Paralyzed with Anxiety about Retirement Planning

My general practice has been successful for many years. Although I did well in supporting my family and financing my children’s education, I now find I did not adequately take care of longer-term retirement needs for myself and my wife. With retirement looming in the very near future, I need to take some action but I feel very stuck, almost paralyzed with anxiety. There must be others in my situation. What would you suggest?

Retirement is a multifaceted (and emotionally charged) transition in an individual’s life. The financial “facet” that you raise here is a major concern for many. Lack of financial preparedness for retirement is unfortunate but not uncommon, especially for sole practitioners, and for some members of law firms, as well. In contrast to corporate or government lawyers, who walk into existing benefit structures, planning for something as seemingly remote as retirement often gets less attention than the more immediate demands of practice management.

To address immobilizing, anxiety-laden situations of any kind, these three steps usually prove helpful: (1) Acquire pertinent information, but don’t flood yourself with more than the essentials. (2) Involve another person in reviewing the situation, especially someone with relevant expertise. (3) Break the task into very small steps (which you take one at a time – taking one step is a successful day). As you go through this process, your anxiety will inch downward while your sense of control increases.

Achieving a sense of control over your financial situation is probably the most important thing you can do. This means clarifying your current status, your current and projected needs and sources of income, and devising a plan for managing your expenses. Although it may cost you some money, it is worth considering an accountant or certified financial planner (CFP) who can guide you in gathering the necessary information and then do some number crunching for you. It’s important to be precise about what you want before writing that check. The planners who work for “free” get a commission from funds into which they place your savings. Independent planners charge you for their time and may be considered more objective. Many books and on-line resources are available if you want to try to do-it-yourself, but there may be more anxiety (and avoidance) in that approach. Ultimately, you will sleep better once you have gained a clear idea of the big picture and have developed a strategy, even if it means that your retirement looks different than what you had imagined. LCL is available to assist you in starting this process and searching for helpful resources. [SEE ALSO LCL’S NEWSLETTER, “BRIEFINGS” — SPRING 2002 ISSUE ON RETIREMENT.]

preload preload preload