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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Well, there’s several things about the comments that kinna get my dander up!
The biggest thing I’ve learned in life is… I am the most important factor in my health score PERIOD.
A book y’all need is CHOOSING THE STRONG PATH.
This is a great start to health.
I’ve had major health scares in my time, my response:
I first LEARN all I can about the malady. Then TAKE ACTION with changes to my lifestyle to counter the problem. The body is so amazing to heal its self.
I had that ol prostate cancer with a Gleason score of 8.
I did a shotgun approach and did many things to combat it.
After removal of the gland 9 months later, the score had dropped to 7. I may have cured myself but didn’t know it at the time.
Also, precancerous polyps in the colon and osteopenia have likewise been diminished by similar ACTION.
We need the mindset that WE are responsible for our selves, doctors and the medical industry are only there for limited help, NOT to take over our health. My prostate Dr. had this saying. “Let’s not over think this.” I got very little information from them, just to be a pawn, not a King of myself.
Look, I worked hard to be able to be in a great position in retirement and it’s very gratifying to see it all coming together. I just this month turned on another $34K stream of income which makes it number 5 for life. I’ve now got money, and time. Why wouldn’t I want to take care of me and keep myself healthy, and LIVE??
I am 650 miles from home, and just made an appointment to join the local gym in the town I am in tonight at 5PM.
YOU do the same!
I normally don’t post twice on an article, but I thought of something that might be useful for everyone’s children and/or the person who has your healthcare power of attorney. My father was 87 and had a bad stroke. The doctor asked me what do, and I knew exactly; “no heroic measures” (as the wording goes). Dad had coached me over the years saying he’d had a good life (in fact he had a great life) and did not, in no uncertain terms, wish to be revived if that decision needed to be made. He didn’t tell this to me once, he repeated it several times (I guess he wanted it to sink in). It was a very sad day for me, but I was completely at peace with making the decision. It was his last gift to me.
Good article Dick. I always enjoy your writings. I too am 78. You have given a lot of thought to your estate and what to do with everything. That is great.
One of my and my wife’s concerns is how to manage everything after my death. I handle all of our finances which are mostly online. My wife does not use computers or the Internet, although she took classes on this years ago. I put together instructions for her in great detail and simple terms. I have also shared this with our two children who would undoubtedly have to help her.
As a result of doing this, I put together a presentation entitled “The Letter” which I have presented to several retiree groups this year. It essentially identifies all the things to account for and document as well as advice on some topics. The presentation has been well received, and my impression was that many of my audiences had work to do on this topic.
It is common for one spouse to handle most, if not all of the family’s finances and business affairs. The other spouse has great fear of how to handle everything after their loved ones passing. That was my inspiration for The Letter.
We are in the same position and put together a “final instructions” letter as well.
Your articles on Humble Dollar reveal your wisdom and wit. I hope your body of work will always be available for your grandchildren (and others) to read. I wish my father and my grandfather had shared their thoughts in writing.
The dangers of smoking are much clearer now, and spectacular changes in managing blood pressure and heart disease have also given the average person an extra decade or two. Now how to use that time, and also decline with grace?
Whether it’s a model plane collection or a grandmother’s china, the disconnect between modern interests and the past seems wider than ever. The last of my kids haven’t started their own households yet, but when they do, it’s “everything must go” with nearly all my possessions. If on my last day only a cot and a chair to pull up to the kitchen counter remain, I’ll feel accomplished.
All kidding aside, what (few) tasks lie ahead for you and your family? For instance, do you have boxes of photographs that don’t say who’s in a photo or when and where it was taken?
I’ve stayed in my house too long already maybe. Lately I’ve been working through my garage, and tossing or mailing off a box or envelope to interested persons across the family. (Very few things belong in special collections.) If I leave it to the end, my kids would probably just have someone come and throw it all out. Not because there’s nothing they’d want, but at that time it won’t be worth the emotional toll of the effort to find what might be of some small pleasure or remembrance. Best to sort it now, send it now. At least some of it, every year, until the end.
As for your critical question, what if you are the survivor? It’ll happen to one or the other of you. Worth a thought experiment by each of you or do it together. Think you might wish for more photos from your recent travels that show your spouse, or the two of you together? Take them now. A couple minutes of audio or video of the other person doing something you always laugh about now? Make a home movie this weekend. A “just in case” last letter written especially for you, or your family? Something for a rainy day.
How do you count on each other now, and how would you adapt to the other being gone?
Because your family seems close and helpful, your kids might have a few excellent ideas to add to the mix.
Best of wishes for many more years of happy retirement, together.
We downsized four years ago from a house to a 55+ condo community and we have yet to complete going through boxes of stuff, especially photos and other treasures. We know for sure the stuff we have collected on our world travels is not wanted by our children, things like Waterford crystal and German porcelain that past generations would have loved.
“Amen” to all, but especially to the last item.
My wife and I have a counter-suicide-type pact: we each promise to outlive the other. After it’s all over, my plan is for us to meet up and discuss how it worked.
One issue not addressed in this otherwise comprehensive article is the issue of a long term disabling disease or medical crisis (e.g. stroke). Especially if it affects the surviving spouse. Do you have LTCi? Or a plan that involves your kids? I live alone, with no nearby relatives. I chose a long time back not to take out LTCi, and instead plan to move to a CCRC next year, where other people will worry about how to care for me if I develop dementia, or if my rheumatoid arthiritis is no longer controlled by medication. I would not want to have to find a nursing home, never mind in-home care, when I am older, frailer, or suffering from early dementia and need the help immediately. (Although my actual plan for a dementia diagnosis is a one-way ticket to Switzerland…)
In fact we both have LTC policies although they will cover only a small portion of the cost. Given that scenario would mean lower other costs like travel, we would divert our SS to that purpose along with currently reinvested interest and dividends.
We looked into a CCRC several years ago, took a look around and found it too depressing plus very expensive.
One is a very small sample size. I visited three CCRCs, and read the brochures and Disclosure Statements for several more before making my choice. It is not at all depressing, unless you find the presence of old people (like yourself) depressing, and while certainly not cheap is not, in my view, “very” expensive. CCRCs come in several flavors and you really can’t judge on the basis of just one.
The issue is not simply money, but the ability to spend it wisely, which is likely to diminish with age and infirmity. I understand, too, that it can be hard to get a bed in a good quality nursing home at short notice.
I don’t want to live to be 100. My mother died at 95, my aunt at 102 and uncle at 99. All of them had a really crappy quality of life the last five years of their lives. My mother was in assisted living for three years and and full nursing for another three years. No thanks.
As i said “reasonably healthy and know where i am”
My brother had been smoking for 40 years and developed COPD. He continued to smoke. My father commented that maybe that was his retirement plan since he hadn’t saved any money. (Dad sometimes had a pointed sense of humor.) My brother died at 64. I guess he did avoid the problems of financing a retirement.
A really beautiful article. What an expression of love! I thought I had most of the bases covered, but you gave me some ideas of how to finish rounding the bases before I enter the dugout.
Thanks for once again sharing your thoughts and experiences. My oldest brother died at age 66, an early age for death which seems to have been driven by his choice to smoke. I know that my sister and I both were apprehensive about our own morality in the year we were 66 and I expect we will be again if / when we reach the age our parents died.
One additional consideration to your excellent planning – I do not expect I need to worry about estate taxes but I am concerned about the increase in income tax rates and liabilities for whichever of us is the surviving spouse due to the way our tax code currently works. I am planning to smooth our estimated income tax over our expected joint life by paying some tax sooner by converting traditional IRA or 401k balances to Roth’s by taking my RMDs early in the year and near the end of each MFJ return year using best estimates of current year income and tax to convert an appropriate additional distribution amount to Roth’s on an annual basis so that by the time the first one of us dies the majority of retirement money is in a Roth. I expect a lot of my guesses will change annually with circumstances and tax law. Like you, my wife is my primary beneficiary and my kids are contingent. I hope my plan will be good tax planning for both my wife and I and then for our kids. I truly dislike the thought of our kids getting a big tax liability from us if they do inherit our traditional deferred retirement money.
FYI – the free online AARP tax calculator seems to be a great DIY tool for the current tax year for planning what if’s, particularity regarding the taxability of social security benefits for those who are in the phase in range of SS benefits becoming taxable or near the Medicare IRMAA thresholds.
Timely article, good content.
Dick, thanks for the honest article. My dad died at 71, also as a result of 50 years of cigarettes. Smoking also took 3 of my grandparents too early. I have only vague memories of my grandfathers. Wanting your grandchildren to remember you isn’t selfish – its a gift they’ll appreciate over their lives.
dick: just to let you know that this fellow 78-year-old always enjoys your columns. but more than that, thanks for showing me I still have some prep work to do before departing. having acted as executor for my sister’s estate I must salute her for mostly leaving things in good order. it still is a big job sorting everything out. you have inspired me to get to work.
Richard – you are so well organized that it is an inspiration or a kick in the butt for many of us. Now, your not needing to worry about outspending your savings and having two pensions may be relatable to many Humbledollar readers but I can’t relate. But of course you can only tell your story and can’t change the facts.
Very fortunate to have pension, but i worked for the same company for nearly 50 years to get them.
Dick, I’m impressed by your thoughtful planning for your wife. One of my first milestones on the way to retirement was accumulating enough savings, along with life insurance and SS, sufficient to support my wife and daughter without her returning to full time work. That was a big emotional boost for me. I think you’ll be remembered for your loving actions as well as your words.
I was an employee benefits director for many years and the one thing that bothered me most was when a retiree died and had not elected a survivor annuity or in some cases didn’t even designate the spouse as life insurance beneficiary. I was the one who usually had to explain to a new widow she was getting nothing.
Once I was giving a retirement planning session and explaining about survivor benefits, health benefits, etc. A women shouted at her husband, you never told me about any of that and then started beating him about the head with a rolled newspaper.
I remember receiving a call from a distraught widow who had learned she was getting nothing. “ My Charlie said I would get everything I deserved, she said 🙄
Good read and I’m the one who thought I would go first, lost her 3 years ago. You would be surprised how you can adjust to sadness and begin living life again.
As the joint executor for my mothers estate, a little education ahead of time, might be helpful for the person you named as executor . Just so they are prepared. Good article and good luck!
Richard I have enjoyed your posts on HumbleDollar and this post on Counting Down struck home. My wife and I have a vacation home and have seen other families children who have inherit their parents vacation home fight over what to do with it. You mentioned, “We spelled our how our vacation home will be handled among the children.” Would you be willing to share with your readers how you chose to handle your vacation home when you and your wife are gone?
The vacation house is very special to me, but I’ve come to realize our children may not feel exactly the same. Several of our grandchildren enjoy the house each summer too. While I would like to see it remain in the family, I have no right to impose that burden on the kids.
About ten years ago we put the house in a family trust with our four children as beneficiaries. We asked each of them if they wanted their share of the house or the equivalent in cash. They said they didn’t know and didn’t want to decide then. The house is 300 miles away from where they (we) live.
We set up the trust so that any one of the four who decided they didn’t want the house at the time the trust is activated would received 1/4 of the then current value of the house from our estate with ownership of the house divided among those or the one who want to keep the house.
Our attorney wisely asked if we thought our children could afford to keep the house. As we thought about it, the answer was likely no. So, we set aside $100,000 for care and maintenance of the house to be adjusted annually for inflation from the date of the trust. I estimate it is now about $123,000.
In the past year we have done necessary repairs and remodeled the kitchen and bathrooms, painted inside and out, replaced the deck in order to minimize future major expenses.
Thank you for clarifying. I am not very well versed in this subject and I wonder if I could ask you a follow up question. Our estate attorney didn’t feel that a trust was necessary to achieve the objective of our three kids dealing with the vacation home. They will each inherit enough from our estate outside the vacation home to buy out a sibling who wants out. They will also have enough money to carry the expenses of the vacation home. Although I do like your idea of setting $ 100,000 aside and adjusting it for inflation. Furthermore when my wife or I die, I am not sure the surviving spouse will want to hold on to the vacation home. So my question is what are the benefits of establishing a trust? You have me thinking that maybe we should do that.
It was based on the advice of our attorney. I don’t know the legal reasons, but i can tell you the attorney was adamant about not leaving anything to chance or people doing what may be expected of them. For example, you say your kids could buy out the others. At what price, when? We just wanted to be as specific as possible. The trust is specific as to how any buy out must work.
“It would also ensure that all my grandchildren would be old enough to remember me..”
Richard- that alone would be enough to make me want to carry on. Thanks for sharing and reminding us of our own mortality.
Good checklist for the practical side of estate planning, Richard. The two pensions are prized tools in your plan.
That’s very true, life would be very different without a pension and it would have been very different in the years leading up to retirement too. In fact, I suspect there would not be a vacation home to worry about.