How Failing to Plan for One’s Retirement Can Become A De Facto Plan to Fail
In light of my 60th birthday celebration soon becoming a memory, my wife and I have been spending a fair amount of time of late reviewing our investments, finalizing our estate plan, and discussing various options should our life together ever take some unanticipated turns. We’re doing this because we recognize that a job loss, an unexpected illness or disability, a market crash, or any number of other life changing events can happen to anybody, us included. While there’s not much either of us can do to prevent life changing events from happening, our intent is to prepare for them as best we can in order to have the greatest chance of successfully navigating the consequences of whatever life changing event might come our way.
I share this because there have been too many times in my life where I have witnessed or learned about the, at times, devastating consequences that can result when someone experiences a life changing event without ever having given any thought to the “what might it mean if” questions. For example, I have met and worked with more than a few attorneys who have done, and will continue to do, all they can to provide quality legal services to their clients for a fair and reasonable fee. This is a good thing. However, add into the mix a desire to provide a decent wage and some sort of benefit package to keep and reward competent and dedicated staff; and next, couple this with the all the other costs of running a law practice and life can start to get complicated quickly in terms of having the time, energy, and necessary cash to work on and fund a retirement plan.
Of course, there are also the realities of life such as the costs of raising a family, providing a college education for the kids, purchasing a home, caring for elderly parents, covering unexpected medical bills, rebuilding the nest egg after a divorce, recovering from a hot investment tip that went south, taking the vacations that helped you keep it all together, and the list goes on. In short, life happens whether we want it to or not, and it happens at a speed that can take too many off guard.
For some, and it’s often when the retirement years finally make their appearance on the horizon, there is a harsh awakening to the reality that somewhere along the line the retirement plan that was always meant to be a priority never actually became one because life got in the way. Therein lies the problem.
In all honesty, I have actually visited with more than a few lawyers who have shared they will never be able to retire because there are insufficient savings to allow them to ever seriously think about it. During those “I’m never going to be able to retire” conversations, I often wondered if the situation might have been prevented had the lawyer earlier in his or her career chosen to spend a little time seeking financial advice and followed up with establishing a formal plan. I suspect it might have for some, because I’ve also come to recognize that too many lawyers fail to develop formal business plans for their practices, see that their own wills get drafted and signed, or set up any kind of retirement account — all for want of a choice to do otherwise. Don’t let this be your story.
Retirement planning takes time and isn’t always pleasant. Sometimes hard choices need to be made; and of course, there are financial realities. Trust me, I know. Life threw me a few curve balls over the years, one or two of which came close to leaving me devastated in one form or another; yet here I am. And all I did was to choose to be better for the experience, in part by finally committing to taking whatever steps I could to be as prepared as I can should my life ever go off script again.
Regardless of your age, and if you have not already done so, I encourage you to make the choice to take a similar path because everyone’s life has a way of going off script. Of utmost importance in my mind is formalizing a retirement plan and then following through in its implementation because, as presented above, a failure to plan for retirement can all too easily turn into a de facto plan of never being able to.
There is no one right way to go about this. Certainly, seeking advice from a financial planner, reading investment and/or business planning resources, working with a CPA and/or an estate planner are all worthwhile ideas. Personally, as our children entered the workforce, I tried to teach them the importance of paying themselves first. I believed the saving and investing habits I wanted to engrain in them would serve them well for years to come if they were able to start and remain committed to the process. In fact, I wish someone would have shared that advice with me forty years ago as my financial picture would be significantly different today if they had. Regardless, it’s never too late to start. All it takes is a willingness to commit to the process coupled with a choice to follow through on all action steps identified in your plan. Take to heart the advice lawyers insist their own clients follow. Get that will written, the business plan drawn up, and open a retirement account. Prepare for what lies ahead because what lies ahead will be here sooner than you think.
Authored by: Mark Bassingthwaighte, Risk Manager
Since 1998, Mark Bassingthwaighte, Esq. has been a Risk Manager with ALPS, an attorney’s professional liability insurance carrier. In his tenure with the company, Mr. Bassingthwaighte has conducted over 1200 law firm risk management assessment visits, presented over 550 continuing legal education seminars throughout the United States, and written extensively on risk management, ethics, and technology. Mr. Bassingthwaighte is a member of the State Bar of Montana as well as the American Bar Association where he currently sits on the ABA Center for Professional Responsibility’s Conference Planning Committee. He received his J.D. from Drake University Law School.