If you're like most Americans, you're extremely busy just trying to survive morning traffic and stay awake through endless meetings, to then scurry home, get dinner on the table, coach soccer games, and help the kids with their homework. It's truly amazing that we find the time to plan and save for retirement.
So, it's no wonder that we don't find much time to think about what happens after retirement. Specifically, we may not be thinking enough about how to handle the inevitable problems that age throws our way -- deteriorating health, sudden illness, or death. It's not much fun to think about those calamities.
A new study by the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College offers some new insight into what current retirees do when faced with a gradual or sudden health problem, or the death of a spouse.
The study found that a significant portion of people sell their homes or their vehicles. On the surface, this makes a lot of sense.
Older people whose spouses die, or who face new responsibilities caring for an ailing husband or wife, may not be able to manage their homes any more. They may choose to move to a smaller house, an assisted living facility, or even a nursing home. Or they may be in increasing financial need and require the proceeds from a home or car sale to make ends meet. The study found this effect to be strongest among people who reported difficulty managing money.
But those who did sell their homes and vehicles in the wake of a severe illness or the death of a spouse also reported that they put the money into bank accounts or certificates of deposits. The study concluded that it might make sense for widowed spouses to temporarily put their money in those safe places before investing the funds elsewhere. It seems, instead, that the money stays in those low-risk, low-return savings vehicles.
Why does this matter? For one thing, the study points out that the upcoming generation of retirees will be less likely to have pensions in retirement, so fewer people will have a guaranteed monthly flow of income from a former employer. That means many retirees will be faced with more responsibility in retirement for managing their household assets, from homes and vehicles to IRAs and 401(k) accounts.
Another reason why this matters is the many questions the study did not answer. Did these elderly people plan to sell their homes and cars when a tragedy struck, or did they panic? Do they know that they will not outlive the proceeds of these sales? Did they stash the money in bank accounts and certificates of deposits for financially sound reasons or because the liquid investments made them feel safer? Did they have a plan for the inevitable health problems of old age, or did they ignore the possibility until it happened?
My aim here is not to cause you sleepless nights worrying about how your husband or wife will fare if a heart attack hits you out of the blue, but it's worth a few moments of reflection. Consider developing a plan now to determine when it's best to sell the house and how the proceeds might be invested. Think about transportation requirements in the event that one or both of you can no longer drive.
It's also worth discussing this with your husband or wife if one of you tends to be the financial maven in the household. You may have set up the perfect retirement portfolio to weather all possible health calamities, full of reliable blue-chip stocks like Procter & Gamble
Long-term care insurance can offer additional peace of mind. It can help you pay for assistance when you need help with daily living. That kind of help tends to be very expensive and typically isn't covered by health insurance.
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