Financial Survival Guide for 10 Life Changes - dummies

Financial Survival Guide for 10 Life Changes

By Eric Tyson

Some of life’s changes come unexpectedly, like earthquakes. Others you can see coming when they’re still far off, like the birth of a child or a big storm moving in off the horizon. Whether a life change is predictable or not, your ability to navigate successfully through its challenges and adjust to new circumstances depends largely on your degree of preparedness.

Perhaps you find my comparison of life changes to natural disasters to be a bit negative. The changes discussed here should be occasions for joy. But understand that what one defines as a “disaster” has everything to do with preparedness. To the person who has stored no emergency rations in her basement, the big snowstorm that traps her in her home can lead to problems. But to the prepared person with plenty of food and water, that same storm may mean a vacation from work and some relaxing time off in the midst of a winter wonderland.

First, here are some general tips that apply to all types of life changes:

  • Stay in financial shape. An athlete is best able to withstand physical adversities during competition by prior training and eating well. Likewise, the sounder your finances are to begin with, the better you’ll be able to deal with life changes.
  • Changes require change. Even if your financial house is in order, a major life change — starting a family, buying a home, starting a business, divorcing, retiring — should prompt you to review your personal financial strategies. Life changes affect your income, spending, insurance needs, and ability to take financial risk.
  • Don’t procrastinate. With a major life change on the horizon, procrastination can be costly. You (and your family) may overspend and accumulate high-cost debts, lack proper insurance coverage, or take other unnecessary risks. Early preparation can save you from these pitfalls.
  • Manage stress and your emotions. Life changes often are accompanied by stress and other emotional upheavals. Don’t make snap decisions during these changes. Take the time to become fully informed and recognize and acknowledge your feelings. Educating yourself is key. You may want to hire experts to help, but don’t abdicate decisions and responsibilities to advisors — the advisors may not have your best interests at heart or fully appreciate your needs.

Here, then, are the major changes you may have to deal with at some point in your life. I wish you more of the good changes than the bad.

Starting out: your first job

If you just graduated from college or some other program, or you’re otherwise entering the workforce, your increased income and reduction in educational expenses are probably a welcome relief. You’d think, then, that more young adults would be able to avoid financial trouble and challenges. But they face these challenges largely because of poor financial habits picked up at home or from the world at large. Here’s how to get on the path to financial success:

  • Don’t use consumer credit. The use and abuse of consumer credit can cause long-term financial pain and hardship. To get off on the right financial foot, young workers need to shun the habit of making purchases on credit cards that they can’t pay for in full when the bill arrives. Here’s the simple solution for running up outstanding credit-card balances: Don’t carry a credit card. If you need the convenience of making purchases with a piece of plastic, get a debit card. If you keep a credit card, be certain that you can pay each monthly bill in full and on time. Setting it up for automatic electronic payment from your bank/investment account can help you accomplish that.
  • Get in the habit of saving and investing. Ideally, your savings should be directed into retirement accounts that offer tax benefits unless you want to accumulate down-payment money for a home or small-business purchase. Thinking about a home purchase or retirement is usually not in the active thought patterns of first-time job seekers. I’m often asked, “At what age should a person start saving?” To me, that’s similar to asking at what age you should start brushing your teeth. Well, when you have teeth to brush! So I say you should start saving and investing money from your first paycheck. Try saving 5 percent of every paycheck and then eventually increase your saving to 10 percent. If you’re having trouble saving money, track your spending and make cutbacks as needed.
  • Get insured. When you’re young and healthy, imagining yourself feeling otherwise is hard. Many twenty-somethings give little thought to the potential for healthcare expenses. But because accidents and unexpected illnesses can strike at any age, forgoing coverage can be financially devastating. When you’re in your first full-time job with more-limited benefits, buying disability coverage, which replaces income lost due to a long-term disability, is also wise. And as you begin to build your assets, consider making out a will so your assets go where you want them to in the event of your untimely passing.
  • Continue your education. After you get out in the workforce, you (like many other people) may realize how little you learned in formal schooling that can actually be used in the real world and, conversely, how much you need to learn that school never taught you. Read, learn, and continue to grow. Continuing education can help you advance in your career and enjoy the world around you.

Financial implications of changing jobs or careers

During your adult life, you’ll almost surely change jobs — perhaps several times a decade. I hope that most of the time you’ll be changing by your own choice. But let’s face it: Job security is not what it used to be. Downsizing has impacted even the most talented workers, and more industries are subjected to global competition.

Always be prepared for a job change. No matter how happy you are in your current job, knowing that your world won’t fall apart if you’re not working tomorrow can give you an added sense of security and encourage openness to possibility. Whether you’re changing your job by choice or necessity, the following financial maneuvers can help ease the transition:

  • Structure your finances to afford an income dip. Spending less than you earn always makes good financial sense, but if you’re approaching a possible job change, spending less is even more important, particularly if you’re entering a new field or starting your own company and you expect a short-term income dip. Many people view a lifestyle of thriftiness as restrictive, but ultimately those thrifty habits can give you more freedom to do what you want to do. Be sure to keep an emergency reserve fund.

If you lose your job, batten down the hatches. You normally get little advance warning when you lose your job through no choice of your own. It doesn’t mean, however, that you can’t do anything financially. Evaluating and slashing your current level of spending may be necessary. Everything should be fair game, from how much you spend on housing to how often you eat out to where you do your grocery shopping. Avoid at all costs the temptation to maintain your level of spending by accumulating consumer debt.

  • Evaluate the total financial picture when relocating. At some point in your career, you may have the option of relocating. But don’t call the moving company until you understand the financial consequences of such a move. You can’t simply compare salaries and benefits between the two jobs. You also need to compare the cost of living between the two areas: housing, commuting, state income and property taxes, food, utilities, and all the other major expenditure categories.

Financial implications of getting married

Ready to tie the knot with the one you love? Congratulations — I hope that you’ll have a long, healthy, and happy life together. In addition to the emotional and moral commitments that you and your spouse will make to one another, you’re probably going to be merging many of your financial decisions and resources. Even if you’re largely in agreement about your financial goals and strategies, managing as two is far different than managing as one. Here’s how to prepare:

  • Take a compatibility test. Many couples never talk about their goals and plans before marriage, and failing to do so breaks up many marriages. Finances are just one of numerous issues you should discuss. Ensuring that you know what you’re getting yourself into is a good way to minimize your chances for heartache. Ministers, priests, and rabbis sometimes offer premarital counseling to help bring issues and differences to the surface.
  • Discuss and set joint goals. After you’re married, you and your spouse should set aside time once a year, or every few years, to discuss personal and financial goals for the years ahead. When you talk about where you want to go, you help ensure that you’re both rowing your financial boat in unison.
  • Decide whether to keep finances separate or manage them jointly. Philosophically, I like the idea of pooling your finances better. After all, marriage is a partnership. In some marriages, however, spouses may choose to keep some money separate so they don’t feel the scrutiny of a spouse with different spending preferences. Spouses who have been through divorce may choose to keep the assets they bring into the new marriage separate in order to protect their money in the event of another divorce. As long as you’re jointly accomplishing what you need to financially, some separation of money is okay. But for the health of your marriage, don’t hide money, transactions (unless it’s a gift for your spouse), or debts from one another, and if you’re the higher-income spouse, don’t assume power and control over your joint income.

Coordinate and maximize employer benefits. If one or both of you have access to a package of employee benefits through an employer, understand how best to make use of those benefits. Coordinating and using the best that each package has to offer is like getting a pay raise. If you both have access to health insurance, compare which of you has better benefits. Likewise, one of you may have a better retirement savings plan — one that matches and offers superior investment options. Unless you can afford to save the maximum through both your plans, saving more in the better plan will increase your combined assets. (Note: If you’re concerned about what will happen if you save more in one of your retirement plans and then you divorce, in most states, the money is considered part of your joint assets to be divided equally.)

  • Discuss life and disability insurance needs. If you and your spouse can make do without each other’s income, you may not need any income-protecting insurance. However, if you both depend on each other’s incomes, or if one of you depends fully or partly on the other’s income, you may each need long-term disability and term life insurance policies.
  • Update your wills. When you marry, you should make or update your wills. Having a will is potentially more valuable when you’re married, especially if you want to leave money to others in addition to your spouse, or if you have children for whom you need to name a guardian.
  • Reconsider beneficiaries on investment and life insurance. With retirement accounts and life insurance policies, you name beneficiaries to whom the money or value in those accounts will go in the event of your passing. When you marry, you’ll probably want to revisit and rethink your beneficiaries.

Financially survive buying a home

Most Americans eventually buy a home. You don’t need to own a home to be a financial success, but home ownership certainly offers financial rewards. Over the course of your adult life, the real estate you own is likely going to appreciate in value. Additionally, you’ll pay off your mortgage someday, which will greatly reduce your housing costs. If you’re thinking about buying a home, take these steps:

  • Get your overall finances in order. Before buying, analyze your current budget, your ability to afford debt, and your future financial goals. Make sure your expected housing expenses allow you to save properly for retirement and other long- or short-term objectives. Don’t buy a home based on the maximum amount lenders are willing to lend you.
  • Determine whether now’s the time. Buying a house when you don’t see yourself staying put three to five years rarely makes financial sense. Buying and selling a home gobbles up a good deal of money in transaction costs — you’ll be lucky to recoup all those costs even within a five-year period. Also, if your income is likely to drop or you have other pressing goals, such as starting a business, you may want to wait to buy.

How to financially survive having children

If you think that being a responsible adult, holding down a job, paying your bills on time, and preparing for your financial future are tough, wait ’til you add kids to the mix. Most parents find that with children in the family, their already precious free time and money become much scarcer. The sooner you discover how to manage your time and money, the better able you’ll be to have a sane, happy, and financially successful life as a parent. Here are some key things to do both before and after you begin your family:

  • Set your priorities. As with many other financial decisions, starting or expanding a family requires that you plan ahead. Set your priorities and structure your finances and living situation accordingly. Is having a bigger home in a particular community important, or would you rather feel less pressure to work hard, giving you more time to spend with your family? Keep in mind that a less hectic work life not only gives you more free time but also often reduces your cost of living by decreasing meals out, dry-cleaning costs, day-care expenses, and so on.
  • Take a hard look at your budget. Having kids requires you to increase your spending. At a minimum, expenditures for food and clothing will increase. But you’re also likely to spend more on housing, insurance, day care, and education. On top of that, if you want to play an active role in raising your children, working at some full-time jobs may not be possible. So while you consider the added expenses, you may also need to factor in a decrease in income.

No simple rules exist for estimating how kids will affect your household’s income and expenses. On the income side, figure out how much you want to cut back on work. On the expense side, government statistics show that the average household with school-age children spends about 20 percent more than a household without children. Going through your budget category by category and estimating how kids will change your spending is a more scientific approach.

  • Boost insurance coverage before getting pregnant. Make sure you have health insurance in place if you’re going to try to get pregnant. Even though the Affordable Care Act mandated maternity benefits in all health plans, if you lack coverage and then get pregnant, you won’t be able to enroll outside of the small portion of the year for open enrollment. With disability insurance, pregnancy is considered a preexisting condition, so women should secure this coverage before getting pregnant. And most families-to-be should buy life insurance. Buying life insurance after the bundle of joy comes home from the hospital is a risky proposition — if one of the parents develops a health problem, he or she may be denied coverage. You should also consider buying life insurance for a stay-at-home parent. Even though the stay-at-home parent is not bringing in income, if he or she were to pass away, hiring assistance could cripple the family budget.
  • Check maternity leave with your employers. Many of the larger employers offer some maternity leave for women and, in rare but thankfully increasing cases, for men. Some employers offer paid leaves, while others may offer unpaid leaves. Understand the options and the financial ramifications before you consider the leave and, ideally, before you get pregnant. Also, check laws within your state for mandated maternity and paternity leave.
  • Update your will. If you have a will, update it; if you don’t have a will, make one now. With children in the picture, you need to name a guardian who will be responsible for raising your children should you and your spouse both pass away.
  • Enroll the baby in your health plan. After you welcome your baby into this world, enroll him or her in your health insurance plan. Most insurers give you about a month or so to enroll.
  • Understand child-care tax benefits. You may be eligible for a $2,000 tax credit for each child under the age of 17. That should certainly motivate you to apply for your kid’s Social Security number!

If you and your spouse both work and you have children under the age of 13 or a disabled dependent of any age, you can also claim a tax credit for child-care expenses. The tax credit may be for up to 35 percent of $3,000 in qualifying expenses for one child or dependent, or up to $6,000 for two or more children or dependents. Or you may work for an employer who offers a flexible benefit or spending plan. These plans allow you to put away up to $5,000 per year on a pretax basis for child-care expenses. For many parents, especially those in higher income tax brackets, these plans can save a lot in taxes. Keep in mind, however, that if you use one of these plans, you can’t claim the child-care tax credit. Also, if you don’t deplete the account every tax year, you forfeit any money left over.

Skip saving in custodial accounts. One common concern is how to sock away enough money to pay for the ever-rising cost of a college education. If you start saving money in your child’s name in a so-called custodial account, however, you may harm your family’s future ability to qualify for financial aid (reduced college pricing) and miss out on the tax benefits that come with investing elsewhere.

  • Don’t indulge the children. Toys, art classes, music lessons, travel sports and associated lessons, smartphones, field trips, and the like can rack up big bills, especially if you don’t control your spending. Some parents fail to set guidelines or limits when spending on children’s programs. Others mindlessly follow the examples set by the families of their children’s peers. Introspective parents have told me that they feel some insecurity about providing the best for their children. The parents (and kids) who seem the happiest and most financially successful are the ones who clearly distinguish between material luxuries and family necessities.

As children get older and become indoctrinated into the world of shopping, all sorts of other purchases come into play. Consider giving your kids a weekly allowance and letting them discover how to spend and manage it. And when they’re old enough, having your kids get a part-time job can help teach financial responsibility.

How to survive starting a small business

Many people aspire to be their own bosses, but far fewer people actually leave their jobs in order to achieve that dream. Giving up the apparent security of a job with benefits and a built-in network of co-workers is difficult for most people, both psychologically and financially. Starting a small business is not for everyone, but don’t let inertia stand in your way. Here are some tips to help get you started and increase your chances for long-term success:

  • Prepare to ditch your job. To maximize your ability to save money, live as Spartan a lifestyle as you can while you’re employed; you’ll develop thrifty habits that’ll help you weather the reduced income and increased expenditure period that comes with most small-business start-ups. You may also want to consider easing into your small business by working at it part-time in the beginning, with or without cutting back on your normal job.
  • Develop a business plan. If you research and think through your business idea, not only will you reduce the likelihood of your business’s failing and increase its success if it thrives, but you’ll also feel more comfortable taking the entrepreneurial plunge. A good business plan describes in detail the business idea, the marketplace you’ll compete in, your marketing plans, and expected revenue and expenses.
  • Replace your insurance coverage. Before you finally leave your job, get proper insurance. With health insurance, employers allow you to continue your existing coverage (at your own expense) for 18 months. Individuals with existing health problems are legally entitled to purchase an individual policy at the same price that a healthy individual pays. With disability insurance, secure coverage before you leave your job so you have income to qualify for coverage. If you have life insurance through your employer, obtain new individual coverage as soon as you know you’re going to leave your job.
  • Establish a retirement savings plan. After your business starts making a profit, consider establishing a retirement savings plan such as a SEP-IRA. Such plans allow you to shelter up to 20 percent of your business income from federal and state taxation.

Financial implications of caring for aging parents

For many, there comes a time when they reverse roles with their parents and become the caregivers. As your parents age, they may need help with a variety of issues and living tasks. Although you probably won’t have the time or ability to perform all these functions yourself, you may end up coordinating some service providers who will. Here are key issues to consider when caring for aging parents:

  • Get help where possible. In most communities, a variety of nonprofit organizations offer information and counseling to families who are caring for elderly parents. Numerous for-profit agencies can help with everything from simple cleaning and cooking, to health checks and medication monitoring, to assisted living and health advocacy. You may be able to find your way to such resources through your state’s department of insurance, as well as through recommendations from local hospitals and doctors. You’ll especially want to get assistance and information if your parents need some sort of home care, nursing home care, or assisted living arrangement.
  • Get involved in their healthcare. Your aging parents may already have a lot on their minds, or they simply may not be able to coordinate and manage all the healthcare providers who are giving them medications and advice. Try, as best as you can, to be their advocate. Speak with their doctors so you can understand their current medical condition, the need for various medications, and how to help coordinate caregivers. Visit home care providers and nursing homes, and speak with prospective care providers.
  • Understand tax breaks. If you’re financially supporting your parents, you may be eligible for a number of tax credits and deductions for elder care. Some employers’ flexible benefit plans allow you to put away money on a pretax basis to pay for the care of your parents. Also explore the dependent care tax credit, which you can take on your federal income tax Form 1040. And if you provide half or more of the support costs for your parents, you may be able to claim them as dependents on your tax return.
  • Discuss getting the estate in order. Parents don’t like thinking about their demise, and they may feel awkward discussing this issue with their adult children. But opening a dialogue between you and your folks about such issues can be healthy in many ways. Not only does discussing wills, living wills, living trusts, and estate planning strategies make you aware of your folks’ situation, but it can also improve their plans to both their benefit and yours.
  • Take some time off. Caring for an aging parent, particularly one who is having health problems, can be time-consuming and emotionally draining. Do your parents and yourself a favor by using some personal/vacation time to help get things in order.

How to financially survive a divorce

In most marriages that are destined to split up, both parties usually recognize early warning signs. Sometimes, however, one spouse may surprise the other with an unexpected request for divorce. Whether the divorce is planned or unexpected, here are some important considerations when getting a divorce:

  • Question the divorce. Some say that divorcing in America is too easy, and I tend to agree. Although some couples are indeed better off parting ways, others give up too easily, thinking that the grass is greener elsewhere, only to later discover that all lawns have weeds and crabgrass. Just as with lawns that aren’t watered and fertilized, relationships can wither without nurturing.

Money and disagreements over money are certainly contributing factors in marital unhappiness. Try talking things over, perhaps with a marital counselor.

  • Separate your emotions from the financial issues. Feelings of revenge may be common in some divorces, but they’ll probably only help ensure that the attorneys get rich as you and your spouse butt heads. If you really want a divorce, work at doing it efficiently and harmoniously so you can get on with your lives and have more of your money to work with.
  • Detail resources and priorities. Draw up a list of all the assets and liabilities that you and your spouse have. Make sure you list all the financial facts, including investment account records and statements. After you know the whole picture, begin to think about what is and isn’t important to you financially and otherwise.
  • Educate yourself about personal finance and legal issues. Divorce sometimes forces non-financially oriented spouses to get a crash course in personal finance at a difficult emotional time. This book can help educate you financially. Peruse a bookstore and buy a good legal guide or two about divorce.

Choose advisors carefully. Odds are that you’ll retain the services of one or more specialists to assist you with the myriad issues, negotiations, and concerns of your divorce. Legal, tax, and financial advisors can help, but make sure you recognize their limitations and conflicts of interest. The more complicated things become and the more you haggle with your spouse, the more attorneys, unfortunately, benefit financially. Don’t use your divorce attorney for financial or tax advice — your lawyer probably knows no more than you do in these areas. Also, realize that you don’t need an attorney to get divorced. A variety of books and kits can help you.

  • Analyze your spending. Some divorcees find themselves financially squeezed in the early years following a divorce because two people living together in the same property can generally do so less expensively than two people living separately. Analyzing your spending needs pre-divorce can help you adjust to a new budget and negotiate a fairer settlement with your spouse.
  • Review needed changes to your insurance. If you’re covered under your spouse’s employer’s insurance plan, make sure you get this coverage replaced. If you or your children will still be financially dependent on your spouse post-divorce, make sure the divorce agreement mandates life insurance coverage. You should also revise your will.
  • Revamp your retirement plan. With changes to your income, expenses, assets, liabilities, and future needs, your retirement plan will surely need a post-divorce overhaul.

How to financially survive receiving a windfall

Whether through inheritance, stock options, small-business success, or lottery winnings, you may receive a financial windfall at some point in your life. Like many people who are totally unprepared psychologically and organizationally for their sudden good fortune, you may find that a flood of money can create more problems than it solves. Here are a few tips to help you make the most of your financial windfall:

  • Educate yourself. If you’ve never had to deal with significant wealth, I don’t expect you to know how to handle it. Don’t pressure yourself to invest it as soon as possible. Leaving the money where it is or stashing it in one of the higher-yielding money-market funds is far better than jumping into investments that you don’t understand and haven’t researched.

Beware of the sharks. You may begin to wonder whether someone has posted your net worth, address, and home telephone number in the local newspaper and on the Internet. Brokers and financial advisors may flood you with marketing materials, telephone solicitations, and lunch date requests. These folks pursue you for a reason: They want to convert your money into their income either by selling you investments and other financial products or by managing your money. Stay away from the sharks, educate yourself, and take charge of your own financial moves. Decide on your own terms whom to hire, and then seek them out.

  • Recognize the emotional side of coming into a lot of money. One of the side effects of accumulating wealth quickly is that you may have feelings of guilt or otherwise be unhappy, especially if you expected money to solve your problems. If you didn’t invest in your relationship with your parents and, after their passing, you regret how you interacted with them, getting a big inheritance from your folks may make you feel bad. If you poured endless hours into a business venture that finally paid off, all that money in your investment accounts may leave you with a hollow feeling if you’re divorced and you lost friends by neglecting your relationships.
  • Pay down debts. People generally borrow money to buy things that they otherwise can’t buy in one fell swoop. Paying off your debts is one of the simplest and best investments you can make when you come into wealth.
  • Diversify. If you want to protect your wealth, don’t keep it all in one pot. Mutual funds and exchange-traded funds are ideally diversified, professionally managed investment vehicles to consider. And if you want your money to continue growing, consider the wealth-building investments — stocks, real estate, and small-business options.
  • Make use of the opportunity. Most people work for a paycheck for many decades so they can pay a never-ending stream of monthly bills. Although I’m not advocating a hedonistic lifestyle, why not take some extra time to travel, spend time with your family, and enjoy the hobbies you’ve long been putting off? How about trying a new career that you may find more fulfilling and that may make the world a better place? And what about donating some to your favorite charities?

Financial implications of retiring

If you’ve spent the bulk of your adult life working, retiring can be a challenging transition. Most Americans have an idealized vision of how wonderful retirement will be — no more irritating bosses and pressure of work deadlines; unlimited time to travel, play, and lead the good life. Sounds good, huh? Well, the reality for most Americans is different, especially for those who don’t plan ahead (financially and otherwise). Here are some tips to help you through retirement:

Plan both financially and personally. Planning your activities is even more important than planning financially. If the focus during your working years is solely on your career and saving money, you may lack interests, friends, and the ability to know how to spend money when you retire.

  • Take stock of your resources. Many people worry and wonder whether they have sufficient assets for cutting back on work or retiring completely, yet they don’t crunch any numbers to see where they stand. Ignorance may cause you to misunderstand how little or how much you really have for retirement when compared to what you need.
  • Reevaluate your insurance needs. When you have sufficient assets to retire, you don’t need to retain insurance to protect your employment income any longer. On the other hand, as your assets grow over the years, you may be underinsured with regards to liability insurance.
  • Evaluate healthcare/living options. Medical expenses in your retirement years (particularly the cost of nursing home care) can be daunting. Which course of action you take — supplemental insurance, buying into a retirement community, or not doing anything — depends on your financial and personal situation. Early preparation increases your options; if you wait until you have major health problems, it may be too late to choose specific paths.
  • Decide what to do with your retirement plan money. If you have money in a retirement savings plan, your employer may offer you the option of leaving the money in the plan rather than rolling it over into your own retirement account. Brokers and financial advisors clearly prefer that you do the latter because it means more money for them, but it can also give you many more (and perhaps better) investment choices to consider.
  • Pick a pension option. Selecting a pension option (a plan that pays a monthly benefit during retirement) is similar to choosing a good investment — each pension option carries different risks, benefits, and tax consequences. Actuaries who base pension options on reasonable life expectancies structure pensions. The younger you are when you start collecting your pension, the less you get per month. Check to see whether the amount of your monthly pension stops increasing past a certain age. You obviously don’t want to delay access to your pension benefits past that age, because you won’t receive a reward for waiting any longer and you’ll collect the benefit for fewer months.

If you know you have a health problem that shortens your life expectancy, you may benefit from drawing your pension sooner. If you plan to continue working in some capacity and earning a decent income after retiring, waiting for higher pension benefits when you’re in a lower tax bracket is probably wise.

At one end of the spectrum, you have the risky single life option, which pays benefits until you pass away and then provides no benefits for your spouse thereafter. This option maximizes your monthly take while you’re alive. Consider this option only if your spouse can do without this income. The least risky option, and thus least financially rewarding while the pensioner is still living, is the 100-percent joint and survivor option, which pays your survivor the same amount that you received while still alive. The other joint and survivor options fall somewhere between these two extremes and generally make sense for most couples who desire decent pensions early in retirement but want a reasonable amount to continue in the event that the pensioner dies first. The 75-percent joint and survivor option is a popular choice, because it closely matches the lower expense needs of the lone surviving spouse at 75 percent of the expenses of the couple, and it provides higher payments than the 100-percent joint and survivor option while both spouses are alive.

  • Get your estate in order. Confronting your mortality is never fun, but when you’re considering retirement or you’re already retired, getting your estate in order makes all the more sense. Find out about wills and trusts that may benefit you and your heirs. You may also want to consider giving monetary gifts now if you have more than you need. Doing so enables you to enjoy and see how others will utilize your funds.