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The Friday Five

Are You Financially Ready for Retirement?

By Camille Stell

Financially prepared for a long life after law? Here are five tips to help you with financial planning for retirement.

Lifespan has increased steadily in the U.S. over the past decades. According to Our World in Data, in 1950 life expectancy was 68 years. By 2015, it was 79 years. If you are 65 now, the odds of reaching age 90 are higher than you imagine. Bottom line: You may live longer than you think, so start planning now for a secure and enjoyable life after law.

1. Develop Your Personal Financial Services Advisory Team

Your retirement team should include your personal banker, your business manager, your accountant or CPA, your tax expert, and your estate planning lawyer and financial advisor, to name a few.

Some of you, especially younger lawyers, may be thinking you don’t have enough finances for anyone to provide guidance. Wrong. Working with a financial advisor early helps you create a plan at the beginning of your career for the transition to the end of your career.

Having a financial advisor is particularly important as you begin to think about planning for retirement. I’m surprised by my succession clients who have never met with a financial advisor. I find that some of these lawyers are worried their money won’t last through retirement. It is often our fear that keeps us from making smart financial decisions. When my clients find a financial advisor they trust, they are never disappointed.

A financial advisor will help you do the hard work of creating a retirement budget and setting milestones to reach financial goals. The control you feel once you have a clear picture of your finances is liberating.

Having a knowledgeable, trustworthy tax advisor on your team is important as you transition from work to retirement. Financial planning for retirement includes examining the tax consequences of your decisions, such as selling or transitioning ownership of your practice.

Talking with your financial services advisory team members about Social Security benefits could also help you determine whether to take benefits early or delay and how to factor Social Security benefits into your budget.

2. Max Out Your 401(k) Plan

Many employers provide 401(k) benefits and often match contributions. These tax-advantaged retirement accounts allow you to make contributions tax-free. And if your employer matches your contributions, you are turning down free money if you don’t contribute the maximum.

3. Long-term Care and Other Insurance Products

Many insurance products are designed to protect your law practice, provide relief in case of business or personal emergency, and prepare you for the future. The idea of insurance is to provide peace of mind and protect the assets you spend a lifetime building. We are living longer, and health care costs are growing. The Alzheimer’s Association estimates the cost for end-of-life care in 2019 ranged between $233,000 and $367,000. While health and disability insurance won’t cover long-term care, there is a special insurance product designed just for such needs: long-term care insurance.

When thinking about the right time to purchase insurance, will you ever be younger and healthier than you are today?

4. Set Healthy Boundaries Around Family Support

You’ve all heard the stories of lawyers who won’t (or can’t) retire because they are financially taking care of their aging parents, their own household and their grown children. If you can afford the generosity, that is great. But don’t sacrifice your own retirement to support grown children or pay for an education you can’t afford.

Before the issue arises, consider how you will handle it. Get ready for difficult conversations about money and determine the limits that will work for you. Try to keep emotion out of the decision-making process. Avoid impulsive decisions. And if you find you need to get out of a certain situation, use the excuse of your newly hired financial advisor: “My financial advisor tells me that I can’t afford to send you to graduate school for the third time. Otherwise, you will be supporting me in my retirement, and I’d hate to be a burden.”

5. Share Your Financial Plan

Do your family or friends the favor of creating a record of your finances and show them where to find it in case of an emergency.

My dad died unexpectedly at the age of 49. Not only were we grieving, but my mom, younger sister and I were also trying to find bank accounts, insurance policies and tax records to complete the business that goes along with dying. Then, unexpectedly, in December 2020, my mom received a notice from an insurance company. It seems an outstanding insurance policy turned up during a routine audit of insureds who would have reached milestone years. This news arrived 31 years after my dad’s death in the year of what would have been his 80th birthday. While the policy amount was very small, the amount of work required to claim it was intense. We had to reopen the estate, obtain certified copies of his death certificate, and complete a multitude of forms. All while the courthouse and government offices were on lockdown from the pandemic.

No one wants to think about an unexpected disability or death, but your family deserves advance planning.

If you are in your 20s or 30s, you have a huge advantage in financial planning for retirement — decades ahead of you during which your money can grow. If you are closer to retirement age, it’s important to jump on planning now to ensure that you will have something to look forward to when retirement rolls around.

Illustration ©iStockPhoto.com

Related Reading …

“Lawyer Retirement: Planning for Life After Law During a Pandemic” by Camille Stell

“Prepare Yourself for a Happy Retirement” by Ida Abbott

“Five Reasons Lawyers Avoid Retirement” by Camille Stell

“Saving for Retirement While Running Your Practice” by Ryan McPherson

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Camille Stell Camille Stell

Camille Stell is President of Lawyers Mutual Consulting & Services and co-author of “Designing A Succession Plan for Your Law Practice: A Step-by-Step Guide for Preparing and Packaging Your Firm for Maximum Value.” Camille is a Fellow of the College of Law Practice Management, a member of the inaugural Pro Bono Resource Center Advisory Board, and has been recognized by North Carolina Lawyers Weekly as a member of the inaugural class of “Leaders in the Law.” Follow her @camillestell.

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