The idea of retiring isn’t new. People who grew too old or too ill stopped working and stayed home long before pensions and Social Security. But as people live longer, the retirement experience takes on a different meaning. Not only can you expect more years of retirement than of adolescence, but they can be a lot
more satisfying and rewarding. The complication is that you’re faced with a number of decisions, some of them irrevocable. So rather than waiting to evaluate your alternatives until it’s time to choose, it’s smart to start thinking about them now.
If you’re paying for individual coverage, the answer is almost certainly yes, as Medicare will be cheaper. If you’re still eligible for your employer’s plan, you may want to wait. The key is that you must have what the government considers comparable coverage. If you do, you can enroll without penalty in Medicare within eight months after that coverage ends. If you don’t have comparable coverage and delay enrolling after you turn 65, you face a permanent surcharge on your Parts B and D premiums for each year you were eligible and didn’t enroll.
If you work for a small company, you may be required to enroll in Medicare Part A—the hospitalization portion—at 65 but be able to keep your employer-plan coverage for doctor visits and prescription drugs. You should be sure to confirm that your insurer will continue to pay claims.
A living will is a document that describes the kind of medical treatment you want—and don’t want—if you are terminally ill or in a permanent vegetative state (which means you’re unconscious, not able to communicate, and unlikely to get better). In writing your living will, you should be as specific as possible about the kinds of drugs and medical procedures you have in mind and the situations under which they should—or should not be—used. Though almost all states accept living wills, the laws of each state are a little different, so you want to be sure that the living will you sign meets local requirements.
You should also be sure your family and your doctor know that you’ve signed a living will and where they can find a copy. You don’t need a lawyer to draw up the document, although if you’re in the process of preparing a regular will, you can sign both at once, probably for little or no additional charge.
A living will makes your healthcare wishes known, but it does not always guarantee they will be followed. Someone will still have to authorize treatment, or make a decision not to continue it. You can appoint a healthcare agent or surrogate in a signed and witnessed document known as a healthcare proxy, or you can grant a durable power of attorney for healthcare to someone who will make the decisions you would have wanted. You should be sure to ask permission of the per- son you name and describe your feelings about your care in detail. Without understanding what you want, it would be very difficult for your surrogate to see that your wishes are carried out. Because there are still unresolved legal questions about the extent of a surrogate’s authority, it probably makes sense to get legal advice in preparing these documents.
Contributions from the book Planning Retirement Income in this press release are used with permission from Light Bulb Press.