What will you do with your life post-retirement?
Posted May 1, 2014 2:50 AM CDT
By Susan A. Berson
Retiring is refocusing priorities.
For Kathy Bussing, retirement meant championing a passionate cause. "I'm practicing law, just in a different way," says Bussing, who retired from Husch Blackwell's insolvency and commercial bankruptcy group.
"I'm a court-appointed special advocate for children in Jackson County, Mo.," she says. "For years, I fit pro bono CASA cases in around my billable work because child welfare issues are important to me. But I never thought I'd practice family law."
Instead of a paycheck, Bussing receives another type of reward.
"When I see kids who were abused or neglected leaving our court system better than they were when they came in," she says, "that keeps me going."
Retirement offers time to explore options.
"Before retirement, I thought about where to contribute my skills," Bussing says. "Many not-for-profits need legal help. I'd encourage retiring attorneys to ... be involved in your community."
If retirement is to be a pursuit of another career, a degree or interesting studies, consider the benefits of a 529 tax-advantaged plan. Taxes aren't paid on withdrawal so long as funds go to qualified expenses incurred at higher educational institutions that qualify for federal student aid. For example, travel to New York University's Florence campus for class isn't a qualified expense, but tuition and books are. More information about 529s is available at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission's 529 website.
Searching for a successor? Attorney Match from the Attorneys Liability Protection Society offers online resources for connecting newly retired and soon-to-be-retired attorneys. Succession ease for private practitioner retirees starts with advance planning, however.
"Waiting too long to plan closing, or transitioning your firm to a new lawyer, is costly—especially if you're a solo and health issues arise," says Mark Bassingthwaighte, an attorney in Missoula, Mont., and risk manager for ALPS. From file retention to tail coverage, it's a process requiring detailed attention.
"Tail coverage adds an extended reporting endorsement to an existing professional liability policy, extending the time in which a claim may be reported to the carrier," Bassingthwaighte says. "It's not a new policy. So if a retired lawyer does a favor for a friend in retirement, there would be no coverage for that claim under the ERE."
Semi-retirement doesn't automatically merit coverage reductions. "In retirement, you will live with the policy limits that were in place on the last policy of your career," says Bassingthwaighte. "The premium savings that come with reduced limits on the last policy in a semi-retired practice may not be worth it because claims reported under the ERE will be subject to the available remaining limits of the final policy. A reduction may mean you won't have enough coverage."
ERE premiums should be specified in the policy. Bassingthwaighte says it's a fixed percentage of the expiring policy's premium.
Multimember firm retirees need to stay informed. "I recommend that the retiring partner talk to other partners and request to be kept in the loop within the applicable state statute of limitations for malpractice should the firm dissolve; even formalize an agreement that works best to protect all parties involved," says Matt Lubaroff, ALPS director of client services. "The firm's ERE can only be purchased at the time of dissolution, and for certain firms the best answer would be upon the first retirement."
Another alternative is firm dissolution at retirement. "We had a three-member firm where partners decided to dissolve the firm so everyone could purchase tail coverage," Lubaroff says. "Then the nonretiring lawyers started a new firm."
Retirement living involves senior-friendly adjustments. "Hurting yourself in your home, such as breaking a hip by falling, is the No. 1 reason that people can't live independently," says Andy Cohen, CEO of Caring.com, which advises family caregivers. "Updating doors with levers, widening frames for walkers—these are ways to make your home universal-design safe. Nonmedical home companion care such as transportation or meal preparation varies at $10 to $25 an hour, depending on your region."
Likewise, analyze downsizing's financial consequences online at Squared Away. Click "Topics" on the top navigation bar, then click on "Housing." Expect independent living communities' monthly rentals to range from $2,000 to $5,000.
"For equity buy-in apartments where you have ownership and monthly fees, be sure that the community is solvent," Cohen says.
Senior housing staff, security, food and socialization are also subjects to consider before moving in. "When choosing a community, whether for yourself or a loved one, the first thing to do is research reviews from loved ones who have people in communities you're looking at before taking the tour. The tour is always going to look nice," says Cohen.
Tenure of the staff is key. "Care comes from a quality staff," says Cohen. "A common mistake is thinking a great-looking building means quality care, so you overlook the high staff turnover. For example, staff that has been there only six months—I'd be concerned about receiving good care," he says. "You could have a community where the building may not be sparkling new, but the staff has been there a long time and the reviews reflect quality care."
For an assisted-living checklist, check out the Caring.com site.
Finally, earning a paycheck in retirement affects Social Security benefits. Calculate the financial consequences with AARP's calculator.
This article originally appeared in the May 2014 issue of the ABA Journal with this headline: "Retirement Reset: What are you doing for the rest of your life?"
Susan A. Berson, an attorney in Leawood, Kan., is the author of several finance and tax books addressing lawyers' needs.