Ralph Bovitz, CPA, PFS

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Planning Not to Work

By Ralph Bovitz, CPA, PFS

Since September 11, with the collapse of the World Trade Center, the nation’s and the world’s attention has focused on the political, military and social impact of the terrorist acts.  For many, especially older attorneys, this event reminds us life is brief and there is more to life than work. 

With advances in medicine, you may find spending 30 years in retirement entirely possible.  But commitment to the practice of law is an all-encompassing enterprise that often leaves little time to contemplate other aspects of life, such as retirement.  You may wake up to that retirement day and realize you have no plan for usefully or enjoyably spending those 30 years that follow.  So much is written about accumulating enough wealth to live “comfortably” in retirement.  Much less is written about what to do in those retirement years or that you should even plan for them.

        Clearly, adequate funding (read that “enough money”) will define what you can do in retirement.  Knowing how much you will spend further defines what you can do.  On the other hand, you also need to determine a withdrawal rate from your retirement fund, to make it last.  This is sometimes called planning for the spend-down years.  Beyond the money issues and, actually, more important to well being in your retirement years is knowing what you will do to keep happy and, yes, productive in those years.  It may be time to think about what you really want to do with the rest of your life, after retiring, and then see if your finances will support it!

       If you’re practicing solo, the job of planning those retirement years may be easier to overlook.  After all, no one is there to remind you to do that sort of planning.  On the other hand, if you are a partner or high-level staff member in a law firm, your younger partner’s may exert some pressure on you, one day, to start thinking about retirement. 

       The first reaction you may have to retirement is: “I spent my whole life practicing law. I don’t know what else to do!”  You may even complain about the practice of law, but if, for personal or retirement reasons, you decided to quit (the solo practitioner) or were encouraged/forced to quit (at partner requests), you need to decide what else to do.  If you don’t know what else to do, perhaps now is the time to give it some thought.

       A “senior” partner, a high-level staff person or a solo practitioner may decide, one day, that practicing law is not fun anymore.  Could such individuals lock themselves into a decision to quit, without really thinking it through?  It’s been done! Solo attorneys that decide, at age 60, to quit at 62, for example, might be able to abandon that decision as age 62 approaches, just because they are solo.  Solos can always change their mind; they’re still the boss, unless they made a binding contract to sell their practice and retire.  The partner who impulsively decides, at 60, to quit (retire) at age 62, and arranges with partners accordingly, however, may face some real difficulties if a change of mind occurs before then, because “life without practicing law is unimaginable!”

       So how might you consider planning for the (inevitable, I am afraid) retirement date?   Investigate the possibilities of part-time work for an overloaded colleague or staying on board with your firm on a very limited basis.  What about volunteering your legal services and experience to non-profit organizations?  Explore community service projects.  You might even meet with a vocational counselor for guidance into a new direction.   

Instead of practicing law, a little, is your retirement nest egg large enough to start a small retail business:  flower shop, candy store, stamp or coin shop? Is there something that always seemed fun or interesting but probably would not produce a living wage?  Perhaps just taking a “job” without any pressures is a solution.  I remember reading about the veterinarian who retired early and took a job as a shipping clerk.  He had spent so many years “thinking” that he just wanted to do something “physical”.  Lately, basketball star Michael Jordan returned to the (basketball) courts.  It sounds like playing golf everyday is just not very satisfying.  The same can be said, probably, for non-stop traveling.   

Relocating or downsizing your home is another issue you may want to consider ahead of time.  Most financial planners recommend living in the new locale for six months to a year, in a rented residence, just to see if the weather and activities in the new locale fit your needs.  Only then should you consider disposing of the home you may have lived in for many years and moving to the new location. 

As you consider what to do during those possible 30 years in retirement, consider if the interests you identify and activities you select can last that length of time.  More importantly, ask yourself “will the time you spend on them make you happy, represent a meaningful use of your time, keep your mind sharp and challenge you physically?”

















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