Are Your Financially Prepared for Retirement?

By Camille Stell

Are you financially ready for a long Life After Law?

You may live a lot longer than you think and you need to be planning now for the future. 

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.

Here are a few tips to help you plan accordingly.

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

Some of you 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 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 that 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 financial milestones to reach retirement goals. The control you feel once you have a clear picture of your finances is liberating.

Having a knowledgeable, trust-worthy tax advisor on your team is important as you transition from work to retirement. Creating your retirement plan includes examining the tax consequences of your decisions such as selling or transitioning ownership of your practice.

Talking with members of your financial services advisory team 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.

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.

Long-term care and other insurance products. There are many insurance products that are designed to protect your law practice, to provide relief in case of business or personal emergency, and to prepare you for the future. The idea of insurance is to provide peace of mind, and to protect the assets you spend a lifetime building. We are living longer, and health care costs are growing. The Alzheimer’s Association estimates 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? 

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 that you can’t afford. 

Before the issue arises, consider how you will handle the situation. Get ready for difficult conversations about money. 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 yourself in a situation that you need to get out of, 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.”

Research your retirement benefit options. Go online and view the Social Security calculator. Understand your Medicare benefits. Ask your HR director or office manager to talk with you about any of your benefits that may carry over into retirement and if not, what are options for replacing those benefits? Consider part-time work or a side hustle that will provide additional income, as well as create joy in your Life after Law.

Share your financial plan. Do your family 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, my 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. I don’t recommend putting your family in that position. And then, unexpectedly, in December 2020, my mom received a notice from an insurance company. It seems there was an outstanding insurance policy that 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 the 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.

Conclusion

If you are in your 20’s and 30’s, you have a huge advantage in retirement planning – decades ahead of you during which your money can grow. If you are closer to retirement age, it’s more important than ever to plan ahead to ensure that when retirement rolls around, you will have something to look forward to.

About The Author

Camille Stell

Camille Stell is the President of Lawyers Mutual Consulting & Services and the 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. Continue this conversation by contacting Camille at camille@lawyersmutualconsulting.com or 800.662.8843.