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How to Advise Your Longest-Lived Clients

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It used to be that we could think of retirement in a kind of predictable way.

People lived into their 70s perhaps, and we measured retirement by that. We used tables, algorithms and other tools to tell us how much we should save and how much we could spend in retirement. And it was all based on assumptions that may no longer apply.

Life expectancy for a woman in the U.S. in 2018 was 84 years. For a man, the figure is 80 years. Those averages do not take into account the fact that well educated and financially secure people live longer than average. This is presumably based on the notion that people who know what a healthy lifestyle is and who can afford the best medical care will outlive those who do not have those advantages. In my own county, for example, which has a high proportion of elders compared to other counties in California, one wealthy city shows a life expectancy for men of 93 years.

Suppose that your aging client lives to be 93, having retired at age 65. That’s 28 years of retirement. What the algorithms don’t clarify is what you, the advisor needs to plan for with your client during the last decade of life, from 83-93.  No formula is going to help you with the individual discriminations you need to make concerning your client’s risks for care and how to assess and plan for them. They can be a substantial cost, out of pocket, not covered by Medicare, and absolutely necessary.

The way we age is determined by two main factors: hereditary tendency and lifestyle. Our genetic makeup directs only about 30% of the equation. The other 70% is driven by the way we choose to live our lives.  There are plenty of folks who think that a healthy lifestyle is just too much bother. They avoid exercise, eat whatever they feel like eating, never learn to manage stress and say they’d rather die a few years sooner than give up their habits, which their doctor advises against.

Here’s the problem with that belief. Leading an unhealthy lifestyle does not just cause you to “die sooner”. Rather, it may likely cause you to live with impairments, disabilities and a need for expensive long term care for chronic health conditions. These can go on for decades.

Take obesity, for example. Over two-thirds of Americans are overweight or obese. Obviously excess weight increases our risks for all manner of health issues, including diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, and strokes. When a doctor makes a diagnosis of one of these, the person doesn’t typically just die on the spot and save a lot of expense later on. No. The medical providers will keep the person going with medications, surgery in some cases, lots of diagnostic monitoring and trips to the doctors. These chronic conditions usually lead to disability late in life, particularly when more than one of them exists in the same person.

Related: Advisors: Are Your Aging Clients Targets? Will The Senior Safe Act Help?

If you have aging clients, you definitely need to understand health risks in a basic way, so that you can help your clients set aside funds for the care they are likely to need in the last years of their retirement lives.  All of the chronic conditions I mentioned are manageable with an effort toward a healthy lifestyle but for those who do not wish to do the work involved, you can bet on a likely need for long term care. While you can’t predict the future, you can plan for risk. It’s what you do.

My own mother in law had high blood pressure and chronic kidney disease for decades. She worked vigorously at diet, exercise, social activities and other components of a healthy lifestyle. Heredity was not on her side. She lived to be 96. During the last 3 years of her life, she needed help. She moved to a seniors’ community where help was available and eventually, she paid for private caregivers. Her cost of living at the last part of her life was $120,000 a year. If this were your client, would he or she have at the ready $360,000 to pay for care? How about if there was no pursuit of a great lifestyle? The care expense could easily be 10 years.

The takeaway here is that advising for longevity needs to include the skill of assessing fundamental health risks that create a need for out of pocket, long term care. You don’t need to be a doctor and you can’t predict everything, but you can do what is reasonable to help your client plan. Ask the right questions. Keep track of your client’s general health picture.

To learn more about what to look for and what to ask, get Hidden Truths About Retirement & Long Term Care, available at AgingInvestor.com and on Amazon.

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