Retirement Plan Checklist

By Modern Wealth Management

January 11, 2019

Retirement Plan Checklist

Retirement Planning is a Complex Process, a Checklist Might Help

Download the Retirement Plan Checklist

Financial Advisor Logan DeGraeve presents the Retirement Plan Checklist webinar. In this webinar, Logan will review some of the questions in the checklist as well as things you need to be thinking about in the years leading up to retirement. If you want to attend one of our other webinars, check out our schedule events on the Events page.

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Follow along with Logan in the video by downloading your copy below.

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Once you have reviewed this checklist, I invite you to discover our proprietary Modern Wealth Management Guided Retirement System™ by scheduling a complimentary consultation with our team right here. If you’re on the right track and your current plan is sound, we will tell you. If there are things we see that will help you on your journey, we can guide you through those opportunities and help you avoid mistakes.

Items Mentioned in this Webinar:

Download the Retirement Plan Checklist Watch Tax Reduction Strategies  Watch Health Care Costs in Retirement

Video Transcript

Hi there, my name is Logan DeGraeve. I’m a financial advisor here at Modern Wealth Management, and today what we’re going to do is go through our Retirement Plan Checklist. We’re not going to go through everything in the checklist. If you want to download the full version, you can find that here.

I want you to think about today as if you and your spouse were taking a trip to Europe for a month, right? You would plan your hotel, your flights, what you were going to do there, and everything else. You wouldn’t land in Europe and hope for the best for a month. Retirement planning is no different, but instead of a month’s vacation, we’re going on a 30-year trip.

Hope for the Best Plan for the Worst

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We want to hope for the best but plan for the worst. No one can guarantee you that you’re going to have a good retirement; however, we hope that inflation stays low, taxes stay where they’re at, you’re in good health, and we don’t run into any bear markets. In reality, though, that’s not how life’s going to be. You’re going to have challenges in your retirement plan; it needs to be dynamic to face these challenges.


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For example, one of the things that you may deal with is inflation. We feel that a good retirement plan should be planning for about three and a half to 4% inflation per year. Although inflation hasn’t been a problem lately, we both know that what $100 used to buy you at the grocery store 20 years ago will not buy you the same amount of goods in today’s dollars. So we don’t want you to retire and live a diminished lifestyle, and if you don’t plan for inflation properly, that will happen.

Something else to consider is healthcare inflation. Healthcare costs are rising much higher than the basket of goods at the grocery store, right? If you want to help pay for maybe your grandkids’ college, that’s going to inflate differently, so not assigning the same three and a half or 4% inflation rate to all your goals is very important. 


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Taxes will be the largest wealth-eroding factor for most of you in retirement. The good news? Retirement’s kind of the first time you can begin to set the chessboard and dictate what your taxes will be. The biggest thing you have to figure out is, “Where’s my money going to come from when I retire, and how will that affect my taxes?” Each piece of income’s taxed differently. 

For instance, Social Security is taxed differently than your IRA withdrawals, and how do you set those things up to minimize your taxes through the long haul? We want a forward-looking tax plan, not a one-year-looking tax plan. To learn more about this, Dean and JoAnn also did a webinar on Tax Reduction Strategies; we’ll be sure to get you a link on this, which goes into a little bit more detail.

That leads me to my next point, Roth conversions. Does it make sense to do some Roth conversions? How will that affect your taxes not just now but into the future? When I work with people, I often see that we have a misconception of, “My taxes will be lower in retirement.” That’s not always the case, so you want to make sure you have a forward-looking strategy.

Market Volatility

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Market volatility, it’s a big one. How is your portfolio going to react if we see a 2008-type timeframe? Were you comfortable during the coronavirus drop from February to March? Were you losing sleep? How did that affect your portfolio? One of the big things you have to consider in retirement is the sequence of returns and how that may ruin a retirement. You just don’t want a straight-line average 6% return because that’s not the reality of how returns work.

I often talk with my clients about bad timing scenarios and what happens in the first couple years of retirement if we were to see two consecutive years of drops? Or, a bear market when we’re drawing off the portfolio the heaviest, is your plan okay? And lastly, the most important thing about market volatility is you only need to take as much risk as you need to accomplish your personal goals. Everyone’s goals are different; the level of risk you need is different for every client. 

Extended Life Expectancy

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People are living longer than ever; you can’t just go off your grandparents or your parents. The worst thing that I hear often is, “Well, no one in my family’s lived to over 85, so I’m not going to plan to 85,” because what happens if we do get to that 85th birthday? 

That’s not going to be a fun conversation for either of us, so you want to make sure that you’re at least stress-testing, “Okay, I want to conservatively plan for 90, but what happens if we do make it to 95 or 100?” Lastly, women tend to live a little longer than men, so we have to make sure that we are changing out the woman’s age to be longer.

The Premature Death of a Spouse

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This is very important because what could happen is if a spouse dies early, you may lose a pension, you’re going to lose the lower of the two Social Security benefits, and the taxes will change drastically, right? They’re going to go to become a single tax-filer. 

So you want to make sure when you’re making these important decisions, from how you’re going to select your pension to how you’re going to choose Social Security, that you’re thinking about both spouses to make sure that a surviving one will be okay. A perfect example of this is the higher-earner of Social Security. It might make some sense for them to wait a little longer to draw their benefit to make sure that the benefit is high enough to support the surviving spouse if they were to pass.

Long-Term Care

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Long-term care, it’s nothing that any of us want to talk about. Still, you need to stress-test your plan to figure out, “Look, if my wife or I were to have a three-year long-term care stay in Kansas, the average expense is about $70,000 per year, which is going to continue to inflate,” how does that affect your plan, are you okay? Will the surviving spouse be okay? 

What happens, God forbid, if it’s a cognitive impairment and we’re looking at a five-plus year stay? How’s that going to affect your plan? And are you able to self-insure? And what I mean by that is: Do you have the sustainable assets to pay for long-term care and live the lifestyle you want to live? It’s just something that you want to stress-test because it can throw a wrench in your plan. 

Rising Healthcare Costs

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I hit on this earlier when I talked about inflation, but when we plan for healthcare costs, it’s a separate line item than your day-to-day expenses or travel budget. The reason for that, we believe that healthcare costs should inflate at about 6%, versus maybe three and a half or 4%, so make sure you’re not, once again, assigning the same level of inflation to every line item. If you want to learn more about Healthcare Costs in RetirementJason Newcomer did a webinar on this, and we will get you a link as well.

Your Own Concerns About Retirement

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Your concerns and this is the biggest one. Every family’s situation is different, which means every financial plan needs to be different. I can honestly say, going through 100 different financial plans a year or so, not one is the same. You need to be honest with yourself about your retirement planning and make sure you’re not just making assumptions that you’ll be okay. 

Retirement planning is too important for guesswork. You need to sit down and have honest conversations with your family about what you want to accomplish in the first year of retirement, through 30 years plus of retirement. You need to make sure your financial advisor understands those concerns and dedicates that financial plan to you and your family.

How Can I Ever Plan for it All?

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You really can’t, but what you can do is make sure you do it one bite at a time, and what I mean by that is you never got in the position that you’re in today overnight, and you’re never going to get out of that position overnight. 

It takes time; focus on one thing at a time. When we bring on a new client at Modern Wealth Management, we don’t always start on investments. We focus on whatever their specific need is. It could be tax, estate planning, or insurance. So take one step at a time, be honest with you and your spouse, and make sure that you guys are on the right track.

Things You Need to Do 10-15 Years from Retirement

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I thought we would add in here because we have a broad audience, some things that you may want to think about 10 to 15 years from retirement. You still have a while, but it’s kind of on your mind, and the first thing you want to do is create a budget, monitor your spending. How much are you spending every month? Everyone hates the word “Budget,” but a budget is a necessary tool to figure out, “When can I retire? Because I’m going to need X amount of money.” 

Is your savings rate adequate, are you saving properly today, are you saving enough? Where you are saving the money is very important for when you do retire. Are you saving to your 401(k), your Roth 401(k) option? Do you have a Roth IRA brokerage account? Whatever it may be, you need to make sure that you understand what it means to save in these various buckets.

Estate planning. Many people think that you have to have a seven or eight-figure net worth for estate planning. That’s just absolutely not true. Everyone should have an estate plan to some degree and just reviewing that, making sure that it complements your overall financial plan and what your wishes are.

The last piece is investment risk. You want to make sure that you’re not invested the same way as when you first started the company, or say when you were first out of college. You still have 10 or 15 years, so you do have some time, and you want to maximize good returns, but at the same time, you don’t want to sit through a long, sustainable bear market because that could hinder when you retire.

Things You Need to Do 5 Years from Retirement

Five years from retirement, this is really when we like to start seeing people. You want to get that preliminary financial plan done, and what I mean by that, are you directionally correct? Could you retire sooner than five years from now, do you want to, is that a goal of yours? Does it need to be seven years from now? Whatever it may be, that is fine, but at least we have a framework to start the process and buckle down on that budget. Once again, the word “Budget,” but we must figure out what you’re spending. What do you think you’re going to need in retirement to live the lifestyle that you want to live?

Begin thinking about retirement expenses like healthcare, car replacement, your goals, and dreams. Do you want to pay for your grandkids’ college? Do you want to take family trips? Whatever’s important to you, these are the type of things you want to include in that budget.

One I see quite a bit is life insurance needs. When you work, a lot of people have group term through their employer. When you retire, that will go away, so something you want to look at is making sure you don’t have a gap. I see many times too; the mortgage is small, the kids are big now, maybe you’re over-insured, perhaps you don’t need that same life insurance that you needed 20 years ago. 

And then the last thing, and probably the most important thing, is making sure you’re taking proper risk in your investments because you’re five years out now, you don’t want to see a large drop in the market, because that will hinder when you can retire.

Things You Need to Do 2-3 Years from Retirement

Two to three years out from retirement. This is when you’re getting close, you’re thinking about it probably every day, and you want to make sure you develop an income plan. “Where’s my money going to come from that first year in retirement? What happens when the checks stop? Who’s going to pay me, how will I going to get paid, and what are the tax consequences of it?” 

Develop a Social Security plan. “Is my spouse going to file first, or am I going to file first? When will we file, and what does that look like, and how does that complement our overall plan?” Are you going to stay in your home, are you going to move? Whatever it may be, you may look at home repairs while you still have some income, versus having to pull out of investments the first year in retirement.

Things You Need to Do 1 Year from Retirement

One year from retirement. You’re on the home stretch. By now, you should have a plan that addresses your spending needs, understand where your income will come from, have a tax plan that complements these things, understand if you need insurance or not, and have a proper estate plan. You don’t want to wait six months before you’re going to retire to call Logan and say, “Hey, am I going to be okay?” We want to start this process long before, so that way, if there is something we can correct, we’re not doing it in the home stretch. We want you to be worried about specific things, like health insurance, getting your retirement paperwork done, not the overall plan during this period.

Retirement Plan Checklist Questions

Now, we’re going to hop into some of the questions in our Retirement Plan Checklist. You should be able to answer these questions, and if you can’t, that may be a sign that you need to revisit your financial plan. 

Inflation Rate

The first question here, have you considered inflation in your plan, using a three to 4% per year inflation rate? Use too low of an inflation rate; your plan will give you a false positive. What I mean by that is if inflation rises above the rate you’re planning on, it’s going to diminish your lifestyle. No one wants to retire to live a more suppressed lifestyle than what they live when they’re working.

Leaving Money to Heirs

Have you thought about the amount of money you want to leave behind for your heirs, and is your spending budget set to allow for that? Many people have no idea if they’re going to leave money behind or not, but with proper financial planning, to some degree, you’re going to have an idea how much is going to be left based on your spending. That result’s either something that you’re happy with, or you may say, “Goodness, I do not want to leave that much money behind to my kids,” or “We want to leave more money behind.”

Once you have an idea, we can begin to structure goals around it. So, should you spend more, should you spend less in retirement? Do you want to take family trips? Do you want to enjoy the inheritance with your family while you’re alive?

It’s essential to have these conversations because the worst thing that can happen is we get to 10, 15 years down the way, and you say, “Logan, I wish you could’ve told us we could’ve taken that family trip when we had our health,” right? That is not a conversation we want to have with our clients.

Your Family & Your Retirement Plan 

Have you considered what is important to you and your family and built your retirement plan around those things? Money isn’t who you are or what you want to do; money is the means to accomplish the things you want to do. What I mean by that is, once again, every family’s different. We want to sit down; we want to learn about what you want to accomplish in the first year, first three years, five years, ten years, whatever it may be. 

The most precious commodity we all have is time, and what we want to make sure is that we’re not robbing you of that. If you’re going to take family trips, spend time with your grandkids, what’s important to you? Make sure your plan is built around that.

And the last thing is that a financial planner should know precisely what you want to do and what you want to accomplish before making investment recommendations. A financial plan should drive the investment recommendations based on what’s important to you and your family.

Additional Retirement Budget Items

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Have you thought about additional budget items that may arise during retirement, such as a new vehicle, housing expenses, grandchildren’s college, whatever it may be? Once again, what’s important to you? What’s going to happen the first year? What’s going to happen 30 years down the way? How are healthcare costs going to look in 30 years from now, right? We don’t have any idea. They’re probably going to be much larger than they are today. Does your advisor understand, if you’re working with one, what you’re trying to accomplish? 

And lastly, life’s going to change. You’re going to have more grandkids, maybe, and your goals are going to change. You may have great-grandkids. Do you want to pay for college? You have to be dynamic and flexible, so let’s say legislation changes around the tax code, right? We’re flexible enough to make changes to your financial plan.

A Dynamic Retirement Plan

Does your retirement plan allow you to see how market changes affect your ability to reach or maintain your retirement goals? This is not a set it and forget it thing. Your financial plan should be dynamic, and what I mean by that is if we go through a rough week or two in the market, and you see the market’s off 10% for the week, what does that mean for you, right? It’s going to mean something different for everyone. 

If you were at a 99% probability of success, and you’re at a 99% probability of success after that market drop, you probably don’t necessarily need to worry about things as much. But make sure you understand what the level of risk you’re taking is and what the outcome will be if we do see bear markets.

Net Numbers & Taxes

Is your retirement income plan based on net numbers so it can easily be adjusted if the tax code changes? Everyone that I sit down with usually, if they don’t have a budget, says they want to spend between 70% and 80% of what they’re spending now or what they’re making while they’re working, and I don’t understand why, because if you can spend more or you can spend the same, why wouldn’t you? 

Just because you retire, that doesn’t mean that your lifestyle’s going to change. What happens is every day becomes a Saturday, and I don’t know about you, but most of the time, I spend money on Saturday. So, we want to make sure that you’re comfortable with your budget, everyone’s different, and the best recommendation I can give is to put pen to paper, right? Figure out precisely what you are spending, and if tax laws change, which is out of everyone’s control, we will make adjustments.

Spending Assets

Does your current retirement plan allow you to see a suitable way to spend your assets during retirement? This is very important. The order in which you spend your assets is significantly going to decide if you have a successful or an unsuccessful plan, depending on how you spend your assets. 

What I mean by that is, do you spend from your taxable bucket first, tax-deferred bucket, or tax-free bucket? Many people have those different options, and by putting a plan in place that understands where your income’s coming from, you’re going to have the highest probability of success.

How’s it going to change when Social Security comes into the picture? Social Security is taxed off your provisional income; it’s not taxed at your ordinary income rates. What does that look like? How’s that going to change when you get to 72 and your RMDs start, required minimum distributions, and what is the outcome that you’re going to owe? So, just forward-looking and projecting out, not only one and two years but working with JoAnn and her team from 10 years out to figure out what taxes may look like.

Social Security

Have you taken into account the effects of taking Social Security early and the long-term impact of not only how much you’ll receive but how it affects your ability to achieve your long-term goals? This is something I hit on earlier, and what this slide means is, have you stress-tested if you take Social Security early, and maybe one spouse was to die, be left with one benefit, is the surviving spouse okay?

What’s longevity like in the family? I said earlier, yes, family history’s your most significant indicator. However, medicine and technology are better than when your grandparents were alive, so we have to take that into account as well. So, if you think you’re going to live to 108 because every female in your family lived to 100, right? 

It may make some sense to wait to take Social Security. Once again, I just hit on this, but how are your taxes going to change when you start Social Security? If you’re still working and you’re not to full retirement age, what’s that going to look like? There are different rules for when you’re working and not working with Social Security.

Achieving Goals for Retirement

Is your retirement plan built to allow you to have the highest probability of achieving your goals for the reasons that are most important to you while assuming the least amount of risk possible? Once again, don’t take unnecessary market risk. You should only take as much risk as you need to accomplish your personal goals, and everyone’s goals different. I get the question all the time from friends, family, whoever it may be, “How much money do I need to retire?” 

That number’s entirely different for everyone because it depends on your goals, or “How should I be invested?” Once again, it depends on your goals. Financial planning drives our investment decisions, and if you’re not working with someone that feels that way, you may want to revisit how your investments are being structured.

That’s Just 10 of the 30 Questions

Download the full Retirement Plan Checklist

That’s just 10 out of the 30 questions on the checklist. If you didn’t answer “Yes” to all 10, your plan might need some attention. We’d love to sit down with you, give you a complimentary consultation on your overall plan, and not just look at investments, but look at taxes, estate planning, insurance, and figure out how they all work together. You can schedule a complimentary consultation right here.

We often find you may be in the middle, and you may have a tax person over here, an investment person over here, and it’s your job to relay what each is doing to the following. At Modern Wealth Management, we do this all in-house. We focus on our experts to make sure that we have a comprehensive financial plan.


Thank you for your time, I hope to see you in our offices, and I appreciate you being on the webinar today. I hope you learned something, and if you do have any questions, be sure to use that complimentary consultation; we look forward to meeting with you.



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The views expressed represent the opinion of Modern Wealth Management an SEC Registered Investment Adviser. Information provided is for illustrative purposes only and does not constitute investment, tax, or legal advice. Modern Wealth Management does not accept any liability for the use of the information discussed. Consult with a qualified financial, legal, or tax professional prior to taking any action.