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Things you cannot avoid in retirement

Brian HerdBy Brian Herd, Partner at CRH Law, our Lead Legal Professionals at Heather Hill Pathways.

When confronted by the thought of potentially significant life events, most Australians err on the side of caution, i.e., doing nothing.

We are great avoiders, dissuaded from action by the effort and price of doing something.  We’re even unpersuaded to do something by negative psychology – the fear of the cost of doing nothing.  The first approach gives immediate satisfaction and the other, ultimate dissatisfaction.

What this mentality means is that, for many of us:

  • We lose the opportunity to do something or let it pass by; or
  • We belatedly try to do something after the event – when the horse has bolted.

The old mantra – the only certainties in life – death and taxes – has had its day.  For most of us, there is now a third certainty – retirement. Let me add a fourth – aged care.

If a good later life is to follow us to the end of our days and particularly in the later stages, then, if X equals satisfaction, how would Einstein solve the mysterious mathematical equation for the sum of satisfaction in retirement:

Life – work = X

Life – work – health = X

Life – work – health – money = X

If I was him, this is how the equation would read:

Life – work + planning + doing = satisfaction!

I have avoided using the word happiness as the sum – while it is not a condition to be avoided it tends to be more aspirational and the consequence of doing good for yourself.  Lawyers can’t necessarily give you happiness but they can make you feel satisfied that you have done what you can to achieve happiness.

The secret to the formula for satisfaction is planning, not perfection.  No amount of crystal ball gazing into the future will cover every contingency nor, indeed, will navel gazing.

Planning is a doing word.  It reeks of action.  Trouble is, just like the pervading P phrase of real estate, Position Position Position, planning is now such a ubiquitous P word in the older person’s lexicon of retirement, it has become tired and boring.  Familiarity breeds contempt – if you hear that word one more time, just like those other common, galling shibboleths – ‘at the end of the day’ and ‘moving forward’, you will bring someone’s retirement to an early demise.

Let’s face the facts – retirement comes with a kissing cousin – ageing and ageing is not what it used to be – retiring at 65 and dropping dead at 66 still clutching the gold watch.  With longevity, we now have our third stage in life – active retirement or independency and then the fourth stage – inactive retirement or dependency.  It is this latter stage when the future starts appearing to be so much closer.  For most of us, we know these things to be true.

Yet yet yet, many of us will still wait for it to happen or simply watch it happen.  From my lawyer’s perspective, I have been to the mountain and seen what’s on the other side.  It is not a passive scene of slow, morbid decline but an active series of events for which the law gives us the tools to confront in such later life episodes as:

  • Losing your capacity to make decisions
  • Losing your spouse or partner
  • Falling in love
  • Spending and saving your money
  • Gaining a partner or spouse
  • Becoming and staying single
  • Having to rely on other people
  • Changing our lifestyles
  • Transitioning to aged care
  • Reviewing family relationships
  • Arranging our celestial transfer

Avoiding these issues will lead to dissatisfaction and unhappiness in retirement, trust me, I’m a lawyer.  Added to that, these negative consequences will also infect your families who will be left with having to pick up the pieces of your recalcitrance.  This burden can often lead to family implosion.

Life is generally about choices – those choices don’t reduce in retirement – if anything they get more numerous and complex.  We can choose to take action and be a director of our own destiny or await what the future may bring and be a passive victim of circumstance.

In retirement, successful people party, failures ponder.  Choose your consequences.

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