Financial Health: Ages and Stages of Planning
What decisions should you be making right now?
Regardless of your age, it makes sense to think about the future, but your age may affect what steps you take when it comes to financial planning. Here are some things to consider, depending on what age and in what stage of your career you find yourself.
20s and 30s
You may be working at a firm or have determined that solo practice is best for you. Or, you might be working in the public sector or as in-house counsel. If your employer has a 401(k) plan, you should be maximizing the employer contributions by adding to the plan as much as you possibly can.
If you are solo, you should be contributing as much as possible to a Roth IRA and possibly a SEP IRA; an accountant can confirm which vehicles are right for you. You should have at least a simple will, as well as a durable power of attorney (for financial decisions, in the event that you are unable to make them) as well as a health care directive, and a living will for life-sustaining medical treatment.
30s and 40s
You might be married with children – or have a child on the way. If so, it's important to update your will to reflect your marriage, as well as the beneficiaries on any insurance policies, and your 401(k). In some cases, a prenuptial agreement may be appropriate. Continue, to the extent possible, to maximize contributions to the 401(k) or IRAs.
If you have children, consider whether you want to establish a Uniform Gifts to Minors Act (UGTMA) account for their benefit, or whether an education savings plan, also known as a 529 account (named after Section 529 in the Internal Revenue Service Code), would be better. Do you have a trusted relative or friend who can serve as a guardian for your children? It's important to name this person and to review whether you have the proper insurance to cover any family members who depend on you for financial support.
40s and 50s
You might still be married, or you might be divorced. Update, or at the least review your will to make certain it continues to reflect current wishes for disposition of your assets, and that the person or persons you've designated as executor or trustee remain the appropriate choice. Make sure the person you've chosen is competent, trustworthy and still part of your life. Review other documents, such as your health care power of attorney, durable power of attorney, HIPPA releases, etc., to make sure they are also current. This means not only whether you still choose the same person to act as your agent, but whether you still feel the same way about the choices you've made regarding treatment.
Your children, if you have some, are probably attending or looking at colleges. Consider carefully whether you tap into savings and/or investments to pay for tuition; financial advisors consistently say you should not rob your retirement to pay for your children's college expenses. Children will have plenty of earning years ahead of them to pay off school loans.
You should also consider writing a draft obituary. It will help you get things in perspective and to think about how you wish friends and family members to handle arrangements following your death. Do you know where/whether you want to be buried, or whether you prefer cremation? These might seem like morbid thoughts, but this kind of planning can make a big difference for those you love.
50s and 60s
You are considering retirement. Regardless of whether retirement is days, months, or years away, you are thinking about it. What will you do, if you are not practicing law? Will you spend more time volunteering for those organizations you guided in earlier years? Will you take up something entirely different? Will you consult a life coach to help you determine what you'd really love to do? If you anticipate any health issues for you or your spouse, you might be looking at retirement communities with an assisted living or health services component. You should review your investment strategies to assure that the funds you've earned during your lifetime are there when you and your spouse are in need of them. This is no longer the time for funding your brother-in-law's get-rich-quick scheme, unless you have those funds to lose.
Review your estate planning documents to make certain they remain up to date and continue to reflect your intentions and desires. For some, it may be as simple as updating a will. For those with larger estates, it could involve an forming or updating an Irrevocable Life Insurance Trust (ILIT), a Grantor Retained Annuity Trust (GRAT) and/or a Charitable Remainder Unitrust (CRUT).
Take the time to review that draft obituary, and establish a location for storing important documents, including insurance policies, investment statements, your will, trust, and marriage, divorce and birth certificates. You will be receiving notices from Social Security; check them for accuracy now, before eligibility becomes an issue. This also applies to Veteran's Benefits. Can you locate your discharge papers? Are there digital assets or social media sites you should think about?
60s and 70s
Most likely you are closer to retirement. Look again at those steps you took earlier. Do they still apply? Are your documents up to date and reflecting births of grandchildren, divorced children, or any charitable inclinations?
Now is when health issues become more immediate and likely. Think about how you want to live in your retirement – in your own home, which may be comfortable, but not as sociable, or in a community, where there are opportunities for many activities, but life is perhaps not as private and your home may not be as spacious.
Only you can decide what is most appropriate for you and the lifestyle you want to lead. Some people determine that they do not want to be dependent on driving, so they choose a location served by public transportation. Other people want to make certain they are close to family members, health care providers, or great restaurants, or good pubs!
Review the obituary you wrote earlier and organize your important documents. Make certain your spouse and/or a trusted family member or friend knows where to find these documents and how to access them, including the obituary and any organ donor wishes. If you haven't already, talk about your preferences regarding end-of-life treatment and make certain those who will be making decisions fo r you are in agreement with what you prefer.
Only once you've thought about your life and how you wish to live it can you make informed decisions about where you want to be five, 10, or 30 years from now. While these thoughts and conversations might seem difficult or awkward at first, the benefits of having them now far outweigh the potential consequences down the road.
• Download a printable version of Looking Forward.
Concord attorney Judith Goodnow is senior vice president and trust officer at Cambridge Trust Company.