Great retirements don't happen by accident, so don't expect your later years to be golden without a solid plan in place and good people to help you along the way. Building your retirement team is especially important these days; the weak economy, volatile investment markets, and prospects for cutbacks in key senior support programs can make retirement a scary obstacle course.
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While approaches to retirement planning may begin and end with a financial adviser, financial adequacy is only one component of a successful retirement. To build a truly great retirement, you may need lots of talented players on your retirement dream team. Not everyone's team will or should look the same. But here are the skilled players that you may want to recruit.
You. The first member of your retirement team may be someone you wouldn't think about: you. Have you sat down and really asked (and answered) the hard questions about the rest of your life? This may not be a comfortable process. What dreams do you need to let go of? Which ones are still achievable? Do you even still have dreams? What are you willing to do to realize them?
Spouse, family, and friends. Retirement team members should also include at least one loved one who knows all the key details of your retirement finances, plan, and related needs. You need someone who is informed and has your best interests at heart, while at the same time can honestly tell you things you may not want to hear. Including key family members in your thoughts about your later years has become formally recognized as "having the conversation." So, when are you going to have the conversation?
Financial adviser. Financial advisers frequently become social workers for their elderly clients. "Social and family issues take on greater importance for older investors, often including a variety of aspects related to lifestyle changes in retirement," according to a report for financial advisers from the Insured Retired Institute, a trade association for companies providing annuities and other retirement investment tools. "Beyond the usual focus on traditional investment advice," it added, "advisers will need to incorporate issues such as power of attorney, guardianship, or professional caregiving."
Accountant. If you have someone who does your taxes, consider broadening their role. A good accountant may know more about your financial situation than even your financial adviser. He or she should be in a strong position to provide informed advice about your future needs. At the same time, your tax returns amount to an annual report of your financial condition, and can serve as a good occasion to also review and amend your retirement plan.
Realtor. Our home is often our largest single asset, and can play a central role in retirement. Do you want to stay in your home the rest of your life? Move to a new home nearby or in another community? Get a reverse mortgage? A savvy Realtor can be a big ally in determining how to get the most value out of this valuable asset.
Insurance agent. Insurance is the single largest expense for many retired people. Health insurance garners most of the headlines. But there's home and auto insurance, long-term care insurance, and others. Life insurance may become an estate preservation tool rather than the family-support need it was in your earlier years. Annuities are insurance products. Some seniors get burial insurance. Do you have a go-to person for your insurance needs?
Attorneys. Beyond personal legal matters that may occur, there are several significant legal documents that govern your later years and eventually, your death and estate. Many people stop with a will, which is necessary but not enough. You also need to execute the appropriate healthcare documents. Who will make healthcare decisions on your behalf if you are incapacitated? What are your end-of-life wishes? The specific documents will depend on the state where you live. Retirement accounts, pensions, and other financial products also may contain beneficiary instructions. Are these instructions consistent with the provisions of your will?
Doctors. Achieving and keeping good health is essential to a great retirement. I don't know about you, but my doctors have become an increasingly important part of my retirement team as I get older. In fact, I now consider them a team unto themselves. After some false starts, my primary care physician and several specialists are all part of the same larger medical team. They share records. They may consult with each other on my behalf. I know who to call, and am confident there will be someone on the end of the line who actually knows that I exist as more than a patient number.