Retirement planning: Get non-financial help

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(MoneyWatch) While most people's main concern in planning their retirement naturally focuses on financial matters, the fact is you'll also be making numerous, important non-financial decisions that affect the rest of your life. This post explores the help you might need with these issues, and complements my earlier column this week.

One critical area that involves both financial and nonfinancial issues is estate planning. From the financial perspective, the method you use to generate income from your retirement savings will have a significant impact on how much money you leave to children and charities. If leaving a legacy is importantto you, you'll most likely need an attorney to draft a will and/or trust, particularly if you have substantial assets or a complicated personal situation (such as children from previous marriages or dependents with special needs). If you don't specify your wishes in writing with a will, the state will make those decisions for you -- and the results could be very different from what you (not to mention your heirs) would have chosen.

You'll also most likely need help maintaining your health so you can minimize the money you spend on medical bills and live a long, healthy life. Your main source for this help will be your general practitioner or family doctor, and if you have a specific medical condition, you'll want the appropriate specialists on your team. Most likely you'll find these professionals in your medical insurance plan's network.

It's important to recognize, however, that most doctors are trained to treat illnesses or accidents -- they aren't focused on improving your general wellness and health. For this goal, you might need assistance from nurse practitioners, physician assistants, nutritionists, chiropractors, physical therapists or personal trainers. While you might find these professionals in your medical plan's network or even at your doctor's office, you might also need to go outside your network to get the help you need.

With anyone you hire -- whether they're inside your plan's network or not -- look for people who have training and experience in working with people in your age group. Another possible source of help could come from the wellness program sponsored by your employer; these types of programs are becoming increasingly popular.

One area that's often overlooked when it comes to retirement planning is marriage or relationship counseling. "Now I have twice the husband and half the income." I heard this revealing comment from a participant in one of my retirement planning workshops, and it really made me think about the state of our relationship with our spouse or partner after we retire. Many couples have devoted lots of time to their careers and raising their families, but maybe not as much as with their significant other, whom they'll now be spending much more time with.

While that can be a good thing, if it isn't some counseling may be in order. Counseling can also help if you'll be making some life-changing decisions, such as where you'll live and what types of activities you'll pursue during retirement. A trained counselor can guide you through these decisions with focused conversations and helpful advice. Look for professionals with specialized training; examples include Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT), Marriage and Family Therapist (MFT), and Master of Social Work (MSW).

Another source of help you might consider seeking is from a life or career coach, particularly if you're interested in taking new directions with your life. A coach can help you systematically address all the issues that might come into play when making a those all-important, life-changing decisions. The Life Planning Network is one organization of professionals who focus on "life in the second half."

Finally, think about help you might need from family, friends or other social institutions such as your church, local government services or nonprofit organizations. This might include help with day-to-day activities, assistance in emergencies, sharing resources to save money, or discussing important life decisions. It takes a village to be retired!

It might take more than a week to think about and investigate the exact kind of help you need. It's OK to start now and finish later -- the point is to just get started!

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    Steve Vernon helped large employers design and manage their retirement programs for more than 35 years as a consulting actuary. Now he's a research scholar for the Stanford Center on Longevity, where he helps collect, direct and disseminate research that will improve the financial security of seniors. He's also president of Rest-of-Life Communications, delivers retirement planning workshops and authored Money for Life: Turn Your IRA and 401(k) Into a Lifetime Retirement Paycheck and Recession-Proof Your Retirement Years.

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