Depression risk could derail your retirement portfolio

  • By Beth Pinsker,
  • Reuters
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Retirement savings can suffer from interest rate moves, market volatility and other financial risks, but depression can be just as damaging.

The transition to retirement itself is enough to trigger mood problems if you are emotionally unprepared, said Jamie Hopkins, director of Retirement Research at Carson Group.

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“What we typically see is photos of retiree couples on the beach, and they look happy,” Hopkins said. But others feel isolated when suddenly separated from meaningful work. “Some people don’t know what they are supposed to be doing,” Hopkins said.

Catalysts such as declining health can be depressing as life gets more limited. Caregivers often become widows or widowers, and are at high-risk without a significant other to care for them.

“Lots of widows refer to it as jello brain,” said Kathleen Rehl, author of “Moving Forward on Your Own: A Financial Guide for Widows,” and for years a financial planner primarily for widows. “You just can’t think straight, and it shuts down some of your normal functions.”

Financial impacts

Depression can have a real and lasting financial impact, so mental health must be a factor in retirement planning.

“We talk about diversifying your portfolio and your life,” said Neal Van Zutphen, a certified financial planner from Tempe, Arizona, whose clients include those who wildly spend to fill a void.

Consider just healthcare costs: depression lowers immune system responses, strains the heart, limits the ability to care for yourself, and depletes energy.

A home health aide or assisted living facility costs more than $4,000 month in most parts of the country, and a shared room at a nursing home can run more than $7,000, according to Genworth’s 2018 Cost of Care survey.

“It just knocks the socks off any other expense,” said Debra Newman, a recent retiree who spent her consulting career selling long-term care insurance to reduce such risks.

Hopkins assesses clients’ happiness and finances when creating retirement projections. The key question: Where will you find your meaning? Then Hopkins prompts people to think about goal-based planning.

Retirees planning to go on a cruise or buy a second home need to do more than rely on their general savings, said Hopkins.

Phased retirement, with shorter work hours, helps clients ease into a new lifestyle. “This gives you the ability to test-drive retirement, as opposed to cold turkey,” Hopkins said.

Due diligence

Depressed retirees are also vulnerable to scams targeting those desperate for help, experts said.

Rehl worked with one widow who handed over a chunk of her life savings to buy the Iraqi currency and lost it all. Many widows she works with fall prey because of financial illiteracy. Complicated insurance products with suspect terms can wreck retirement plans, Rehl noted.

Financial education is the best bet, but for people experiencing grief and possible depression, a thick, jargon-filled report can be daunting.

Graphics are Rehl’s answer. She divided up widow Liz’s $1.5 million into colored blocks, including for inheritance, charity and spending (to create memories with family). Each area was tied to a goal-based investment strategy.

“She’d bring this graphic to meetings,” said Rehl, and they worked together to plot out the rest of her financial life.

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