Is That Really Enough to Retire?

Senior Law News | Oct 9, 2019 | Letha Sgritta McDowell

A recent study by the Associated Press NORC Center for Public Affairs research found that almost 40% of Americans feel confident in their retirement savings. This appears to be a positive statistic given that 10,000 Americans reach 65, traditional retirement age, every day. However, some experts argue that the confidence may be faulty, or, may have an overall negative impact, because it may result in people being less disciplined in planning for retirement.

While almost every working American plans to retire, very few have actually considered what retirement looks like, both financially and psychologically. The freedom to go where one wants at their leisure, without having to check in with an employer, seems liberating. However, for adults who have spent their entire lives getting up and going to work every day, retirement leaves them with a tremendous amount of free time. Gradually, that free time is filled with something other than work. Hobbies such as travel, gardening, painting, photography, etc. will eventually fill up all that spare time. Yet, many fail to budget for the fact that those all have a cost. So, while many believe they will expend less in retirement than they did during working years, the reality is that spending often doesn’t decrease in retirement.

In addition, very few retirees will have guaranteed income in retirement, other than Social Security. In 2019, the average Social Security Retirement check is only $1,461. Average household spending in retirement is approximately $3,900 a month which leaves a deficit of $2,439 per month or $29,268 per year. The factors which affect how long a person lives in retirement vary greatly based on gender, age at retirement, longevity, and overall health; however, 20 years in retirement is a reasonable assumption. Based on a shortfall of $29,268 per year, a minimum of $585,360 would be needed.

In addition to a shortfall based on average spending, there are other factors which affect retirement savings. An active lifestyle will result in an increased deficit. In addition, market conditions will have a major impact on savings. However, nothing will affect retirement savings more than a need for long-term health care. Someone who has reached age 65 has a 70% chance of needing long-term care. On average, women need approximately 3.7 years of long-term care, while men average 2.2 years. The national average cost of nursing care in a semi-private room is $88,348. For a couple who both need long-term care, this would result in a need for an additional $521,253 bringing the need to fund retirement and long-term care to a total of $1,106,613.

Therefore, in today’s dollars, the average retired couple will need over $1 million to retire. However, a 2017 Government Accounting Office study showed that Americans between the age of 55 and 64 only have around $107,000 in retirement. For those who are close to retirement and who haven’t amassed a million or more in savings, there are still planning options available. Long- term care insurance may be an option to ensure payment of a long-term care stay. For some, a part- time job is the answer to monthly shortfalls. For others, a simple investment review and account rebalancing may be the answer.

So, while 40% of Americans feel confident in their retirement savings, the reality is much different. Saving for retirement requires advanced planning and discipline; however, with advanced thinking, planning for a comfortable retirement is achievable.

Ask Kit Kat: Rescuing Wildlife Babies

Hook Law Center: Kit Kat, what can you tell us about how rehabbers rescue and care for wildlife babies, so that they can eventually return to the wild?

Kit Kat: Well, the people who care for these little critters are indeed miracle workers. They tend to all sorts of wildlife—like baby badgers, bobcat kittens, and gray fox kits—but not in such a way that these babies lose their wild instincts. For example, The Fund for Animals Wildlife Center in Ramona, CA trains their staff to avoid imprinting. That is when wild animals become accustomed to humans which prevents their successful return to the wild. So staff follow strict routines, so that the babies do not associate humans with comfort. Talking to the babies is limited, and they try not to cuddle them too much during exams with the vet. In the case of a baby badger, they supplied his enclosure with dirt and branches—things he would need to build a den. They also buried some of his food, so he’d have to learn to dig for it.

Most sanctuaries can house certain animals long-term, but as much as possible, they try to return them to the wild. Especially in the case of bobcats and coyotes, which are difficult to maintain in enclosures as adults, they try very hard to help the animals maintain their wild instincts. Staff want them to be wary of people when they are released, because most people who would see such an animal approaching them, would be scared and possibly harm the animal, as a precaution.

It is wonderful that sanctuaries exist. Those operated by Humane Society of the US affiliates are the one in CA mentioned above, one in Oakland, OR, one in Murchison, TX, and one in Ft. Lauderdale, FL. We owe them our sincere thanks! (Kelly L. Williams, “Hands-off Help,” All Animals, Sept/Oct 2019, p. 13)

Letha Sgritta McDowell

Attorney, Shareholder, CELA
757-399-7506 | 252-722-2890
[email protected]

Letha Sgritta McDowell is a Shareholder of Hook Law practicing in the areas of estate planning, elder law, special needs planning, estate and trust administration, asset protection planning, long-term care planning, personal injury settlement consulting, guardianships & conservatorships, and tax law. Ms. McDowell’s clients range from high-net-worth individuals with over $75 million in net worth to families with limited assets.

Ms. McDowell is a past President of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys and was named as a Fellow of the prestigious American College of Trusts and Estates Council (“ACTEC”) in 2020. She is certified as an elder law attorney by the National Elder Law Foundation (“CELA”) and Board Certified as a specialist in Elder Law by the North Carolina State Bar Board of Legal Specialization. Furthermore, McDowell is accredited to prepare and prosecute claims with the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Ms. McDowell is currently the chair of NAELA’s strategic planning committee, a member of the Board of Directors for the North Carolina Chapter of NAELA, and a member of the Board of Directors for the Purdue Center for Cancer Research. She is the former Chair of the North Carolina State Bar’s Elder Law Specialization Committee and is the former Editor-in-Chief of “Gray Matters”, the newsletter for the Elder Law Section of the North Carolina Bar Association. She is a consultant for InterActive Legal and has worked on several law and technology initiatives including IBM’s Watson project. Along with her experience practicing as an attorney, she has dedicated much of her time writing for national publications including, but not limited to: Wolters Kluwer,, the NAELA Journal, Trust & Estates Magazine and many more.

Practice Areas

  • Elder Law
  • Estate & Trust Administration
  • Estate Planning
  • Asset Protection Planning
  • Long-Term Care Planning
  • Special Needs Planning

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