This column has to do with life expectancy. If you would rather not know when you are departing this world, then perhaps you don’t want to read any further. But if you are curious enough to know what your longevity might be and how this is critical for retirement planning, read on.I asked one calculator which said I would leave this earth in 12 years, 306, days, 3 hours, 38 minutes, and 24 seconds, as of the time I got this down on paper. Another calculator estimated that I would last until I was 90.21 while a third one had me pegged taking off at age 89.

Of course, what set these calculators apart are the questions they ask. The first one above (that has me checking out in 12 years) only asked for my birth date, time of birth, and gender. I hardly take that one too seriously. The other two asked me a myriad of questions ranging from present lifestyle to health issues about my family and my parents. I would tend to look at those a little closer; besides, they have me living longer.

Talk to some of the insurance people and you may find that at age 65, they are spinning the person out for another 30-35 years. Now, this is all contingent upon your having relatively decent health and that you take care of yourself. Accordingly, you might just live those extra decades provided you don’t purposely go out looking for a bus to run you over.

So, what does this all mean?

Many financial planners tell me that people generally have the habit of underestimating exactly how long they will live, thereby simply increasing that person’s chance of outlasting their money. Remember, I said underestimating. Not a good thing. Unless there is some health or family-related health history to keep in mind, the original estimate of that additional 30-35 years at age 65 is not a bad one. In fact, most insurance companies say that a child born today is, depending on a number of variables, projected out to 120.

The purpose of the calculators, and you can easily go on line to check on these (simply Google the words “life expectancy calculator”) is to give you a general idea of personal longevity. The intention, says one planner, is to afford the client an opportunity to do something about the numbers if they are not to his/her liking.

One developer of a calculator says that behavior counts for some 70 percent of life expectancy while genes handle the other 30 percent. A gerontologist claims he’s been working on his own “death calculator” for some 35 years now and each time another medical discovery is made, he has to revise the calculator somewhat.

Naturally, be careful here. If you start looking at calculator after calculator, you could wind up getting crazy about all the information and how it may affect your retirement number. But, in any event, the calculators can serve to give you some guidance on what you may be able to do to prepare for a longer life. And then you can plug in the money you have.

One planner related this story to me. “I had a client who had a certain end number which pleased him immensely only to find out he wouldn’t have enough funds to meet those years. He got all stressed out, started smoking and drinking again, and as a result his longevity number went south. Now he has enough money simply because he wasn’t going to live that long anyway. But, that fact also stressed him out.” 

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