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How are my Health Care Clients approaching the Decision Decade?

How are my Health Care Clients approaching the Decision Decade?

May 15, 2024

As a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ practitioner and after more than 35 years working with my health care clients, I have helped many to a successful retirement and been a witness to many fulfilled dreams.   I have also been frustrated many times.  I am not frustrated with my clients.  I am frustrated with the decisions made or sometimes NOT made and left to chance.  Sometimes these decisions were made with the help of a long ago “financial advisor” that has long since disappeared.   The product sold is something we need to correct or fix.  The decisions made 15 or 20 years ago may not hold up, now that retirement is around the corner. 

Some of these decisions are actually “non-decisions” or decisions left to chance.  Many of my health care heroes simply put their heads down and went to work helping those that cannot help themselves.  They were told many years ago to “pay yourself first” and have saved diligently in their retirement plans.  If they did not have much help, they may have acted emotionally when their investments were up or down.  Over their 30 years of working, they have seen a lot.  They have lived through the growth of the equity markets after the 1987 crash, the 2000 tech bubble scare, the lost decade of 2000-2010 when their investment savings would go up and down almost annually.  They continued to invest through the tragedies of September 11th , the 2008 Financial crisis, COVID, and  are now currently seeing the return of rampant inflation.   How could someone be blamed for their apprehension in investing?  Without guidance, many times, there was not a clear path or direction.  No one was able to help with the vision of a successful retirement through those crazy times.

Many of those decisions or indecisions can be corrected or avoided if we look at the Decision Decade.  Many of the most important decisions to ensure the best retirement possible happens the five years prior to and five years after your retirement date.  We certainly can set ourselves up earlier than this.  But it’s not too late. 

These decisions become even more complicated if you are married.  When do I claim my Social Security if I am married?  Who had the higher income?  Is there a spousal “death benefit” with Social Security?   What if my spouse has a public pension?  How does that affect my decision?   Based on the new inherited IRA rules, should I name my children as the beneficiary on my IRA and retirement accounts?  Or, should I continue to have my spouse as the beneficiary?  What assets should I have in my living trust?  Should I have my retirement accounts in the trust?  And so MANY other questions and challenges…

The sooner you can address these questions, the better you will sleep at night.  You have a choice here.  The great unknown or the unending questions of “what if”. 

The story of Annie

Many years ago, I met a single lady who was working at one of our local hospitals.  She shared with me that she drove over 40 miles one way (through LA traffic) to be at work. She was 65 and had worked at this same hospital for more than 30 years.  I asked her why she didn’t consider retirement.  Or, at least slow down.  I knew her savings, I knew she had a pension, I knew somewhat a little about her spending habits (frugal).  So, my educated guess would be she would be OK to retire.   However, she didn’t believe she could.  The reality is no one she had trusted had sat her down to walk her through the process and the important irrevocable decisions that had to be made.  We did some modeling and worked through some terrible “what ifs”.  At the end of the discussion, once she realized it was possible, she was surprised and honestly, a little emotional.  Now, we knew she had the assets and the income to retire comfortably, was she ready?  Was she emotionally ready to make a change, leave her friends and social network she had developed at the hospital for so many years?  Had she thought through what would happen AFTER she signed out of the hospital for her last shift? 

My friend was able to go home and sleep peacefully.  While she wasn’t sure if she was ready to let go, she KNEW she could at any time.  She could give up that long drive if it became too much or if all of a sudden, she had a new supervisor that she felt she couldn’t work well with.  She could simply put in her notice and move on to her next phase.

End of the story:  My client/friend did decide to retire within 6 months of that meeting.  She visited her four sisters around the world.  Finished her “to dos’, continued to stay involved with her church.   Within 12 months of her last international visit with her sister, she was working again.  However, this was a PT job where she rode her bike to work.  She was working at her pace, on her terms.  She has been my client for over 20 years now.  It gives me great joy to see where she is and the enjoyment in her life.

As you probably know by now, there is no magic number.  How much you will need to have saved is different for all of my clients.  Contrary to what many so-called experts say, you can not put a number around it.  I have seen reports that you need 10x your salary saved.  What if you have a healthy pension?  Do you need 10x?  What if your mortgage is paid and you actually only spend 30% of your income?  Do you really need 10x your income?  There are so many variables, that if you don’t run your own numbers, you don’t really know.  Take those 5-7 years before you believe you will retire so you know.

Mom and Dad

Final story.  My mother and father-in-law were both public school teachers in Ohio.  They retired to Las Vegas (because of the state tax break).  They raised three great kids (I married the youngest).  While they were raising the kids, they really didn’t feel they had a lot of extra money to save for retirement.  They were simply trying to get by on two checks and supporting their three children and their education goals.  So, once two of their children had graduated from college and the third had finished her dancing career, they focused on themselves.  They started to save for retirement.  For a mere 10 years, they saved as much as they could into their retirement plans.

At retirement, they did not have the large retirement savings accounts many other people their age have.  This was not their concern. They had what they needed, they had two pension plans and three children they were very proud of.  They felt they had their priorities straight.  IF they would have listened to the experts that said they needed 10x their income, they may have wasted another 5-10 years working at a job they were simply finished with.  Their pension created that base of income. 

Not everyone has that type of pension.  Everyone has a different story.  No two solutions are ever the same.  No one should rely on what their co-worker is doing or their neighbor.  Tell your own story. 

As you start to dream about your retirement, you also may have some apprehension over questions that are running through your mind:

  • When do/can I Retire?
  • How will I replace my paycheck?
  • When is the best time to turn on my Social Security if I am married? If I am single?
  • How long do I need to plan on living? How much should I have set aside?  How do I make sure it lasts the rest of my life?  I certainly don’t want to move in with my kids if I can avoid it or worse yet, rely on the government for help.
  • How aggressive should my retirement savings be? Can I simply leave my retirement funds in the “safe” account?
  • How do I minimize taxes?
  • How do I choose the right health care? What does Medicare cover?
  • I have a pension. Do I take the lump sum or the life payments?  Which life payment?
  • I know the law changed; at what age do I have to start taking distributions from my retirement accounts?  Can I avoid this?
  • I have lots of plans for my retirement. Can I afford my dreams?


Please stay tuned for more help.  In the meantime, reach out to Oakwood Wealth Partners.  We are a large team here in Irvine that focuses on our hospital and health care employees.  Take some of the worry off your plate.  CRN-6590739-043024












Mike Lockwood (CA Insurance License #0730158) is a registered representative of Lincoln Financial Advisors Corp. Securities and investment advisory services offered through Lincoln Financial Advisors Corp. a broker/dealer (member SIPC) and registered investment advisor. Insurance offered through Lincoln Marketing and Insurance Agency, LLC and Lincoln Associates Insurance Agency, Inc. and other fine companies. 17400 Laguna Canyon Road, Suite 125, Irvine, CA 92618, Phone: (949) 341-4277. Lincoln Financial Advisors Corp and its representatives do not offer tax or legal advice.  Individuals should consult their tax or legal professionals regarding their specific circumstances. Oakwood Wealth Partners is not an affiliate of Lincoln Financial Advisors Corp.