One of the most tragic impacts of the real estate debacle, and its spillover into the stock market, that I’ve noticed has been the massive impact it’s had on people who are or, rather, were nearing retirement before the bubble burst. Some lost their homes, and others lost the retirement income they’d been counting on; I even know a county-employed nurse whose government pension has been slashed in half right along with the values of the massive commercial real estate projects into which her retirement funds were invested.

But, as always with money matters, I’ve also talked with a fair number of wannabe retirees who are considering retiring anyway, trying to see if they can pull off the cut in income with some cuts in expenses, and still be happy. Former Washington Post "Retirement Journal" columnist Stan Hinden’s third edition of "How to Retire Happy: The 12 most important decisions you must make before you retire," is a simple but thought-provoking guide on how to set yourself up for a happy retirement, before you hang up your 9-to-5.

Book Review
Title: "How to Retire Happy: The 12 most important decisions you must make before you retire"
Author: Stan Hinden
Publisher: McGraw Hill, 2009; 256 pages; $18.95

One of the most tragic impacts of the real estate debacle, and its spillover into the stock market, that I’ve noticed has been the massive impact it’s had on people who are or, rather, were nearing retirement before the bubble burst. Some lost their homes, and others lost the retirement income they’d been counting on; I even know a county-employed nurse whose government pension has been slashed in half right along with the values of the massive commercial real estate projects into which her retirement funds were invested.

But, as always with money matters, I’ve also talked with a fair number of wannabe retirees who are considering retiring anyway, trying to see if they can pull off the cut in income with some cuts in expenses, and still be happy. Former Washington Post "Retirement Journal" columnist Stan Hinden’s third edition of "How to Retire Happy: The 12 most important decisions you must make before you retire," is a simple but thought-provoking guide on how to set yourself up for a happy retirement before you hang up your 9-to-5.

This book has a heavy emphasis on, well, the heavy stuff: the financial inputs and elements of retiring. (If you’re looking for a book on how to create a happy and thriving retirement lifestyle, check out Barbara Corcoran’s latest book, "Nextville.") But the financials are critical, and "How to Retire Happy" is like a really well-developed checklist of the money essentials you need to line up before you donate your suits to charity.

"How to Retire Happy" is organized as a list of questions to ask yourself, formatted as pre-retirement decisions you must make. The first couple — "Am I ready to retire?" and "Can I afford to retire?" — work the ambivalent and uncertain through some key decision points like good reasons to retire, bad reasons to retire and an examination of the wholesale change to your financial situation that retirement creates — plus some thoughts on saving for retirement that are not lost on folks, like myself, decades away from retirement age.

The next series of questions/decisions center around strategies for collecting funds from various common retirement savings vehicles, including Social Security, a company pension or savings plan, or IRA. In plain English, Hinden walks readers through the various options, tax implications and smart strategies available for drawing funds from — or leaving them in — these various types of accounts. Hinden then briefs readers on the oft-neglected topic of how to continue to invest their assets during retirement.

Next, "How to Retire Happy" covers various options for securing health insurance and a variety of items to be considered in the course of preparing for a long illness, ranging from long-term care insurance to options other than the nursing home — this chapter contains a rich list of resources beyond the book that those who want to plan for a long illness can take advantage of.

Then, with echoes of "Nextville," Hinden walks readers through the decision of where to live after retirement, before covering estate-planning tools that avoid probate and minimize taxes.

In the final chapter of "How to Retire Happy," Hinden writes on successful aging — his personal writing sweet spot, the same one for which he and his Retirement Journal column were nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. Here, as throughout "How to Retire Happy," Hinden shares much of his personal experiences facing the daily dramas and traumas — and experiencing the daily joys — of retirement, including becoming addicted to workout-induced endorphins after open-heart surgery and his very relatable fear of losing his memory as he gets older.

For each of the decisions, or pre-retirement questions, Hinden poses, there are probably a dozen other, deeper books on the market that make sense to consult. But if you’re looking for a single, simple primer to organize and brief you on all the financial and estate planning you need to do before retiring, "How to Retire Happy" is just what the doctor ordered.

Tara-Nicholle Nelson is author of "The Savvy Woman’s Homebuying Handbook" and "Trillion Dollar Women: Use Your Power to Make Buying and Remodeling Decisions." Tara is also the Consumer Ambassador and Educator for real estate listings search site Trulia.com. Ask her a real estate question online or visit her website, www.rethinkrealestate.com.

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