month, these are options you must consider regarding what's affordable to you.
Also, if you can foresee that you may not have enough assets to last the balance of your life without government or family assistance, the time to deal with that is before you retire, if at all possible, because you have the time to change your current spending habits and put more away for possible future needs.
Be Clear About What You Want
The third and possibly the most important step is to share your wishes with your loved ones and those you are tasking with your future care and safety. Make it very clear to them that you have consulted with your advisers and you have developed an affordable plan for your later years of life, and specifically share with them what you want.
If you are hoping for their support in roles of co- or successor trustees, or as those who might hold a Power of Health Care and/or Financial Management on your behalf, this will allow you to determine if they are in fact able and willing to carry out your wishes. Sometimes it's helpful to involve trusted advisers and/or your estate planning attorney in these meetings. They can help show your loved ones how the financial aspects are projected to work and what documentation can and will be put in place to help your vision unfold according to your plan.
Work With a Team of Pros
Fourth, work with an attorney to put all these plans, ideas, options and wishes into your estate planning documents.
And because our best plans can sometimes not work out for reasons we cannot foresee or control, have a Plan A and a Plan B, and maybe even a Plan C, for as many of your choices as possible. For example, you might hope that a relative will step up and take on directing your health care if you cannot. However, what if they are not available at the time needed, have moved too far away, or simply can no longer perform these functions? Name alternates. And think about a professional fiduciary who is not a friend or family member as a possible solution for some or all future roles on your behalf. You can meet and interview several of these professionals while you are of sound mind and body, and name them in your documents as alternates. For those without children or other close younger family members or friends, this might be a comforting approach.
How many times do we find ourselves saying about an elderly person we know, "Wow, she would never want to be living as she is currently if she were in control!"? Don't be that person - be in control. Identify the most limiting, and thus expensive, possible conditions you might face later in life now to know if your resources will be able to handle them. If not, make changes and, if necessary, make other more affordable choices.
Communicate exactly what your wishes are, and your alternative choices, with those you trust and would task with roles in your future personal and financial care. And then, when you have the right team available to for when you're no longer capable, have your estate planning team draft and execute the documents needed to assure your plans are followed. Don't forget to provide copies or access to copies to those who will fill these future roles.
As your life unfolds, you may change your mind about some or all of these details. Continue to work with your financial adviser to determine their affordability to you and with your estate planning attorney to craft revised documents when appropriate. Then put it aside with peace of mind and get on living your amazing life.
About the author: Lynn Ballou is a certified financial planner and regional director for EP Wealth Advisors' Lafayette, Calif. office. In her role as CFP Board Ambassador for the Bay Area she enjoys speaking and writing about the importance of comprehensive financial planning, especially for women and their families. The review, assessment, and opinions expressed in this column are limited to and in association with general financial planning subjects. They are intended to introduce the reader to general financial planning topics. This column should serve as a tool that can assist readers in the development of subsequent discussions with a financial planning professional, tax adviser, or attorney, as appropriate, regarding each reader's own unique circumstances and goals.