By Tami Noll Russo, CPA, CFP, CLU
“Learn from your mistakes” is an old adage. But why learn from your own failings if you can learn from others? Your trusted financial adviser has seen his or her fair share of retirement planning/life-choice mistakes and will have an unlimited supply of stories to help out along your journey to retirement. But it’s not just about saving. The following vignettes illustrate how a committed financial planner can help you develop a holistic approach to your retirement plan.
Let’s start at the end. Think about the possible end-of-life scenarios you could encounter. Then be open and transparent with your family. Medical care – from antibiotic use to cognitive impairment – has huge gray areas. Make sure your wishes get followed by talking openly to family and friends because even a living will can be disobeyed. There is no need to have men in their 60s arguing over “killing mom” in a hospital hallway while mom has to listen to it, shaking her head, in a hospital bed. My grandmother was 100% coherent and just shy of 96. Her body was shutting down, and she had already said her goodbyes. The morphine she would receive through hospice eliminated unnecessary pain. It was her choice, not her children’s.
Years ago, Linda suffered from bouts of vertigo. Her doctor diagnosed her with “Gate Impairment” so her health insurance would approve an MRI brain scan. Unfortunately, “Gate Impairment” also is a basis used to decline applications for long-term care insurance. That “helpful” diagnosis needed to be removed or corrected before Linda could apply for long-term care insurance. Then there was Sara. She decided to go to her cardiologist appointment with her CPA/CFP. This may seem odd, but four life insurance companies had declined Sara’s application on an incorrect interpretation of an EKG, and one finally accepted her but at a much higher premium. The CPA/CFP explained to the physician that he had said Sara’s EKG was “perfect,” and Sara needed the cardiologist’s file notes to accurately reflect her “perfect” situation so she and her CPA/CFP could apply for a rate reduction. It may behoove you to review your medical summaries with your financial planner before you apply for insurance.
Jennifer had an epiphany: her husband Tom was not good with budgeting. Sadly, this occurred a few decades too late. During 22 years of blissful ignorance, the couple had accumulated close to $100,000 of nonmortgage debt: credit cards, auto loans, personal loans. Now Tom wanted to retire. Jennifer had to get help. She felt it was immoral to walk away from the debt but didn’t know the best way to climb out of this hole. First, she had to discard the emotion, guilt, and blame. Second, the couple had to find lower interest rates. Finally, they had to reduce expenses and increase income. Jennifer and Tom have been digging their way out of debt for two years now, and they are halfway there. Tom hasn’t brought up the word “retirement” lately.
Comprehensive financial planning goes far beyond the basic asset allocation, diversification, Monte Carlo simulations, and safe withdrawal rates. Personal financial planning is about having someone on your team who will go the extra mile, ask the important personal questions, and implement your plan with the acquired knowledge gained from those who have come before you.
You get the benefit of learning from the mistakes of others without having to make them yourself.
Tami Noll Russo, CPA, CFP, CLU, is a consultant at Noll Financial Services in Middletown, Pa. She serves on PICPA’s CPA Image Enhancement Committee and Personal Financial Planning Committee. She also is a past president of the PICPA South Central Chapter.
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