The Myth of That “Nice Long Life Ahead” at Age 65
Probably I’m not the only one who has seen the deluge of ads on TV for Medicare supplement insurance.
One that really bothers me though is the bit with the actress saying she’s only in her 60s and “I’ve got a nice long life ahead.” She’s so smug and so sure she’s just fine and will stay that way.
The ad taps into the belief most people cherish, which is that impairments happen to other people and that they will just keep being fine, at any age. People say they want to live to be 100. Their imagination is that they will be perfectly capable in all ways and will not need any help at 100. That is belief, not truth.
What makes a “nice long life” anyway? No one ever wants to think about infirmity and cognitive decline. And yet, by the time we reach that nice old age of 85 at least one in three of us, and maybe even one in two will have Alzheimer’s disease. Not so nice. And oh, by the way, that supplement insurance the actress is promoting doesn’t pay for care if you need it at home long term. Neither does Medicare.
Every financial planner who has a client over age 65 needs to be considering that the “nice long life” that is part of our cultural fantasy is indeed dreaming for most people. It’s not about longevity. That we’ve probably got. It’s about good health in old age. That, we have definitely not totally figured out. As 10,000 people a day are now turning 70, it’s time to get past fantasy and consider how to make that long life a lot safer financially.
Are your client’s assets enough to pay for the care they are likely to need? If not, you, the client and her family must engage in the essential discussion about who will care for the client as she ages and how much it will likely cost. One must do the math. The cost of caring for someone with dementia at home is staggering. And the advisor needs to calculate it. This is not considering the usual figures thrown around about “the average couple at age 65 will spend “x” dollars on out of pocket medical expenses for their lifetimes”. None of those commonly used figures consider what it may cost to pay for a person with Alzheimer’s disease who lives for 7-20 years with the disease. Help from someone will be absolutely necessary for anyone with dementia.
Your portfolio review with a client at retirement is a good time to talk it over and bring up the actual, not fantasy prospects for the future. And here’s hoping you will not be influenced by stupid TV commercials about what the future may look like. Longevity can be wonderful, yes, and you can help make it financially safer for your older clients. A nice long life is certainly possible. And a long life with accessible assets to cover long-term home care near the last phase of life is ideal.
When it Comes to Your Money, Does the Truth Hurt?
“We’ve been arguing about this for year, and here we are in our 50’s. It’s time to stop!” Laura said empathically.
Paul’s downcast eyes and silence spoke volumes.
Laura continued, “We’ve worked with several advisors who have tried to help us invest our money in a sensible way. Then whenever the market goes down, Paul calls the advisor and tells him to sell everything! In all these years, no matter how much we work to build our financial security, we’re always playing catchup.”
Her words hung like a rain cloud about to burst when Paul began to speak. “I know, I know. I just can’t help it. I get nervous that we’re going to lose all our money. When the market goes down, I scramble—in my thoughts and in my actions. The driving force behind it is: At least if it’s in cash, the balance won’t go down.”
This is the moment where I felt I could lend my advice. First, I needed to learn about this particular couple and their values. Then, I could begin helping them take control of their finances.
“Tell me Paul,” I said. “What did you learn about money growing up? What messages did you hear as a child about money? From your father? From your mother?”
Paul’s eyes moved up and to the left, indicating his mind was reaching for memory. “My parents never talked to us kids about money, really. The one thing that stands out is my grandfather talking about The Great Depression and how it was such a tragic time. My parents both worked, but they never made a lot of money. They fought about money sometimes.”
“Any other memories about money?”
“Actually, yes. I remember when my father took me to the bank to open up a passbook savings and how exciting it was. The bank manager typed the passbook on this old manual typewriter and gave it to me. He showed me how the interest on the account added to the amount I deposited. I felt very grown up that day! But I guess that was the sum total of money training from my parents.”
“Can you help me understand how you and Laura make financial decisions?”
The question couldn’t be more impactful if a boulder had landed on his head. While Laura looked at Paul with a mildly accusatory glare, Paul searched for something to say that would keep his well-conceived protective fortress from crumbling. I interjected to ease the tension. I could feel the guilt in the air.
“Let me frame that another way, Paul and Laura. We all do the best we can as we live our lives. Let’s face it, our lives are filled with responsibilities in our families and our jobs, not to mention outside interests, health, and friends. While financial issues are important, unless you either have the knowledge and experience—or the help, most people avoid getting too deep into the confusion of managing their finances by doing the very least they can. What we don’t know scares us. So we defer, delay, make rash decisions based on our lack of time, knowledge, desire. Add a dash of fear to that equation, and you have a formula for financial problems. I want you to know, you are not alone. It’s more common than you could even imagine. The question is, do we allow the truth in so that we can move forward?”
It’s important to admit the truth behind our actions in order to rectify past and future mistakes or regrets. Living in denial only perpetuates making decisions that could potentially lead to financial disaster.
“I hate to admit it,” Paul said. “I guess in my desire to protect Laura from stress, I’ve made decisions that have hurt us, and I’m sorry. Michael, you hit the nail on the head. You defer, avoid, and allow your emotions to take over. And as a result, bad stuff happens. I think I’m ready to ask for help.”
Laura’s expression softened, and said, half-kiddingly, “You think?”
- 1 of 887