The great character actor Abe Vigoda has died at age 94, as I’m sure anyone over the age of 40 knows by now. If you’re under 40, all you probably know about him is that People magazine declared him dead 34 years ago, at the healthy and still-working age of 60.

His acting life was long and varied, from the stage to a major, career-making role in “The Godfather,” then later as the grumbling Detective Fish on the classic ’70s sitcom “Barney Miller.” After the magazine gaffe, of course, his mistaken obit became a cause célèbre of its own, spawning Internet jokes and more than a few laugh lines during his TV appearances.

Vigoda played an elderly, ailing man well. It was part of his gift as an actor that people believed him to be grumpy from hemorrhoids, beset by aches and pains and generally on his way out of life, even then. Nothing could be further from the truth.

I run into this problem with clients all the time. They try to guesstimate their own passing and plan around made-up dates. It’s fine to make your plans early, even a relief. Preparing your family and finances for the end is sensible.

No, the problem is that they live on for decades yet invest along those reduced expectations. People in their 60s with not a single health concern other than knee pain move all their money into bonds. People in their mid-70s are terrified of even a tiny amount of risk in their portfolios.

Here’s the truth: If you make it out of your 60s in okay shape, living well into your 70s is likely. If you sail past your 70s playing tennis and traveling the world, consider that your money might need to be growing into your early 90s.

Certainly Vigoda had folks fooled, by accident and by virtue of his training. He was a lovely man and embodied a grandfatherly, if gruff, persona as the trench-coated Detective Fish.

So good was his grumpy old man that People famously declared him dead in 1982. He had nearly three-and-a-half decades to go!

Retirement investors have to think ahead, and sometimes way ahead. Since money compounds, your savings can prudently grow into enough to live on — if you take your investment process seriously.

The problem for some will be saving enough. For others, it will be reining in spending as retirement begins. Yet everyone faces the long-term problem of inflation. Be overly conservative early and you might outlive your own purchasing power.

The Abe Vigoda plan

Here are some steps to take into consideration for your own planning:

  • Do you have a good grip on your likely Social Security income and any pensions ahead? Consider those guaranteed income, because they are. Adding bonds quickly to your retirement investment mix might be too conservative.
  • Plan ahead for required minimum distributions. Depending on where you live, you might be taxed on your Social Security withdrawals and then on IRA withdrawals as well. A Roth IRA can offset this risk.
  • Along with income, carefully consider outgo. Downsizing might not be your first choice, but stretching dollars early on and letting them compound instead can do wonders.

Bottom line, your retirement plan needs a serious “what if I outlive Abe Vigoda?” scenario, and your investments should follow suit.

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