A version of this article first appeared in Rethinking65.
LinkedIn is my platform of choice. I spend most of my social media time and engagement there. When posting content, you can select the feature that lets you ask a question, in the form of a poll, and collect the results. One day I inquired, “How long do you think you will live?” I gave four different date range choices, starting in the 50s on up to 100-plus years. I never expected the storm of negative criticism I would receive publicly and privately.
“You are a gross human being!”
“What is wrong with you?”
“You should be kicked off the platform.”
Clearly, the idea of exploring our mortality can be an emotional topic for many. However, in my stubbornness (or stupidity), I was not deterred. The conversation of lifespan is a key component to helping my clients plan their post-career lifestyle strategy.
The topic of longevity can be daunting for both financial advisors and their clients. After all, who wants to think about their own mortality? However, as life expectancy continues to grow, it is becoming increasingly important to have a conversation about longevity with spouse/partner and financial planner.
The good news is that this conversation doesn’t have to be all doom and gloom. By outlining it as a lifestyle planning opportunity, you can see the possibilities that lie ahead.
Framing the topic
Consider this approach to get the longevity discussion started with your spouse/partner:
- Seek permission. Set the discussion table by requesting their consent to dialog on this topic. Begin with something like, “To help us better plan our financial needs, can we discuss our thoughts on life expectancy?”
- Ask around the topic first. Don’t ever rip the band aid off and start with, “When are you going to die?”, but ask probing questions. What are our goals for retirement? What do they want to do with their time? Once you have a good understanding of their ambitions (or affirm what may have already been discussed previously), you can start to talk about how longevity might impact them.
- Bring it to light. Through the Retirement Time Analysis (RTA) tool I use – clients answer, “What do you anticipate will be your life expectancy?” You will be surprised how many spouses or partners have never discussed this with each other.
Now that the cat is out of the bag, it is important that the conversation continues. Here’s how:
- Be positive. Focus on the possibilities that longevity offers, rather than the challenges. Help focused on how to use the extra years to travel, pursue hobbies, or spend more time with loved ones.
- Be realistic. It’s important to be honest with your yourself about the risks of aging. However, you can also understand the steps take to reduce these risks. For example, you can focus on the importance of staying active, eating a healthy diet, and getting regular checkups.
- Be practical. Couples will be faced with what I call “alone time” or a period where one will pass away before the other. From both national data and responses in the RTA, a wife will outlive her husband by just over 5 years. This is an opportunity to help plan a post-career life together, so many shared goals can be experienced together.
- Be flexible down the road. The longevity discussion is a fluid one. Goals and circumstances change, you’ll need to be willing to adapt your approach.
Seeing the benefits
You may be thinking, “This seems risky, I am not sure it will go well.” That can be the case with some couples. However, a longevity discussion offers definitive benefits for both you and your clients including the ability to:
- Build trust. A successful lifespan discussion can be a positive emotional experience.
- Achieve a better understanding of your retirement goals. As we mentioned earlier, longevity can impact your retirement objectives in a number of ways. By having a conversation about longevity, you can help make sure that goals are realistic and achievable.
- Develop a sense of clarity to make better financial decisions. Longevity can also have a significant impact on your finances. By understanding the risks and challenges of aging, you can make better decisions about how to save and invest for retirement.
- Live a more fulfilling life. By understanding the possibilities that longevity offers, you can start to plan for a more fulfilling life in their later years.
Going for it
The last thing I’d want you to experience with your significant other is what happened to me with my LinkedIn poll. However, I have had heartfelt and enlightened discussions with people about the possibilities presented when they seek to quantify the length of their life. Depending on which source you cite, the average life expectancy in the U.S. is around 79 years. People who have taken the Retirement Time Analysis (RTA) estimate their lifespan at just over 87 years. Their average retirement age is 66 years, meaning they typically expect to spend almost one-quarter of their life in a post-career setting. Think of all the qualitative plans you can make when you quantify the number of years that you think you have left.
Learn more about the lifestyle possibilities of your future self.
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