However, according to a new study by the non-profit Employee Benefit Research Institute, more than one in five Americans who died at age 85 or older had no assets beyond their home, and more than 12% of that cohort had no assets at all. It was even worse for singles who died at or above age 85, with nearly a quarter having no assets other than their home and 16.7% having no assets. The average net equity left in the homes of those who died at ages 85 or above was $141,147 for couples and $83,471 for singles.
While it’s no secret Americans are bad at saving for their retirement, the numbers paint a particularly bleak picture for those in their last few years. However, experts say there are thing people should keep in mind, especially as they get well on into their later years, to avoid dying destitute.
Commie Stevens, managing director of strategic and financial planning for Beacon Pointe Advisors in Newport Beach, Calif., said as people age, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask those they care for to check certain expenses and financial details.
“Your mental abilities may change over time without you even being aware of it, so it's wise to have an open discussion with loved ones now,” Stevens said. “It's important to let them know where you keep your records, what you owe and own and wise to ask them to occasionally check to see if you're staying current on bills and that no one is draining your resources.”
Stevens added it is typical for many people to have accounts spread out among many different custodians, and it’s wise to consider consolidating investments to simplify the review of your accounts and associated withdrawals that create a retirement paycheck.
Lauren Klein, a certified financial planner in Newport Beach, Calif., said the hardest thing for many as they get older is to change their behaviors and attitudes. She said she recently had a 73-year-old woman experiencing financial challenges in her later years, mainly because she was outspending her own means.
"I explain that in the short run, almost everything is fixed, but in the long run most items become variable,” Klein said. “First, I try to get the client to clearly see the need to change.”
Klein said some things she recommends as people get older is to substantially reduce the small -- and not-so-small -- luxuries, consider moving to a smaller apartment or even subsidized housing, use the Medicare Advantage plan and work as long as possible.
“Even if you work less, a dollar earned is a dollar saved,” she said.
Another reason to work is to delay the start of Social Security benefits. Each year a person waits beyond the minimum age, their Social Security benefits increase approximately 8%, said Allison Alexander, a financial adviser at Savant Capital Management in Rockford, Ill.
Alexander also reminds people to be aware of what they have and determine their tolerance for risk and ability to maximize their investment return. She said an adviser can do projections of income and expenses so a consumer knows with some degree of certainty what he can expect for cash flow in her or his retirement. They also can do a stress test on one’s portfolio and expose it to different assumptions regarding inflation and market return.
“Whether the news is good or bad, it's better to know while you still have time to be proactive and adjust your saving habits,” Alexander said. “Small changes in savings now will provide a more comfortable lifestyle later.”