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Counting Down

Richard Quinn

I AM NOW AGE 78—the same age at which my father died 34 years ago. I’m starting to think about dying, though I have no immediate plans to do so.

Of course, my father effectively smoked himself to death, unleashing a combination of heart disease and emphysema. I’ve been a no-smoking zone my entire life. No, I’m not depressed and I’m not being maudlin. But if Queen Elizabeth can’t go on forever, what hope is there for us commoners?

My feelings aren’t helped by Facebook. I’m a member of several Facebook groups where I receive regular reports of the demise of friends and former colleagues, many of whom are younger than me. I’m afraid to check the obituaries these days. We humans like to use the phrase “if anything happens.” But we all know the translation.

This site has been a big part of my retirement—I’ve written some 180 articles and blog posts—so I figure maybe I’ll get an obituary. I’ve even been thinking about an epitaph: “Here lies a humble man with nary a dollar to his name.”

Statistically, I have almost nine years left. I’ll take that and even more—provided I remain reasonably healthy and know where I am. Some data say men age 70 and older have a 5.7% chance of living to 100. I’m not thrilled with those odds. But according to AARP’s magazine, you can better them a bit by living in a city, communicating with friends and relatives, and being spiritual. Seems like minimal effort. I hope texting counts.

Nine more years would allow me to meet one of my goals: to see at least one grandchild graduate college and get some benefit from the 529 plans my wife and I have funded. It would also ensure that all my grandchildren would be old enough to remember me—if they so choose. Pretty selfish, eh?

At this stage, running out of money is virtually impossible, thanks to my pension. My goal of leaving a legacy to our four children is also important—though my top priority is making sure my wife is financially secure, no matter what.

A couple of years ago at a restaurant with family, while we were all on vacation, the subject of not being immortal came up. How that happened between the clam chowder and the lobster rolls, I can’t recall. But I piped up, “I want to be cremated.” I hope the family took me seriously. I’m a bit claustrophobic and the thought of spending eternity in a… well, you know, that scares me. Besides, cremation is cheaper.

What I think about these days—not obsessively—is whether I’ve thought of everything. My wife and I both have wills, a family trust, various directives and so on. We’ve spelled out how our vacation home will be handled among the children. We want to avoid the fighting among siblings that I’ve seen destroy families.

We’ve promised the grandfather clock to our youngest son. Beyond that, all our personal possessions are up for grabs, though maybe not the jewelry—we only have one daughter. By the way, who wants the collection of wooden model planes built by my father during the Second World War?

For my wife, there’s a 50% survivor annuity on my qualified pension and a 75% survivor benefit on my supplemental pension. Life insurance will also provide her with two years’ worth of living expenses. Then there’s my Social Security benefit. Did I mention my wife is four years older than me? It’s okay, she knows I tell people—and, besides, she doesn’t read HumbleDollar.

I’m thinking her income needs will be taken care of, even without touching my IRA or our other investments, but they’re there if needed. I purposely bought some investments that generate regular income. There are two high-dividend individual stocks, along with some bond mutual funds that mostly generate tax-free interest. That means there would be additional income available to cover our condo’s property taxes and homeowners’ association fees.

My wife is the primary beneficiary on my IRA—a rollover from my 401(k)—with the children secondary. All our other investments are held jointly.

In a big red folder, I put monthly and quarterly financial statements, as well as screen shots of who to contact to collect my pension and insurance benefits. There are also copies of balances for my various health accounts, and how to access them, along with instructions for my wife, so she can continue Medigap coverage using the health reimbursement account funded by my former employer.

I’m glad I won’t be the one who has to go through all this. I don’t like paperwork. Have I thought of everything? Probably not. There are things that happen after our death over which we have limited or no control.

Still, there’s one thing that scares me more than anything else. What if I’m the surviving spouse?

Richard Quinn blogs at QuinnsCommentary.net. Before retiring in 2010, Dick was a compensation and benefits executive. Follow him on Twitter @QuinnsComments and check out his earlier articles.

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