The Golden Years may not be so shiny, according to a recent government report.

More than 66 percent of workers with access to 401(k) plans and other defined-contribution retirement saving plans aren’t using them, according to recent research from the Census Bureau. Additionally, only 14 percent of companies offer these types of retirement plans, far lower than previous estimates, the analysis found.

What should you be doing to prepare for retirement? We asked local experts to share their experience and knowledge on the topics of saving for retirement and estate planning.

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Joe Starkey, Partner and Investment Adviser, Oak Partners Inc., Crown Point

Q: When is the right time to start planning for retirement?

A: The easy answer to this question is now. The earlier in life one starts to put money away for retirement, the longer it has to grow and compound upon itself. Whether be it in an IRA or your 401(k) at work, putting something to the side from the start is the best move you can make, especially if you work for an employer that offers matching contributions.

Q: What should people do if their employer does not offer a 401(k)?

A: There are other ways to save outside of a 401(k). One can contribute up to $5,500 per year to both Traditional IRAs and Roth IRAs with catch-up contributions starting at age 50. Traditional IRAs offer many tax advantages and grow tax-deferred, while Roth IRAs are not tax-deductible, but grow tax-free.

Q: What’s the biggest mistake people make when planning?

A: Failing to plan is planning to fail. Blindly saving money is a good thing. But it is not nearly as efficient as looking at the whole picture. Accumulating assets is important, but paying down debt is just as important. Understanding how much money one will need in retirement is a function of understanding how much money they’ll need to live on in retirement. In preparing for this day, get debts in order—pay down the mortgage, pay off credit cards, take care of large home improvement projects.

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John Amatulli, Certified Financial Educator, Amatulli Financial Services, Schererville

Q: How can people who “started late” make up ground in saving?

A: Retirement accounts such as 401(k)s, IRAs, and Roth IRAs all have catch-up provisions that allow people over 50 years of age to contribute larger amounts. It’s important for people to work with a professional to determine how much replacement income they need, and then create a savings plan.

Q: What can people do who are living check-to-check?

A: The first advice we give is to create a budget. Many people are surprised by the difference between their income and the amount they really need for living expenses. The rest is discretionary. It’s important to understand the amount of monthly discretionary income, and then devise a plan to use that money as savings for retirement or to pay down additional debt. Some clients learn that they need additional working hours of a part-time job in order to save for retirement.

Q: What’s the role of a financial adviser in the process?

A: Planning with a trained professional is essential. As a financial educator, I help people understand the importance of budgeting, saving, paying debt, and how they all work together as part of a comprehensive plan. A major emphasis is made on paying yourself first, meaning automatic deductions into your chosen savings account. I make recommendations to my clients based on their individual situation. Then we schedule a review and monitor session twice a year to ensure we are on target.

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Amy Nowaczyk, Attorney, O’Drobinak & Nowaczyk, P.C., Schererville

Q: What is the role of a legal adviser in estate planning?

A: People work hard all their lives to accumulate wealth. When we are ready to retire, many of us are concerned with preserving our wealth, and ultimately distributing it when we pass away. Many people do not give a thought to the certainty of their own death; yet it will happen to every one of us. Some of us may also become incapacitated. An estate planning attorney can help people face the financial and emotional consequences of death and incapacity and help to minimize the effects on their families. An estate planning attorney can assist with the creation of a definite plan for managing your wealth while you’re alive and distributing it after your death.

Q: What are the pros and cons of long-term health care insurance?

A: For some people, long-term care (LTC) insurance is the best way to plan for the possibility of needing skilled nursing care. The best way to make that decision is to sit down with your estate planning attorney to go over the cost of LTC insurance versus the benefits. The median nationwide cost of a year in a long-term care facility was about $92,500 in 2016, and the average stay was just over 2.5 years. LTC insurance is an option and people need to understand how the plans work and how to evaluate the benefits offered by each type of long-term care plan. It’s a good idea to look into LTC policies in your 50s and early 60s, as the premiums should still be relatively affordable.

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David Hiestand, Attorney, Hiestand Law Office, Chesterton

Q: What types of documents are critical to proper estate planning, such as a will or a living will?

A: Generally, there are three documents critical to an estate plan: first, a will; second, a health care directive, which includes the appointment of a health care representative and a living will; and third, a power of attorney. More advanced estate planning may include a revocable (or living) trust and other trust documents. Outside of documents that an attorney prepares, you should review beneficiary designations and other non-probate methods of transferring wealth upon your death. An estate planning attorney can assist with creating and implementing a solid plan.

Q: What are the biggest mistakes people make with regards to estate planning?

A: The biggest mistake a person can make is failing to plan. Indiana Statutes will provide you with an estate plan regardless of whether you intended to make a plan, so you should proactively make the plan you want and not rely on the State's plan. For married couples, a common mistake is creating a probate estate with the first death by having individual assets instead of jointly held assets. You don't want your spouse to have to deal with a probate estate in addition to your passing. Bottom line, there is no one-size-fits-all solution out there. You should speak with a legal adviser that can provide a solution custom-made for your situation based on your asset mix, family relationships and goals.

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