You mean I'm not going to live forever?
Uh, no. But if you take care of a few key financial tasks now, you can go back to pretending you will.
(Money Magazine) -- My AARP card arrived in the mail last year, unsolicited, just a few months shy of my fiftieth birthday, like it does for just about everyone - and I reacted like, well, just about everyone.
Are you kidding? I'm not signing up for that. My discount days can wait. And so they have. Yet while I've steadfastly resisted the pull of gratis coffee in the morning and 10 percent off on dinners out (usually offered at the same time I'm finishing lunch), that singular AARP mailing found its mark in a surprising way.
I may feel good now. But even if 50 really is the new 30, I'm not going to live forever. Maybe, I realized, it was time to start thinking about things like long-term-care insurance and updating the will I had written when the kids were babies.
Dealing with these issues in your fifties is every bit the rite of passage that landing on AARP's mailing list is, or at least it should be. I can guess what you're thinking - yech! It's way more fun planning to travel the continents than contemplating incontinence.
But if you take a little time now and check off some key financial planning points for the big five-oh, you'll be squared away for the next two or three decades and can go back to focusing on the fun stuff. Here are some tips to help you break through the psychological brick wall of facing up, financially at least, to your mortality.
Get real about your health
The new retirement model, where people are healthy and active, has been much ballyhooed in print and on TV. It's an uplifting image and one that will prove to be accurate for many. But guess what: Your hair is still gray (or colored - or gone!). You still get arthritis and other aches and pains.
"We don't all age as gracefully as the media would have us believe," says Dorree Lynn, a psychologist who runs a website called FiftyandFurthermore.com. "We are not all dancing into the sunset."
Unrealistic expectations about health and longevity can fool you into bad financial planning - like relying on your ability to work longer than you may be able to or not taking into consideration how much you'll pay in medical bills down the line.
One out of four women and one out of five men between the ages of 55 and 64 say that a health problem has limited their ability to work, the National Institute on Aging reports. Meanwhile, Fidelity estimates that a typical couple will pay $200,000 to $275,000 out of pocket during retirement for medical expenses not covered by Medicare.
Plan now for later
Okay, you get it. You're not 30 anymore. The good news: There are really just a few essential matters you need to deal with before you can get back to blissful denial. Consider these questions as your starting point:
How long can I count on working? The answer depends not only on your health and desire to work, but also on whether you work in a job and industry that are hospitable to fiftysomethings. Can you bank on your employer still wanting you in five or 10 years? Rely on evidence, not wishful thinking, by considering the experiences of older colleagues.
What kind of retirement do I want? Along with how long you can expect to work, your vision of your postwork lifestyle will dictate how much you should really be saving now. If you plan to downsize and tend your garden once you quit work, you'll likely need to replace less than the 70 percent to 85 percent of pre-retirement income that financial planners estimate most folks will need. If you want to travel the world, you'll need more - a lot more.
Do I need long-term-care insurance? This one's a tough call. Not everyone needs these heavily marketed policies, and even if you do, you may not be able to afford one without shortchanging your retirement savings. But if you have a family history of poor health in later life, now is the time to at least shop around. Long-term-care policies cost more as you age - and far more if your health declines.
What will happen to my spouse and kids if I die? No doubt a lot has changed since you first named your beneficiaries and wrote your will. The last thing you want is for your security blanket to end up warming the spouse you divorced years ago.
Do the easy stuff first
Next, you need to translate your answers into action. Tackle the no-brainer tasks that you can quickly get out of the way first. All it takes is a call to your financial services provider or the click of a mouse on your employer's website to update the beneficiaries on your insurance policies and investment accounts.
You can get quotes on long-term-care policies in minutes on sites like InsureMe.com and LongTermCareWiz.com. You can get a fast read on whether you're really socking away enough for retirement by plugging a few numbers into CNNMoney's Retirement Planner calculator. And if you're not, it's just another few clicks of a mouse to bump up the amount you're contributing to your 401(k).
Practice your spin
Once you're done with the easy stuff, you need to deal with the urgent stuff - protecting the people you love in case something happens to you. That means, at a minimum, updating your will and medical directives, and also setting up an estate plan if needed. To push yourself to schedule a meeting with your lawyer, try shining a more positive light on the tasks at hand.
"Think about estate planning being not so much about your death, which no one wants to talk about, but about taking control over your assets and wishes," says estate lawyer Wynne Whitman, co-author of "Wants, Wishes, and Wills."
After all, you don't want your kids confused about whether you'd want them to pull the plug or bickering over who should get your Mercedes. Those are questions you want to decide. And if your financial situation is complicated, you can take extra steps to make sure things turn out as you want them to.
A simple term life insurance policy to cover your estate tax, for instance, can prevent the forced sale of a family business. A vacation house placed in a qualified personal residence trust can sharply reduce the estate tax due and preserve the home for your kids.
Think of it this way: You're not planning your death, you're planning your heirs' future. In its own way, that's more rewarding than mapping out travel plans - even with all those swell AARP discounts.