What worries you most about growing older?
Running out of money? Becoming afflicted with Alzheimer's? Being a burden on loved ones? Or, all three?
In a recent study by Merrill Lynch Wealth Management, the No. 1 retirement concern among Gen Xers, people ages 37 to 48, and baby boomers was running out of money. But among those from the Silent Generation, ages 68 to 88, the biggest worry was being a burden on family, which they defined as having to rely on others for bathing, toileting and other very personal care.
Contemplating a lack of independence isn't a pleasant prospect. It makes me cringe when I think about it. But losing the ability to take care of myself is probably going to happen to me -- and you, too. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimated this year that 70 percent of people who are older than 50 will require long-term care sometime in their lives. According to the Merrill Lynch study, 86 percent of people say that if they end up needing long-term care, they want to stay in their own homes. At the same time, only 9 percent said they were prepared to care for a loved one who needed extensive help. How do you reconcile the need for long-term care with the inability to provide it? (Page 15 and 16 of the Merrill Lynch study)
It's a conundrum.
I have a friend who is about to celebrate her 104th birthday. She's escaped most of the ailments that kill people off before they are nearly as old as she is. Her mind remains sharp. Thanks to her late husband's retirement planning and her son's financial savvy, money isn't an issue. She has around-the-clock professional care in her own spacious, top-floor condo with beautiful views. Her daughter, grandson and great grandson visit regularly. Most of us won't be so lucky. But my friend is still unhappy a lot of the time because she's lost her independence. She has no choice but to do what others tell her she must do, and she doesn't like it one bit.
I feel a little -- but not too -- sorry for her. I don't think she knows it, but she has taught me at least one important thing. Money doesn't buy contentment in your old age -- but it helps.
Have you thought about what you will do in retirement? Are you prepared financially for it?