Take a fresh look at your lifestyle.

I’m 65 and my retirement plans blew up when my husband died. My mom had dementia. Should I prepare for the worst?

I’m a 65-year-old widow and a retired oil and gas accountant. I’ve always done my own financial planning, and I am in great shape financially. I’ve always enjoyed managing our finances and had a very reasonable plan in place (converting traditional IRA to ROTH, planning my own asset allocation, etc.). But my retirement plans blew up when my husband died three years ago. 

I’ve had to adjust my plans, based on now being in a single tax bracket and everything else that goes along with that, but I’m still doing fine. I also realize that my mental abilities will decline as I age. I hate paying a percentage of my assets to a total stranger for them to do what I’ve always successfully done on my own. 

Should I consider finding a financial adviser now while I’m still mentally healthy, or should I continue doing it myself until I’m no longer confident in my abilities? I’ve already met with a couple, but I just haven’t been able to let go of the reins yet. My mom had dementia, and depression runs rampant in my family, so I’m planning for a worst-case scenario.

Financially Savvy Widow

Related: ‘I feel slighted’: My husband and I are in our 70s. We married 3 years ago. He’s leaving his $1.8 million home to a 10-year-old relative. Is that normal?

“You are using the same smarts and perspective you used to plan your finances, except now you are applying them to your future and life plans.”

MarketWatch illustration

Dear Savvy,

The key words in your letter are “worst-case scenario.” You are using the same smarts and perspective you used to plan your finances, except now you are applying them to your future and life plans. The other thing to keep in mind is that you may not follow the same path as your mother, and could have your sharp cognitive abilities into your 80s and 90s.

Dementia is not necessarily hereditary. The National Institute on Aging says that Alzheimer’s does not have a single genetic cause. “Instead, it can be influenced by multiple genes in combination with lifestyle and environmental factors. Consequently, a person may carry more than one gene or group of genes that can either increase or reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s.”

That does not, however, mean you should not plan for all eventualities. The Alzheimer’s Association has a guide for people to plan ahead for those who have such a diagnosis, but it also serves as a blueprint for anyone who is living alone, and/or concerned about their ability to manage their own finances and long-term care as they get older.

This worksheet provides space for you to list all of your income, expenditure, identification and critical documents, including your living will, standard will, life insurance, power of attorney document, marriage license, birth certificate, passport, and any other relevant trust documents that outline how you would like your assets to be managed in the event of your incapacity.

You should assemble a team of trusted individuals — lawyer, CPA, POA and beneficiaries. “Identify family members that should be included in your financial plans,” the association says. “For example, those with knowledge of your situation and those who may be able to provide support. Identify the costs of care. Consider the costs you may incur now and in the future.”

It also advises people to use resources like the Financial Planning Association, Eldercare Locator and Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards. “You may be eligible for benefits that provide assistance with prescription costs, transportation and meals,” it adds. It also suggests people review government benefits and any long-term care insurance policies.

MarketWatch also has a retirement-planning calculator, which allows you to estimate your retirement income — including Social Security, a pension, annuity or inheritance (based on your current and future assets), estimated expenditures (including transportation and medical), life-expectancy assumptions and tax rate as a widow. Read more on that here.

Consider enlisting the help of a CFP or CPA. Glen Freed, a financial strategist with Fortress Wealth Management Inc. in Culver City, Calif., suggests a CPA who specializes in financial planning, preferably with a Personal Financial Specialist designation. “Building a trusted relationship with your financial adviser is so critical,” he says. 

You can work on a plan, he adds, until there comes a time in future when the financial planner, attorney or POA could take over your financial plans and, just as importantly, carry out your own wishes. By that time, it may be that the heavy lifting for your investments is done. It should be a conversation. You’re not handing over the keys to your kingdom.

More from Quentin Fottrell:

My father has dementia and ‘forgave’ my brother’s $200,000 house loan. The nursing-home notary said he was of sound mind. What can we do?

My husband bought our house with an inheritance. I signed a quitclaim. He said I could live there after he dies, but changed his mind. What now?

Low-paying jobs are the economy’s way of saying you should get a better job’: I’ve decided to stop tipping, except at restaurants. Am I wrong?

You can email The Moneyist with any financial and ethical questions at qfottrell@marketwatch.com, and follow Quentin Fottrell on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter. The Moneyist regrets he cannot reply to questions individually.

Check out the Moneyist private Facebook group, where we look for answers to life’s thorniest money issues. Readers write to me with all sorts of dilemmas. Post your questions, or weigh in on the latest Moneyist columns.

By emailing your questions to the Moneyist or posting your dilemmas on the Moneyist Facebook group, you agree to have them published anonymously on MarketWatch.

By submitting your story to Dow Jones & Co., the publisher of MarketWatch, you understand and agree that we may use your story, or versions of it, in all media and platforms, including via third parties.

This website uses cookies to improve your experience. We'll assume you're ok with this, but you can opt-out if you wish. Accept Read More