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Tax Bar Bulletin July 2020: Volume 36, No. 7

Current Items:                                                             

  • Part Two–Can Lawyers Learn to Retire?                                                         
  • The Fourth is upon us and it is a time to celebrate independence. How fitting is the next and last instalment of this my retirement article. BTW I did receive a number of congratulations on my own voyage to the other side of work and I thank those thoughtful souls for their good wishes. I do note that a few of them are tax lawyers themselves glad to see that I am out of the running for new cases leaving them somewhat of a professional windfall. To them I say good luck.

Can Lawyers Learn to Retire?  Part Two              Ted David, Esq

“You Gotta Know When to Hold Them… Know When to Fold Them”

 – Kenny Rodgers..The Gambler

Financial aspects

No matter what you have accumulated so far: pensions, IRA, savings accounts, bonds, real estate, you will never think there is enough for your retirement. You can always wait until you have more, but with that approach the day may never come. You can try an Excel spreadsheet analysis to ease your insecurities about it. You will realize, no doubt, that you are leaving a practice that paid for most of your lifestyle. Here are some suggestions for the financial aspects:

Review your assets and financial objectives and perhaps hire a professional

Can your practice be sold? That may not be the case as personal services are involved

Consider what your investment horizon is recognizing your age and health.

Review and rebalance investments as this is no time to be chasing high returns in exchange for   safety.

Consider the tax consequences to stock sales, sale of your home and rental options.

Approach the issue of when to start spending savings.

Pension tax laws will dictate an annual RMD (Required Minimum Distribution) after age 72

How much money do you need to retire? Some say to stash enough money amounting to 80% or even 100% of your current annual income and expense. In my case I tallied every dime I had spent in the prior three years. Remember that your pension set-asides are also subject to income tax. Savings which were previously taxed are of course more valuable. For me I created what I called the GOP plan. That’s Get Out Plan and though it may be hard to imagine I started it almost 10 years ago realizing that I had a substantial client base that would have to be resolved before I could put the lock on the door. I consulted that plan from time to time to see how well I was doing.  I did my financial calculations at least every few months as part of the GOP and gradually moved from stocks to bonds and other “safe” investments not wanting a market turn down to spoil the plan. If you are in fact “numbers challenged” it may be time to get the help of an accountant.

Practical Retirement

Get to work on your exit strategy as soon as possible. Create your own GOP plan. Too early and you may find yourself bored, too late and you may find yourself too unhealthy to enjoy it. The wind down as in my case could take years. It’s a project and you must track your progress. I was amazed to find that in New Jersey there is really no helpful guidance from the state Bar Association on the specific topic of what a lawyer must do to in fact retire. Consulting with some retired lawyers it seemed like we were free to use our own professional judgment as to go how to go about it. But at a minimum it will require client notification and advice to your state and local bar associations of the fact that you are closing your office. Some states provide retirement packages with forms that are to be filed and submitted. I could find none in the state of New Jersey.

Now is also the time to review your will, medical directive and powers of attorney. Have an estate plan in place. As you get closer get a physical, join a gym, read some books and articles about retirement. Find a mentor who has done it before but be careful for what they may be leaving out in their explanation of their retirement experience. I had one good friend who left out the fact that when he left a very substantial position he ended up in therapy for two years. It may be time to consider long-term care insurance. Looking at “all in one” community homes where you can graduate to the care needed without moving may also make sense. Check your need for life or disability insurance and review beneficiary designations.

Acclimating to retirement

No matter what they may say everyone has problems with retirement especially among professionals. Denial is pointless. Retirement is about freedom. Gone are the early am meetings or nighttime court appearances. The phone calls and emergency emails are no more. You have time but the adjustment isn’t always easy. The word “accomplishment” has to be redefined. Having hobbies and outside interests often woefully lacking in a legal career can help matters. Setting up a travel plan or bucket list may be worthwhile. It brings to mind the “when, if not now?” issue as sore knees and back may make travel difficult if not impossible. Unfortunately our profession has one of the highest rates for depression and suicide, not to mention divorce. So we must face the fact that depression and loneliness are common for lawyers who retire and that getting therapy is not a sign of weakness. You’ll have to decide what your new “brand” is. The art of resting and doing little is not easy if you have been “doing” all of your life. There are tons of advice books on the subject but watch out for them as they are in the business of selling books and don’t really give a damn for you. At a minimum assess your willingness to accept change: financially and emotionally. I’m convinced that those who say they love their work and will do so till they die may be simply scared of the alternative.

Many retired people handle the new time available differently. Studies show that about 13% pursue a new career another 13% start a new business. 67% say they travel more taking the advice of geriatricians who say travel helps fight depression and improves creativity. 26% find satisfaction in volunteering. Retired lawyers like most people look for “purpose.” Volunteering may provide such a purpose. The Internet can provide extensive resources for this. There is no need to over extend or to try to save the world. In fact it may be wise to skip such volunteering for the first and second years. In the first year you will find out who you are; in the second, who you would like to be and you can go from there. There is a guilty feeling sometimes thinking you, of all people, should be doing more. Resist it.

Family considerations

Should you be moving closer or further away from family? Many retired people end up becoming babysitters for their grandchildren which can be extremely rewarding and taxing at the same time. Certainly couples who are retiring at the same time face more of a challenge. People who may have been coupled for many years have never spent so much time together that retirement offers…for better or worse. Trying to avoid personal disruption may be the best plan. There are those who retire and immediately head south. While appearing attractive, pulling up stakes may not be the answer. Give yourself time to sort it all out. Avoid snap decisions. Talk to people and try to get honest answers realizing people who have made these decisions are rarely honest: “it’s fabulous, we love it.” Once they have made the decision they tend to align and defend it and may even brag about it. Perhaps you should rent first if you can for 3, 6 or 12 months before acquiring anything. Ask yourself before going to a retirement age 55+ community anywhere whether life should be spent with old people. And frankly how much golf or tennis is simply too much. The concept of the gated community is a popular landing place for retirees. It offers the appearance of security and It is the chance to appear special, even wealthy. It may be filled with clubs and events but when all is said and done it is very much like an open air nursing home. Poolside drivel and gossip is common as is the sound of emergency vehicles. Where will you find your intellectual stimulation? Moving in with children can be a disaster and should only be a last resort. So is acquiring homes with numerous guest rooms. That will guarantee that people will come to visit… and stay. Guests can be fun for a maximum of three or four days, after that you may wish you could have stayed at work.

Conclusion-Retirement can be an interesting phase of your professional life with the emphasis on life. It may not come naturally to once busy and engaged lawyers..but lawyers can learn to retire..