Approximately 23 million Americans 65 and older are single, divorced or widowed, according to the most recent data available from the U.S. Census Bureau.1 That means there are many people in this country who are planning their retirement on their own, without the help of a spouse or partner.
If you are a part of this group — whether it is your choice or the result of unexpected circumstances — there are unique considerations you may need to keep in mind as you navigate your path to retirement on your own.
The following tips can help you craft your retirement plan:
1. Align your lifestyle with your savings. Retiring solo may mean you get to call the shots on how you want to spend your time. Whether it’s traveling, volunteering, visiting family, or working part-time, think about how you want to fill your days – then consider how you’ll fund your new lifestyle.
2. Plan for health care expenses. Decide how you’d like to handle health care expenses, including your possible need for long-term care. Depending on your situation, insurance coverage (including Medicare, Medicaid and long-term care insurance), health savings accounts and investment savings may be part of the solution.
3. Update your estate plan. Review and make any necessary adjustments to your estate plan and beneficiaries on key accounts to ensure they align with your wishes. Pick a trusted family member or friend to serve as your financial and health care proxy. An attorney can help you assign someone to make decisions for you in the event you can no longer act on your own.
4. Consider your mortgage. If you have a mortgage on your current home, think about whether you’d like to pay it off before or during retirement. Consider your tax strategy, cash flow needs today and down the road, and whether you intend to downsize or move in retirement as you make your decision.
5. For those who are divorced. If you were previously married, additional considerations apply as you think about your retirement plans:
a) If you receive alimony payments, be aware that the amount you receive may be modified — or even end — once your ex-spouse reaches retirement age. On the other hand, if you are the one who makes alimony payments, make sure you understand how much you’re obligated to continue paying in retirement. The terms were likely spelled out in your divorce settlement.
b) You may also consider claiming Social Security benefits based on the earnings of your ex-spouse. You can do so as early as age 62. However, the longer you delay claiming benefits (up to your full retirement age), the larger your monthly benefit will be. Your claim has no impact on the amount of your ex-spouse’s Social Security benefits.
6. For widows and widowers. Retiring single is likely different than what you envisioned during your married years, and you may still be going through an adjustment period. The following tips can help you as you reframe your retirement years:
a) If you were not closely involved in managing household finances, enlist a trusted family member or financial professional to review your current situation. Track down passwords to all your accounts and make an updated plan to address your current needs and retirement goals.
b) If you collected an insurance settlement following the passing of your spouse, focus on investing that money effectively to help generate income during your retirement. You can also claim Social Security survivor benefits if you are at least age 60. You can decide later to begin collecting benefits based on your own work record.
How you decide to spend your retirement days is personal – so your retirement plan should be too. Turn to a tax professional and financial advisor for guidance on what steps to take next.
1 “America’s Families and Living Arrangements: 2022 – Table A1,” United States Census Bureau. Last Revised — November 21, 2022. https://www.census.gov/data/tables/2022/demo/families/cps-2022.html.
Holley Smaldone-Cragg, CMFC, is a Financial Advisor with Ameriprise Financial in Geneva. She specializes in fee-based financial planning and asset management strategies and has been in practice for over 35 years. Her website is ameripriseadvisors.com/holley.cragg.com.