Health is wealth – don’t forget this when planning for retirement

Early retirement, semi-retirement, retirement advice is everywhere.  Some of it is very important.  Some of it is great information.  Some it is downright useless.

When I looked at “retirement” first page search results, nothing appeared on it that will be as important as the information you will read about here today.  The most important and probably the most overlooked asset you could ever have in retirement is—your health.

My parents told me years ago, decades ago when I was young that “…If you don’t have your health Mark, you don’t have very much.”

As I get older, these words ring more true for me.

Retirement and retirement planning advice are fine, and some blogs discuss it well, but for today’s post I want you to consider what meaning my interview with Karen Henderson, an independent long term care planning specialist, has for you and your family.

Karen, welcome to the blog and thanks for reaching out.

Thanks Mark.  I appreciate you recognize the critical role that good health and planning plays in retirement/financial planning.

Before we get into some details (about health being ultimate wealth), could you tell folks about your career and what you do – from what perspective are you speaking?

I founded the Long Term Care Planning Network as a result of a 14-year dementia care experience with my father. I encountered a care system that was unable to meet my father’s needs due to under funding and mismanagement. Sadly nothing has changed over the last 20 years; to age with independence, dignity and control, Canadians need to be prepared to fund a great deal of their own care. The other point I stress is that we all need to work to ensure we remain as healthy as possible, so we can stay out of the long term care system for as long as possible. Neglected health becomes very expensive.

Based on your email to me, you visited my site and read my posts (thanks for that).  A while back I wrote this post:  this is the greatest retirement asset you’ll ever have.  What’s your take on that comment as a care planning professional?

I completely agree with the post. Looking after your health means you will have more money—and the ability—to live your retirement dreams. We all take good health and longevity for granted, but it’s a huge mistake. A friend’s husband in his 60’s fell and hit his head on the ice while curling a few weeks ago …he never woke up. Granted this was an accident, but it supports the phrase “You just never know.” We need to take uncertainty into account when we plan for our last 30 years—and the majority of Canadians do not do this. If you think about it, RRSP season is all about topping up your plan so you can travel, spend the winter in Florida and so on. What is missing from all these advertising campaigns is the need to plan for the unexpected, especially when it comes to your health.

You mentioned in an email to me that savers “…Should be aware that every financial/retirement plan should include plans for long term care. Too many Canadians think the government will look after them when they need care. They are very wrong.” What prompted you to write this?  Do you have a few case studies you can share to drive this point home?

I will be very blunt here. Surveys and studies over the past five years done by CLHIA, the Canadian Securities Commission and the Canadian Institute of Actuaries among many others, clearly indicate that Canadians are not saving enough for their retirement and the unexpected events that aging brings. Why is this? Firstly, governments at all levels are not educating us about the need to save for care; secondly, in the Canadian Securities report, respondents stated that: “They needed, but mostly didn’t receive professional advice in the areas of preparing for health challenges and planning to cope with surprise expenses. Two-thirds of respondents said they would find advice on three main topics most useful: helping to figure out how much income they will need in the future, planning to ensure they don’t outlive their money and learning to prepare for potential health challenges”. In other words, professional advisors are avoiding these issues, in my experience, due to lack of knowledge and the emotional nature of the subject. In fact, less than 25 per cent of advisors have ever sold a Living Benefits product.

A dear friend of mine was diagnosed with terminal cancer five years ago. He was a careful saver, and was able to live out the last very difficult, painful months of his life in his own home, even though 24-hour home care cost him $10,000 a month. Canadians just have no idea what care costs, or even how to access it. I have seen too many ill Canadians who cannot live out their final years on their own terms because they can’t afford it, and end up being beholden to the public system which, in many instances, treats the frail aging like numbers, not like human beings. The cheapest long term care option in most provinces is a bed in a long term care facility or nursing home; we pay for accommodation and the provincial government pays for food and care. A good deal? Think twice. When I encourage attendees in my presentations to visit some of these facilities (do not confuse them with the more ritzy/expensive retirement homes), the light goes on—it’s not where most of us want to end our lives. Care costs increase about five per cent per year; things are going to look pretty grim in twenty years when the ten million boomers will really hit an even more beleaguered long term health care system.

Let’s get personal.  Knowing what you know, as a health care planning professional, how are you planning for your own retirement and long term care needs?

My father lives into his ninety’s, suffering from mixed dementia among many other chronic illnesses. We went through it all. What keeps me up at night? I am single, with no company pension plan. I am acutely aware of the threat of Alzheimer’s— as all Canadians should be, since this disease is reaching epidemic proportions around the world and there is no known cause or cure. So I take care of myself by working out/walking daily, eating well, keeping my brain active and visiting my family doctor regularly. I have a Will and Powers of Attorney in place, and together with my financial advisor have put aside additional funds to pay for my care needs, because I know the government will not be able to provide enough for the type of care I want. Finally, I have purchased both critical illness and long term care insurance, and am constantly building up a network of care professionals and friends whom I can count on for support.

Finally, what’s the take home message for folks?  How should they integrate long term care needs into their financial plan?

I have developed The 10 – Step Long Term Care Planner, which includes the following advice:

  • Understand what illnesses you have/may face as you age; look after your health
  • Understand the health care system where you plan to live out your life, and what things cost
  • Understand what the government will/will not provide
  • Tell your family, professional advisors and health care professionals what you want as you age
  • Set aside funds for care
  • Ensure your documentation is in place and up-to-date.

Thanks for reaching out Karen and highlighting the planning we need to take as we get older.  Health is the absolute wealth and I personally recognize this more every day.

To learn more, check out Karen’s web site or get in touch with her at

What’s your take?  Is health the ultimate wealth?  Leave a comment and let me know your thoughts.

Disclosure:  I have no affiliation with the ltcplanningnetwork.

My name is Mark Seed - the founder, editor and owner of My Own Advisor. As my own DIY financial advisor, I'm looking to start semi-retirement soon, sooner than most. Find out how, what I did, and what you can learn to tailor your own financial independence path. Join the newsletter read by thousands each day, always FREE.

18 Responses to "Health is wealth – don’t forget this when planning for retirement"

  1. I have seven years until retirement. At this point, I consider my health and my ability to work and earn/save for my retirement my greatest asset. To rephrase, currently I am my own greatest asset.

  2. Great article! I do agree that health is wealth. My mother was badly injured in car accident 28 years ago and is still suffering to this way with a wealth of health problems that developed from it. Thankfully, my father’s “gold-plated” pension is doing just enough to keep both of them out of water but they are certainly not living a grand life. The many $$$ of prescriptions being paid out of pocket that are now popping up due to the ever-decreasing health coverage is definitely making it hard for them to prioritize much needed house maintenance vs healthcare.

    This was a good incentive for me to continue to stay healthy and to certainly continue to put aside money every month to build a health fund for future years for whatever reason.

    I’m in my 30s and I see a lot of people my age starting to develop health problems but no money to support them as they didn’t think health coverage was that important nor disability insurance. Due to the pre-existing conditions, they are now paying through the roof for the premiums for something that they could have purchased in their 20s at a much lower rate.

    So, my personal motto is to protect my health at all costs (no pun intended) and build a “health emergency” funds that will hopefully never be used.

    1. Sorry to hear about your mother but an excellent reminder and case study for those that believe they are invincible in their 20s and 30s.

      You have a solid motto and like you…we tuck away some funds for a health emergency should we need it.

      Keep up the good work in disaster-proofing your life – very important and easily taken for granted.

  3. Within months of getting married at age 25, I learned I had a chronic kidney disease that would likely lead to kidney failure in 10-15 years. I made it to 30 years before going on dialysis. After 2 years in that state, I received a kidney transplant from a living donor last summer. In the meantime, we decided to live the life we planned, but were also committed to living well within our means and investing regularly and diligently. Twelve years ago, I also got a job with a company that had good disability insurance options. That contributed significantly to the financial support of our family during my two years on dialysis. Indeed, health is wealth, as you say, but poor health is also an incentive to get your financial house in order! By the way, next week I begin regular full-time hours at my place of work. A bit of a milestone in my post-transplant recovery.

    1. Wow, heckuva story Russ. Thanks for sharing. Your story is a brave (and excellent) reminder that life has a way for throwing us some big challenges to overcome healthwise.

      “A bit of a milestone in my post-transplant recovery.” I will say! A huge congratulations to you and best wishes.

  4. My wife falls into the above category and the effects change ones outlook and understanding of the importance of being financially secure. I don’t mean paper value or market value but income that one can count on regardless of what and where the market goes. If I had to rely on so called Total Return with the greater emphasis on gains, I’d probably not sleep well at night.

    Timely topic Mark and I hope many take it seriously.

  5. Illness or a disability doesn’t even have to be in old age. With a wife completely off work at age 42 due to disability and a daughter stricken with a disabling disease at 19 I can attest to the fact that “what if” can happen without warning at any time. Of course one can not prepare for every eventuality but it behooves one to at least consider some possibilities in advance.

  6. wow, that is a very scary post. i’m 70 and my wife is almost 68 and are in reasonably good health for our age. we have no long term care/health insurance as no one ever mentioned it to us. we have our senior home and our savings but no debts. at $10,000 per month they will be putting us on an ice flow after not too many years if we get sick. i’m sure at our age we would not be able to get insurance now — younger folks take heed — time goes by faster than you can imagine!

      1. Excellent post and a subject that rarely gets discussed. I’ve mentioned this many times before that retirement consists of two aspects. The fun healthy side and the not so fun, not so healthy side. Good financial planning means covering both. You want money so you can spend those winters in Florida but more importantly you want money so when you hit the not so healthy side. You need money not only for LTC but also to be able to buy front of the line access to healthcare. Garth the Great talks a lot about this. The tsunami of baby boomers are going to overwhelm not only the budget but the healthcare system as well. T2 with his “tax the rich” sop to the Millennials hasn’t helped either.

        The wife and I both live in Germany and are fast approaching our golden years (T minus 8) and this is front and centre of our thoughts. Germany has a mandatory LTC tax which, when needed, will barely pay 40% of the cost of the most basic home. If you can’t afford the difference they will force you to liquidate everything and if that isn’t enough, go after your kids! Our plan is around 80s to sell our investment properties and eventually sell our principal resident and move back to Canada or to Spain for our final years. Loads of Brits have done the latter.

            1. Well said – sugar is bad! 🙂 All the best to you Rob. Drop me an email if you’d like to do a guest post on my site. I’m looking at profiling some folks who have successfully “been there, done that” and have navigated the financial industry well to build wealth for them!


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