Editor’s note: This article is part of a Next Avenue special section about women age 50+ managing their money.
If you’ve invested in your 401(k) and know a little about taxes and debt, but would like to know more about investing, insurance and estate planning, here’s your money checklist. Click here for a downloadable version of this checklist.
☐ Find a trustworthy financial adviser. He or she can help answer your questions and lend a sharp eye to your total financial picture. For unbiased guidance, look for a fee-only planner with the Certified Financial Planner designation. You can find one by visiting sites of The National Association of Personal Financial Advisors, The Financial Planning Association and The Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards.
☐ Make a personal retirement plan projection. Start with The Ballpark E$timate online calculator from the Employee Benefit Research Institute’s site, choosetosave.org. Many major mutual fund companies also have good retirement calculators on their sites. Two useful calculators for people over 50: Retirement Works2 for You and E$Planner.
☐ Get estimates of your future Social Security and pension benefits. If you haven’t already, set up your my Social Security account at Socialsecurity.gov for an estimate of your future Social Security benefits and a record of your lifetime earnings history. There are several online services to help you decide when to claim Social Security, including Social Security’s retirement estimator, T. Rowe Price’s Social Security Benefits Evaluator and AARP’s Social Security calculator. The Pension Rights Center can answer pension questions free of charge.
☐ Read your Social Security benefit statements. Paper mailings go out every five years to American workers age 25 and older who haven’t registered for my Social Security. After 60, printed statements are sent annually. Reading your Social Security statement can remind you how much you need to save for retirement and propel you to begin figuring out when to start claiming Social Security benefits.
☐ Pencil out retirement living costs. The Bestplaces.net site has a handy calculator to compare locations around the U.S. Think about moving to a smaller home, townhouse or condo. Refinancing your mortgage might also lighten your debt load; use an online refinancing calculator at HSH.com or Bankrate.com and shop for the best rates.
☐ Rebalance your retirement account regularly. Rebalancing is a strategy for returning your investment portfolio to the mix of stocks and bonds matching your risk tolerance and goals. Your 401(k) plan may offer an auto-rebalancing option. Otherwise, consider using a Robo-adviser — an online money manager such as Wealthfront and Betterment.
☐ Plan your retirement plan withdrawal rate. A conservative annual drawdown of your savings is 3 percent in the first year of retirement, plus an annual adjustment for inflation.
☐ Prepare for an encore career. For advice on a second act that’ll provide purpose and a paycheck, go to Encore.org. Three excellent books that can also help you get started: The Encore Career Handbook: How to Make a Living and a Difference in the Second Half of Life, Great Jobs for Everyone 50+: Finding Work That Keeps You Happy and Healthy … And Pays the Bills and Second Act Careers: 50+ Ways to Profit From Your Passions During Semi-Retirement.
☐ Write or update your will. If you die without a will, there’s no guarantee who will inherit your assets. What’s more, your estate will go into probate, a costly, slow-moving legal process. Hire an estate lawyer to draft your will; if your assets are in the six figures or higher, you probably ought to have a trust as well, to help minimize estate taxes and avoid probate. A trust also offers you greater control over when and how your assets will be distributed.
☐ Update your beneficiaries. If your beneficiaries are out-of-date, when you die, your assets could go the wrong person — your ex-spouse, for example. To make sure the money in your 401(k) and other retirement accounts will wind up in the right hands after you die, check to be sure your beneficiary designations are current. Go to the site of the financial services firm where you hold your accounts and update the info online.
☐ Get your financial and estate planning documents together. Create a file for them: your will (and trusts if you have them); a durable power of attorney form that gives someone the ability to make financial decisions for you if you can’t and your end-of life instructions, such as a living will and healthcare power of attorney. Also, include all your credit card and other financial accounts with their numbers and passwords. Store this all in a safe place, but be sure a loved one knows where, for when the time comes.