Wednesday, September 16, 2015

How to Draw Down Retirement Assets

As you approach your retirement, one of the first things you may wonder is how to draw down your assets.  How much money can you take out of your IRA, Roth IRA, 401(k) or other savings, investments and liquid assets, and still feel confident that your money will last the rest of your life?  What laws will affect the amount of your withdrawal?  What asset withdrawal system will work the best for you?

Start with a Retirement Budget

The first thing you need to do is carefully list all of your current expenses and come up with an accurate budget.  Next, go through the budget and adjust it to account for any expenses that you believe will be higher or lower after you retire.

For example, if your employer currently pays for your medical insurance, or you have a company car, those expenses may be higher after you retire.

On the other hand, if you currently pay high individual insurance premiums and you plan to use a Medicare Advantage Plan with low premiums after retirement, your medical expenses may be lower.  In addition, if you have high fuel and auto costs due to a long commute, those expenses will be reduced, too.

Don't forget to include the cost of hobbies and travel during your retirement year.  Owning a boat or traveling extensively can add a substantial amount to your retirement costs.

Obtain Accurate Estimates of Your Pensions and Social Security Benefits

Once you have estimated your expenses, you will need to get an accurate estimate of what you will receive in pensions and Social Security benefits.  You should be able to obtain this information from your pension plan administrator and from the Social Security administration.

Compare your retirement expenses to your retirement income.

If there is a gap (and for most people there will be), you will either need to downsize or fill that gap from your liquid assets.

What is the best strategy for doing that?

Required Minimum Distribution Rules

If your assets are in an IRA, you are required to draw minimum amounts from your account once you turn 70 1/2.  The amount you must withdraw is calculated based on your life expectancy, using factors listed in IRS Publication 590.  The owner of an IRA simply divides their total year-end portfolio balance by the life expectancy factor listed for their age.  Each year you will need to repeat this process.  The amount you must withdraw will vary depending on your age and the success of your investments.  The withdrawal percentage increases as you age.

According to Kiplinger's Retirement Report for May, 2015, this strategy out-performs other systems for drawing down your assets.  In addition, if most of your assets are in a traditional IRA, this is the strategy that you are required by law to follow.

Spending Only the Portfolio's Interest and Dividends

For those retirees who have their money invested outside traditional IRA's, in a Roth IRA or investment account, for example, they may hope to leave the principal to their heirs.  As a result, they may decide to only use the portfolio's interest and dividends for their personal expenses.

There are two potential risks with this type of asset withdrawal plan:

1.  They might not have enough interest and dividends to meet their needs.
2.  They might choose stocks based only on their dividends, rather than on whether they are good long-term investments with growth potential.

However, assuming you do not have either of those problems, this system works well for people who hope to leave an estate to their loved ones or to a favorite charity.

The Four Percent Withdrawal Rule

Another option that is simple to follow is for the retiree to simply withdraw 4 percent of their liquid assets the first year and then increase that base amount by three percent of the withdrawal amount each year, to account for inflation.  In other words, if you have $100,000 in assets, you would withdraw $4,000 the first year, $4,120 the second year, $4,243 the third year, etc.

With this plan, it is very unlikely that you would outlive your assets.  Even with only a tiny return on your investments, they should about 25 years.  If you started at age 65, your assets would last until age 90.  If you receive an average return over the years, your assets could last much longer.

However, if you were hoping to leave money to your heirs, it is possible that you would draw down all your assets and there would be nothing left.  If returns remain very low during that period of time and you lived well past the age of 100, it is also possible that you could outlive your assets.

How Should You Draw Down Your Assets?

One factor you will need to consider is how large your retirement deficit is and which asset withdrawal plan will best fill that gap. 

That is why you need to start with a reasonable budget first.  If you know that your gap is going to be larger than you can fill using any of the asset draw-down systems, you may need to make some adjustments to your lifestyle ... perhaps moving to a smaller residence, paying off your mortgage or other bills before retiring, or making additional adjustments.

With adequate retirement savings and a little financial planning, you should be able to retire and not spend your "Golden Year" fretting over your finances.

If you are looking for more retirement ideas, including financial planning, where to retire, medical issues and family relationships, use the tabs or pull down menu at the top of this article.  They will connect you to hundreds of additional retirement articles.

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Tuesday, September 8, 2015

TIA Mini Strokes - Transient Ischemic Attacks

Recently, I was shocked to learn that a good friend of mine had experienced three mini strokes, also known as TIA's or Transient Ischemic Attacks, in the past four months.  When she told me what happened, she described her first TIA this way:

She was discussing a new project with her boss when, inexplicably, she realized that nothing her boss was telling her made sense, even though my friend was familiar with the project and knew she should understand what was being said.  She asked her boss to write the details down for her and then she left the room.  Although she could walk and talk, looked normal and was even able to cover up her confusion, she still realized that she couldn't understand most of what was being said to her.  She went outside and sat on a bench outside her office building.  A few minutes later, a co-worker came out to check on her and realized there was a problem.  They called an ambulance.  Her confusion gradually passed and she was feeling much better by the time she reached the hospital.  She was shocked to learn that she had experienced a mini-stroke or TIA.

Our conversation completely stunned me, especially when she told me that it has happened twice more since that first event, despite the fact that she is being treated for the condition.  This woman has a high powered job as the supervisor over a number of employees in a California state department.  She is normally assertive and comes across as self-confident and capable.  I was shocked to hear that something like this had happened to her.  I was equally surprised to hear that she was able to hide it from her superior, while she was in the middle of experiencing a TIA.  Is it possible someone else I am with in the future could experience a TIA, and I would not even recognize it?

I realized how important it is to learn the symptoms so I would recognize them, should this ever happen to me or someone I am with.

Facts about TIA - Transient Ischemic Attacks

*  A TIA has similar symptoms to a major stroke, but they usually last only a few minutes and cause no permanent damage.

*   Like a major stroke, TIAs are typically caused by a build-up of plaque in your arteries which can release a blood clot that blocks the blood supply to part of your brain.  In a TIA, the blockage is temporary so the symptoms pass quickly.

*  About one-third of the people who have a TIA will eventually have a major stroke.  In about half of those cases, it will happen within a year.

*  TIAs are sometimes regarded as a warning of an impending stroke.

Risk Factors for TIAs

*  Some risk factors you cannot avoid: being over age 55, being male, being black, having sickle cell disease, or having a personal or family history of strokes or TIAs.  My friend is a 59 year old white female, so it is obvious that people who don't fit the typical "profile" can also experience a TIA.

*  Certain lifestyle choices can make you more susceptible to TIAs: smoking, heavy drinking, poor diet, lack of exercise, illegal drug use (particularly cocaine), or using birth control pills.  My friend does not smoke, drink or use illegal drugs.  She still experienced a TIA.

*  There are other risk factors that you can treat to lower your risk: high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, heart disease, peripheral artery disease, obesity, carotid artery disease, or high levels of homocysteine. My friend has lost weight, but did have a history of obesity and was pre-diabetic, both of which could have contributed to her TIA.

As you can see, almost anyone can have a mini stroke.  Even if you do not think you are at risk, you should still pay attention to any symptoms you might experience.

Symptoms of TIA Mini Strokes

*  You may experience weakness or numbness on one side of your face, or in one arm or leg.

*  Your speech may be blurred or garbled.  You may also have trouble understanding what other people say.  (This was the only symptom that my friend experienced, and that was frightening enough.)

*  You may experience temporary blindness in one or both eyes, or double-vision.

*  You may feel dizzy or uncoordinated.

Remember, like my friend, you may only experience one of these symptoms.  Even if your symptoms seem mild and go away after a few minutes, it is important that you see a doctor right away in order to prevent a major stroke.

Treatment for Transient Ischemic Attacks

After a variety of tests to diagnose the cause of your TIA, your doctor will choose a treatment regimen for you. Below are some of the common treatment plans:

*  Anti-platelet drugs such as aspirin, Plavix or Aggrenox.

*  Anti-coagulants such as Coumadin, Warfarin or Heparin.

*  Carotid surgery to clear out the plaques.

*  Angioplasty or the insertion of a stent in your carotid artery.

For additional information, you may want to read this article from the Mayo Clinic:

For more information on retirement and aging, use the tabs or pull down menu at the top of the page to find links to hundreds of helpful articles on other health issues you could experience, financial planning, where to retire and changing family relationships.

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Thursday, September 3, 2015

The Baby Boomer Body Maintenance Plan

The majority of Baby Boomers are looking forward to living longer than previous generations.  In fact, I have read that if you are healthy at age 65, the average person can look forward to living well into their 80's. Information about increasing our longevity seem to be everywhere.

Unfortunately, the longer we live, the more likely we are to deal with some of the difficulties of having an aging body ... poor eyesight, deafness, hair loss, weight gain, osteoporosis, heart disease and, perhaps the biggest worry of all, mental decline.

With a little forethought and "maintenance," however, most people will be able to minimize these problems or, at the very least, postpone them longer than they may have thought possible.

You might be surprised to know that our body actually starts to decline long before we realize it.  As a result, you are never too young to begin taking better care of it.  The longer you can postpone health issues, the more likely it is that you will enjoy good health when you reach your 70's and 80's.

As a result, it was with great interest that I read an article titled "Stretch Your Timeline" in the March 2, 2015 issue of "Time" magazine.  In this article, they explained when different systems in our body begin to break down and how to slow down the process.  Below I have summarized their findings so we can all create our own personal body maintenance plan.

How to Maintain Your Body

Skin - I was shocked to learn that the collagen and elastin in our body begin to decline at a rate of about 1% a year starting at age 18.  Every teenager who is considering cooking herself in the sun or in a tanning salon should know about this.  In addition to protecting your skin with sunscreen, no one should start smoking if they hope to have nice skin later in life.  One worrisome issue that "Time" pointed out is that apparently some compact fluorescent light bulbs can also damage the skin.

Lungs - We begin to lose about 1% of our lung function per year starting at age 30.  Exercise will slow down the process and, although "Time" didn't specifically mention this, I'm sure this is another reason to avoid smoking.

Bones - By age 35, our bone mass begins to decline at a rate of 1% a year.  Weight bearing exercise, including jumping up and down, can help maintain your bone mass.

Muscles - Once again, exercise can come to the rescue and slow down the muscle loss that is common after the age of 40.

Eyes - Another part of our body that begins to decline at age 40 are our eyes.  Smoking speeds this up, as well as sun exposure.  Don't smoke and wear good quality sunglasses whenever you are outside, even on an overcast day.

Kidneys - Around age 50, your kidney function will start to decline.  People who drink plenty of fluids are less likely to experience as much kidney decline ... so drink water every day.

Gut - By age 60, our gut starts to absorb fewer nutrients.  As a result, it becomes even more important that you begin to make sure you are eating nutrient dense, healthy foods and avoid empty calories.  Discuss with your doctor any vitamin shortages that come up in your blood work, and find out if you should be taking extra Vitamin B12, Vitamin D, or other vitamins and minerals.

Ears - Another issue that develops in our 60's is hearing loss.  In fact, one out of three people between the ages of 65 and 74 have measurable hearing loss.  I was shocked that there does not seem to be much you can do to avoid it, other than avoiding loud music and other loud sounds.

Heart - Heart disease usually begins to appear around the mid-60's.  However, it actually started back in our 20's or 30's, when our peak aerobic capacity began to decline at about 10% per decade.  While "Time" didn't mention anything specific to do in order to postpone the decline in the aerobic capacity of our hearts, we know that exercise, maintaining a healthy weight, and eating healthy are all ways to extend the life expectancy of our heart.

Brain - If we do everything else, but lose our cognitive function, there is almost no point to having a healthy body.  Fortunately, the same activities that keep the rest of our body healthy will also benefit our brain ... avoid smoking, get exercise, and eat a healthy diet.  In addition, we need to keep our brain active by engaging in social activities and doing things that stimulate our brain ... playing games, working puzzles, or learning a foreign language are all good ideas.

If you want to learn more about how to take care of your aging body, use the tabs or pull down menu at the top of this article.  They will connect you with hundreds of additional articles on medical information for Baby Boomers, where to retire, family relationships, travel and more.

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Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Livable Communities for Retirement

Since the vast majority of retirees make the decision to continue to live in their current home or, at the very least, their current neighborhood when they retire, many people wonder if this is the best choice for them.  Now, AARP has come up with a matrix to help senior citizens compare the livability of different neighborhoods around the United States and enable people to look up their own community, or another one that interests them, and see how different neighborhoods compare with each other and the national averages.  Comparing different neighborhoods has just become a whole lot easier!

What is a Livable Neighborhood?

Of course, livability means different things to different people.  As a result, AARP looked at sixty different factors including: availability of affordable housing (including apartments and condos), access to work and play, transportation, the environment, engagement, health, opportunity, access to jobs, and amenities.

The AARP List of Most Livable Neighborhoods

When they were done with their research, including surveying thousands of people over the age of 50, here was the AARP final list of the ten most livable neighborhoods in the United States.  They have narrowed it down, not just to cities, but specific neighborhoods within the cities:

Mifflin West, Madison, WI
Upper West Side, Manhattan, NY
Downtown Crossing, Boston
South of Market, San Francisco
Washburn, La Crosse, WI
Downtown Sioux Falls, S.D.
Southside, Virginia, Minnesota
Downtown Bismarck, N.D.
Downtown Seattle
Downtown Los Alamos, N.M.

Other Categories of Livable Places to Retire

Of course, relatively few people live in the communities mentioned above.  In addition, those neighborhoods might not be anywhere near where you currently live or where you would like to live.  As a result, AARP also came up with several other categories of livable places.  These were:

Most Livable Cities
Best Cities for Staying Healthy
Easiest Cities to Get Around
Best Cities for Date Night
Best Cities for Making New Friends

Furthermore, they broke those lists down into three sub-categories ... large, medium and small cities.

It interested me that there were several cities on more than one list.

How to Evaluate Your Community

Are you curious about how your community compares to others?  AARP allows anyone free access to their matrix.  Here is how to find out how your community ranks:

1.  Log into
2.  Enter your address or, if your prefer, just your zip code
3.  It will show your livability score in several categories, including housing, access to work and play, transportation, environment, health, engagement, opportunity.

You can click on the various categories to learn more about each one and how your community ranked in a number of areas.

When I did this with my own community of Laguna Woods Village, California, it was above the average in five categories and below average in two.  It ranked particularly high in health, partly because there are few smokers, few obese people and there is plenty of access to exercise and health care.

My community's overall score was about the same as that of Austin, Texas ... another popular retirement city.

AARP Featured Cities

At the bottom of the website mentioned above, you can click on Featured Cities and see the scores of most of the major cities in the United States.  By entering a zip code, as described above, you can find out the details of specific neighborhoods in those cities.

Enjoy this fabulous way to research the communities where you might want to retire.  It is a great way to evaluate every place in the United States you think you may want to live and will help you decide which livable communities are right for you!

If you are looking for more retirement information and ideas, use the tabs or pull down menu at the top of this article to find links to hundreds of additional articles about retirement.

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Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Redesigning Death - Bring Joy to Your Final Days

While most of us do not want to think about it, we are all going to die.  It could happen at home, in a hospital or while out in public.  If we are lucky, we may have the time to say good-bye to our loved ones and spend time with them during the last few days of our lives.  However, death does not always come gradually.  Sometimes it happens with the speed of a heart attack or an auto accident. 

Most of us will have some type of funeral or memorial service; we will probably be interred in a cemetery or cremated, with our ashes distributed according to our instructions.  If we are leaving family and loved ones behind, there are likely to be sad relatives and lots of tears.  It all seems very simple, clear and preordained.  However, are there ways to change the feelings surrounding our death?

Death Redesigned

What if we could completely alter the process?  No, there is no way to prevent our death.  We may not even be able to predict when it will happen or postpone it.  However, with a little creativity, planning and forethought, we can change the way both we and our loved ones will experience our death.  What are some ways we can do that?

Plan the End of Your Life

One of the first things you can do is think about how you want to spend your final days, should you be given the opportunity to choose.  Do you want to die at home or in a hospital?  Would you prefer to cease treatment and get palliative, hospice care, instead?  Do you want your loved ones to be with you at the end?

What type of atmosphere do you want?  You can set the mood.  Do you want those last few days to be sad and tearful, or would you rather spend the time talking about all the happy memories of your life?

How to Change the Mood Surrounding Your Death

I love my children enough that it would break my heart to see them in tears while I was dying.  I would rather have them focus on the happy and funny experiences we have enjoyed together.  When I die, my goal will be to provide all the comfort I can to them.  What are some ways to do that?

1.  Put together photo albums to share with your loved ones at the end of your life.  Personalize them with photos of specific memories you had with each of them.  This could be a wonderful way to keep the conversation light and happy.  I went to a memorial service recently at which I was handed a DVD of the slide show about the deceased that was shown during the service.  The man had volunteered as a hospital clown through his church, and it was very touching to be able to play the DVD at home and see all the joy that had been part of his life.

2.  Write letters to the people you care about ... and it doesn't have to be only your family members.  One of our friends died of lung cancer a few years ago.  He owned a construction company and, during the last few weeks of his life, he wrote a letter to each of his sub-contractors, telling them how much he appreciated their years of service and giving them each one final payment.

I have also heard of parents who were dying far too young, who wrote a series of letters to their children that they could read each year on their birthdays.  The letters are usually meant to encourage them and include the things you would like to say to your children at each age.  In some cases, parents have even made DVDs for their children, so they can speak to them in a more personal way.

3.  After gifting - This was an idea I found in an article called "Death Redesigned," in the April 5, 2015 issue of The California Sunday Magazine.   You can arrange to have birthday gifts sent to family members for years after you die.  The gifts could even be something you made for each of them or a special item for a grandchild you have never met.  I think this is an especially caring thing to do if you are leaving behind young children.  It will bring them comfort to know that you were thinking of them and planning for them, even during the final few weeks of your life.

You don't have to limit yourself to family.  I recently read about a man in Great Britain who had a group of close friends that he would go with to the local pub.  He left them 3500 pounds (about $5000) so they could have a trip and a big party, at his expense.  This seemed like so much more fun for them than a terribly sad wake back at home.

4.  Messages from Beyond - The "Death Redesigned" article mentioned above also speculated about the idea of arranging for text messages to be sent to loved ones after your death.  This might work in some families; in others it might seem creepy or make it hard for them to move on.  Only you can decide whether this would be the right move for your family.  One of the points they made was how a widow would feel if she was on a date three years later and received a text message from her deceased husband.  If you decide to try this, make sure you write something loving and supportive; you will also not want these messages to go on for more than a few weeks or months. We all need to find a good time to let go of our loved ones.

5.  Share Your Story - So many times I have heard people say that they wished they had written down the stories that their grandparents shared about their lives.  Why don't you do it for your descendants?  Write down your memories and pass them on.  You can do something as simple as a typed document that you print out at home.  Or, you can get more elaborate and write it in book form, using a free service like Amazon's CreateSpace website.  They will produce paperback books that you and your family members can order for $5 or $6.  Order a couple of dozen of them yourself to be given out at your funeral.  Your descendants will appreciate knowing more about the lives of their ancestors and you will feel good knowing that your memories, experiences and dreams will not die with you.

One of our neighbors, who grew up in Korea before he and his wife moved to the United States, wrote a biography of their early years for his children and grandchildren. He also had extra copies printed out and gave them to his neighbors and friends.  I enjoyed reading about his early life and I am sure his descendants really appreciated the fact that he made the effort to do this.  

Taking Care of Your Will and Basic Funeral Plans

If you want to lighten the load on your family members, you will want to take care of all the basics, as well.  Make sure you have consulted with an attorney and written your will, trust, and advance directive.  Be sure you have put together a list of bank accounts, life-insurance policy numbers, user names and passwords for Facebook and other social media you use and put this information with your will.  In addition, you should give this information to the executor of your will.

You may also want to include any special instructions you have for where you want to be buried, specific requests for your funeral service, and any other messages you want to leave your loved ones.  We wrote a message to our daughters that we want them to read upon our death.

My husband and I have put together a notebook labeled "In The Event of Our Deaths."  We set it out whenever we are on a trip ... just in case something happens.  We have included copies of all our important information in our notebook, including copies of our will, special instructions, insurance information and anything else we thought would be helpful to them.  In addition, we made a copy of the information in this notebook and gave it to the daughters we chose to be our co-executors.  We wanted to make life as simple for them as possible.

While you may not want to do everything listed in this article, hopefully it will inspire you to redesign your own death in such a way that, while you cannot prevent your death, you feel as if you are going out on your own terms ... and that is the best any of us can do.

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