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Helping Clients Through The Big Decision Phase of Retirement

February 4, 2020

The Big Decision Phase is the second phase of an 8,000 day retirement. It takes shape as work truly fades from view.

A part of our series, 8,000 Days



Have you heard of FoMO, FoBO, and FoDA? Fear of missing out, Fear of a better option, and Fear of doing anything are linked to the endless choices available to us. The ideas behind these acronyms can wreak havoc on many of us. 

Likewise, as your clients enter what the MIT AgeLab calls The Big Decision Phase of retirement, they'll face a myriad of decisions, including choosing where they'll live, how they'll get around, and who they'll spend time with. It's up to you to help steer them through these choices.

What's the Big Decision Phase?

The Big Decision Phase is the second phase of an 8,000 day retirement. It takes shape as work truly fades from view. Work may be replaced by increased volunteering, grandparenting, travel plans, or hobbies. While health status may be less vibrant than before, the second phase of retirement provides greater opportunity to make or renew social connections. Friends now have more time to socialize and even travel together. While this phase is best characterized by more ‘free' time, it's a key time for making big decisions.

Financial questions arise

Retirees in The Big Decision Phase draw a greater share of their income from their savings and live off interest from investments and Social Security. They'll be more or less on a fixed income. Your clients will need to make financial decisions, such as:

  • Should I convert my savings to annuities?
  • Did I choose the right Medicare advantage plan?
  • When do assets need to be withdrawn to avoid tax penalties?
  • Are reverse mortgages worth it?
  • Do I need a power of attorney?
  • How much would assisted living or a nursing home cost?
  • Do I need an estate plan?
  • Should I provide financial support to my children, grandchildren, and parents?

Where will we live?

In this phase, individuals and couples are confronted by tactical questions.

"Now that we're fully retired, should we buy a new car for both transportation and personal reward?"

"Should we stay in our hometown or move somewhere warmer?"

"Will life be easier if we downsize?"

"Can we afford our current lifestyle for the long term?"

As empty nesters face issues regarding changing housing needs, the option to downsize may be appealing. For many, concerns about the cost of home maintenance, proximity to family, access to services, and livability of their existing home, such as having a master bedroom and other necessities on the first floor when stairs are no longer manageable, are reason enough to leave the house, the town, or even the state. 

Questions about caring for parents

Individuals in their 70s are increasingly finding they're fortunate to still have living, but frail, parents. However, caring for their elderly parents may be less about day-to-day assistance and more about making critical decisions related to senior housing, nursing care, or healthcare. Clients may need to weigh options about caregiving for parents, including cost, quality of care, and location.Demographic trends indicate that the need to provide care for aging parents will keep rising. Kathrin Boerner, an associate professor of gerontology at the University of Massachusetts, says, "The very old are the fastest-growing segment of the population in most developed countries, with an expected increase of 51% of elders age 80+ between 2010 and 2030."1

Questions about health and wellbeing

From a health perspective, chronic conditions that people were diagnosed with in their 50s or 60s may now be causing significant physiological changes. For example, diabetes managed poorly could now be affecting one's eyesight or mobility. While planning may have previously been performed as a couple, a decline in the health of a spouse or partner could mean that you'll be working primarily with one member of the household.

Changing health status and the greater concern for financial security may trigger a call for additional professional advice. Ironically, trusted physicians, financial advisors, or lawyers may be retiring just when they are needed most. Searching and choosing a new physician and financial advisor after years, if not decades, with existing providers is not easy and often requires considerable research, time, and new found trust. 

Why is The Big Decision Phase important to advisors?

Since clients have so many questions in this phase, it provides an opportunity for advisors to offer guidance and help them make good decisions. Think holistically about how you can help, and don’t limit yourself by only providing guidance around financial problems. As you do, your clients will see you not a just their financial advisor but as an essential problem solver.

Chances are you’ve seen clients who’ve both struggled and thrived through this phase. Share some of these experiences and explain the outcomes of various decisions others made. Ask some of your clients who are thriving in retirement if they’d be willing to mentor clients who are struggling with decision making in this phase. See our resources about starting a retirement mentoring program.

How you can help clients during The Big Decision Phase?

  • Get the 8,000 Days client workbook below
    Pages 5-7 provide tips for clients going through The Big Decision Phase
  • Help clients understand how they can make their home more age-friendly
    Find Certified Aging in Place Specialists (CAPS) in your area by visiting the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) website nahb.org/caps
  • Create a retirement mentorship program
    If you have clients who are already enjoying a happy, successful retirement and they're willing to coach others, they can provide a valuable service that you may not be able to offer personally. They can provide first-hand perspective.
  • Help clients understand housing options
    Establish contacts at local retirement communities or continuing care facilities. Arrange meetings with them on behalf of your clients who wish to explore them
  • Share apps and sites that help clients manage health issues
    See page 6 of our client workbook, The Apps, Sites & Devices Changing the Way We Age, at hartfordfunds.com/tech
  • Help clients who are caregivers
    Review resources in this advisor article, and share the Hidden Costs of Caregiving white paper with clients who are caregivers


So many decisions

When clients enter The Big Decision Phase, work is winding down. They have much more time on their hands. It’s a phase they've been looking forward to for quite some time, with dreams of family time, hobbies, and travel. But this phase comes with lots of questions that requires a lot of decision making.

Planning for this phase, and each of the four retirement phases, individually makes planning more approachable. This framework allows for people to contextualize, understand, and ultimately prepare for their lives in retirement. While not necessarily as enticing as planning for today’s nearly singular vision of a retirement filled with cruises and golf courses, the proposed framework is a realistic tool to empower individuals and couples. The four phase enable a clear vision to plan and to anticipate what is likely to come. Effective preparation can thereby reduce the stress of uncertainty and boost prolonged independence and control in the life so many wish to lead tomorrow.

Next steps:

  1. Download or order the 8,000 Days Workbook below  
  2. Download or order the client whitepaper in the right hand column
  3. Within one week, identify a client going through The Big Decision Phase. Discuss pages 5-7 with him or her. 


1 Source: Boomerang Seniors: Aging Adults Move to Be Near Parents, The Detroit News, 4/17

The MIT AgeLab is not an affiliate or subsidiary of Hartford Funds.