An event that is unpredictable or unforeseen – and comes with extreme consequences – is sometimes referred to as a “black swan” event. And, as you might guess, retirement certainly has its share of these – uppercuts that no one sees coming, but can have a tremendous impact on your finances.
The good news is that many retirement-related black swan events become less surprising when you know the facts. The three main black swans I commonly see are death, disability and divorce.
Let’s take a look at each and examine what you can do to try to take some of the unpredictability out of them:
- Death. Now, in some respects you might not think death would be included as something unforeseen. But while death often is referred to as one of life’s certainties, the reality is that no one is ever truly prepared for a loved one’s passing. No matter how inevitable it is, death can catch you by surprise and afterward drop a heavy millstone of remembrance into your life. Sadly, the weight of this millstone can be felt not only emotionally but also financially as the surviving spouse must deal with a new retirement reality.
To be better prepared for this particular black swan event, run a what-if scenario together with your spouse by making a list of the following: future incomes each spouse would receive, readily available assets, outstanding debts and in-force life insurance policies. By comparing all your resources with your normal day-to-day expenses – and making any necessary adjustments – you can give you and your spouse peace of mind that you are prepared for the worst.
- Disability. It may be true that youth is wasted on the young, but let us not waste wisdom on the old. Many retirees underestimate the cost of healthcare going into retirement. One of the best exercises you can do to prepare for the black swan event of disability is by doing your research on your local community. You can find out the average cost of long-term care in your area by visiting Genworth’s Long Term Cost of Care Survey.
Assisted-living facilities, nursing homes and home care companies all begin with private pay, which means no Medicare, health insurance, Tricare or Medicaid to bail you out without having you first spend down the majority of your assets. It’s important to write down your wishes for your future health care and give your children a copy. Visit with professionals about long-term care insurance and continuing-care retirement communities. If you are a veteran, research the veteran benefits such as the Veteran Aid & Attendance benefit.
- Divorce. One of the fastest-growing curve balls for your retirement could be your marriage. The percentage of married couples over age 50 who have decided to call it quits has risen, a trend referred to as “gray divorce.” The two frequent culprits are the inability of couples to see eye-to-eye on finances, as well as for them to simply drift apart over time. Therefore, to dodge the possibility of this black swan event, dust off your date-night-ideas book and also schedule a visit with a financial professional to counsel you and your spouse. Don’t let divorce separate you from both the love of your life and your assets.
These sorts of black swan events can sideswipe many well-intentioned and hardworking families unless you are careful. Be on the lookout by being diligent, proactive and never assuming you are above any of the deadly Ds – Death, Disability and Divorce.
I’ll leave you with George Bernard Shaw’s wise words: “If history repeats itself and the unexpected always happens, how incapable must man be of learning from experience”.
Andrew McNair is the president of SWAN Capital, an independent financial services firm in Pensacola, Florida.
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