I recently wrote a column about “longevity insurance.” This topic raised the question of how financial planners estimate our clients’ life spans. Obviously, if we planners are going to tell you whether you’ll have enough money in retirement to last the rest of your life, we need to estimate when your time on earth will be over.
It would be ideal to have a crystal ball that would tell us whether you’re likely to be checking out at 65 or still going dancing when you’re 102. Instead, we’ve had to rely on industry averages, actuarial tables, and government statistics concerning life expectancy.
More recently, the Internet has given us some useful tools to make more individualized, and therefore more accurate predictions. Two websites I encourage clients to use are realage.com and deathforecast.com.
Both these sites ask you to answer questions about your weight, eating habits, exercise habits, and family history. Realage.com has a more extensive questionnaire which might take 15 or 20 minutes to complete. It asks for specific health information such as blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and heart rate. It also wants to know about your marital status, whether you have close friends and family, whether you belong to community organizations, and whether you have pets. It asks how many servings of fruits and vegetables you eat, whether you floss your teeth, and how often you wear your seat belt. There are also specific questions on your exercise habits.
After you’ve completed the questionnaire, you’ll be emailed a link to your report. This gives you your “real age” as compared to your chronological age. I’m pleased to report that the last time I completed this form my “real age” was 13 years younger than my chronological age.
Deathforecast.com might not have a particularly appealing name, but it’s also a useful look at your health habits. The questionnaire is much shorter than the one at realage.com. Rather than asking for specifics, it relies on you to give truthful answers to questions about whether your weight is normal and whether you exercise regularly. Interestingly, it also includes a question about whether you regularly exercise your brain.
After you complete the questionnaire at deathforecast.com, you’ll get a screen that gives you your projected age at death. That same screen shows your answers to the survey and gives you a chance to change selected answers to see the results. By changing one answer, for example, you can see the different life expectancies that go with maintaining a normal weight, being slightly overweight, or being seriously overweight.
Perhaps the real value of both these websites is the information they provide about changes you might want to make in your lifestyle. The realage.com report includes suggestions for increasing activities that keep you younger and changing behaviors that make you older. Experimenting with different answers to the deathforecast.com questionnaire can give you a good idea of your own ability to increase your life expectancy by choosing healthier habits.
I was interested to note that realage.com has a section on stress—including questions about whether you worry about money. This may lead to a financial planning “Catch 22:” if your life expectancy is so high that you worry about running out of money, would worrying lower your life expectancy so you wouldn’t run out of money after all?
Instead of worrying about money, it might be better to focus on taking care of yourself to increase your chances of living a long and healthy life. Then you could let your financial planner worry about making sure your money has the same life expectancy you do.