Your True-Life Expectancy, when a Spouse Dies, and Pointers on Retirement Planning While Retired

21st-century retirement requires a level of assessment and planning that your parents may not have faced. How long do you think you will live? How long does your money need to last? If you’re like most people, you get these answers wrong. The consequence? Faulty retirement planning, overspending, and running out of money before reaching true longevity. Or spending too little now and depriving yourself of a comfortable retirement before death.

21st-Century Retirement Tough Calls to Consider

Your longevity is the statistically expected number of years of life you have remaining at your current age. Your longevity, however, also depends on other factors. You can find calculators with good insights into these by Googling “life expectancy calculator.”

There are two well-known tables for life expectancy managed by the Social Security Administration: the Social Security general population table and the Annuity Table. The tables constantly change with shifting demographics, lifestyles, medicines, and other advances. Today’s tables may, therefore, understate longevity, especially for younger people. Let’s look at a couple of examples to get a general sense of longevity using the “Retirement & Survivors Benefits: Life Expectancy Calculator” found at

This chart, from the Social Security table, gives you a point of reference:

  • A male born on November 14, 1955, you can expect to live 17.9 years to age 84.4
  • A female born on November 14, 1955, you can expect to live 20.4 years to age 86.9

While this might be decent guidance, keep this in mind: figures do not consider other factors such as current health, lifestyle, and family history that could increase or decrease life expectancy.

Healthy Living = Longer Living

Let’s use another example, someone who is currently 85 years old. According to the Social Security Administration:

  • If you’re an 85-year-old male, you can expect to live another 6.4 years to age 90.9 and
  • If you’re an 85-year-old female, you can expect to live another 7.5 years to age 92.0

In other words, at age 85, you may have seven or more years remaining – illustrating the importance of understanding your life expectancy when planning your retirement spending.  Further, the “healthier” population subset enjoys an additional number of remaining expected years compared with Social Security’s general population. In some cases (depending on age), about 60% of the 70-year-old “healthier” population may outlive members of the general population due to lifestyle choices, lack of accidents, and other similar factors (including just plain luck).

Plan For 95

Many financial advisors suggest planning to age 95. Such advice can reduce how much you spend today just in case you live to 95. Further, financial advisory best practices suggest adjusting spending over time. Instead of guessing an age, anchor your expectations on how long your money needs to last using statistics for your population group. Additionally, is it recommended that you update that expectation each year during your annual financial review. Rather than fear outliving your money, embrace uncertainty through a structured process that incorporates uncertainty into your financial decisions. Life is full of forks on the road that you can prudently manage during your 21st-century retirement.

When Your Spouse Dies

When a spouse dies, the emotional magnitude can send your life reeling. You may feel pressured to do many things all at once. Regardless, it is best to address long-term decisions after grieving.  There are, however, steps that you must take soon after your spouse dies.

First, you must handle the funeral arrangements and all the expenses. Contact family members, friends, and your spouse’s employer to tell them of the death.  Gather all records to document your spouse’s life and passing. Be sure to locate records of birth, death, marriage, divorce, military service, investments, insurance, taxes, and employee benefits.  At some point, consult with legal, tax, insurance, and financial professionals to handle your late spouse’s finances. Assuming your spouse left a Will and did not die intestate (i.e., without one), make sure you locate the document.

Keep it securely in a safe or a safe deposit box, along with life insurance policies, a list of financial holdings, real estate, and names of legal, tax, and financial advisors. The Will dictates the distribution of any assets and the settlement of the estate. Review their written wishes with an attorney. Contact your insurance agent to start the claims process and reevaluate your own insurance needs. The agent might also review and perhaps alter beneficiary designations. Your spouse’s financial advisor, banks, and investment firms must also be alerted so they can distribute your spouse’s investments and savings according to the beneficiary forms for these accounts.

The beneficiary forms commonly take precedence over bequests made in a Will. Therefore it is essential to review account designations periodically. With the death of a spouse, beneficiary designations on investment accounts and insurance policies in your name likely must be revised. You and your attorney need to contact the executor, trustees, guardians, and heirs relevant to the estate and access the appropriate estate planning documents. Your attorney can also inform you of the possibility of probate, the court process governing the distribution of assets.

Is A Trust a Good Idea for Your 21st-Century Retirement?

A revocable living trust (or other estate planning mechanisms) may allow you to avoid this process. Joint tenancy and community property laws in many states also help. The executor for the estate should obtain an Employer Identification Number (EIN) from the Internal Revenue Service. You must notify creditors, banks, credit unions, and financial firms where your spouse had a financial relationship.

Moving On Financially

You had an idea of what your retirement would be like together. How does your partner’s death change that idea? Will you need to replace potential sources of retirement income? Make sure you secure survivor and spousal benefits to maintain your standard of living after the loss of your spouse. Contact your local Social Security office about this. Your spouse’s employer should put you in touch with the person overseeing its employee benefits plan. If your spouse worked in a civil service job or was in the armed forces, contact the government agency or the military branch about how to file for survivor benefits.

If your spouse owned a business or professional practice, check whether there is a defined succession plan for its short-term continuation. A partner or key employee might take the reins for the time being or in the long term. You will also have to decide to what extent you wish to be involved in your late spouse’s business.


The loss of your spouse may significantly alter your tax picture. There may be tax implications on charitable gifts you and your spouse recently arranged or planned to make. Property left to a surviving spouse or a tax-exempt charity is exempt from federal estate tax. Any property gifted by your late spouse during life is not subject to probate. Be sure to re-title any jointly held assets, such as investments, bank accounts, and real estate.

If you have dependent children, determine whether you can sustain the family’s lifestyle on a single income. You may also need a new way to address college funding. Some widowed spouses consider selling a home or moving closer to adult children, but the aftermath of a spouse’s passing is not the wisest moment to make such decisions. In a painful time of loss, remember not to act rashly. A good rule of thumb is to not make new big financial decisions until at least six months after becoming a widow or widower.

Retirement Planning Doesn’t Stop in Retirement.

If you’re retired, you’ll probably live longer and better than your parents and grandparents did. The bad news is you’ll have a more expensive life, for longer. Every year, you will need to estimate your life expectancy to ensure the foundation for your retirement is adjusted as needed. Let’s say you are 58 – you need to plan for the next 37 years – more than a third of your life.

Five Pointers to Help Plan During Retirement

  1. Costs of advice.

You probably have a lot of questions. How much do you pay someone now to help you coordinate your investments? Is your portfolio sufficiently diversified? Did you buy annuity policies that you don’t understand and may become expensive for you to own? Do you need someone to manage your investments and provide financial planning advice? The average American spends more time analyzing the cost of a new television than the cost and qualities of a financial advisor.

  1. Social Security.

Don’t decide about benefits and lump-sum pension choices without input from an objective financial planner – or you may leave significant money behind. Remember too that the Social Security Administration won’t necessarily provide advice on your best strategies.

  1. Your home and health.

Consider the final 15-plus years of your life. Where will you live when you’re 80? In a large home with stairs? Will most of your wealth center around your home as your retirement years tick past? Who will care for you (don’t plan on a spouse, as you may become a widow or widower)? Get objective advice on long-term care planning and your options for a reverse mortgage to convert your home equity into cash.

  1. Know what you own.

Are you one of the tens of thousands with half-forgotten old 401(k) plans from previous employers? Have multiple accounts with various brokers? Outdated estate documents or long forgotten life insurance policies? Consolidate your holdings and paper trail, kindness not only to your current recordkeeping but also to your future heirs.

  1. Make your wants clear.

Include your adult children or siblings in a frank discussion about where your assets are and your preferences for treatment if you end up in the hospital. You don’t need to give specific dollar information, but family or friends need to know your preferences and where to find your assets if you die or can longer communicate.


Copyright © 2022 Financial Media Exchange LLC., All rights reserved. Distributed by Financial Media Exchange.
Ethos Capital Management, Inc. reserves the right to edit blog entries and delete comments that contain offensive or inappropriate language. Comments that potentially violate securities laws and regulations will also be deleted. Hyperlinks on our blog are provided as a convenience. We cannot be held responsible for information, services, or products found on websites linked to our posts.