My guest for last week’s online chat was Stan Hinden, author of “How to Retire Happy: The 12 Most Important Decisions You Must Make Before You Retire.” Hinden’s book was the Color of Money Book Club selection for April. Here are his answers to questions he couldn’t get to during the discussion.

Q: What do you wish you knew about pension payouts?

Hinden: When considering spousal benefits, it is important to figure out your current financial situation while you are still alive and the likely financial situation of your spouse when you die. That arithmetic will help you decide how much of a spousal benefit you want to leave.

Michelle: Most private pension plans offer a lifetime minimum payment to surviving spouses. The Women’s Institute for a Secure Retirement has a good section explaining spousal rights with private pensions.

Q: I was thinking about applying for Social Security at age 62, then suspending payments until age 70. If something happens to me, my spouse does not have to gather the documentation to apply for spousal benefits. What do you think?

Hinden: You cannot suspend payments until you reach full retirement age, which for most people these days is 66. I suggest that you call Social Security (800) 772-1213 and ask them about the documentation question.

Michelle: At, you’ll find information on benefits for you as a spouse. Here’s another link that computes the effect of early retirement for spouses.

Q: I have been debating whether or not retirement communities are worth the half-million dollars they think they need to let you live there. I know you say that some let you have a partial refund after some years. What do you get if you die one year after going there? It doesn’t seem fair for this community to get the money instead of your heirs. What is your thought on this matter?

Hinden: Some communities will grant you a refund of your entrance fee for an additional amount of money. In other communities, if you pass away, your unit will be resold so you can recapture your money. However, if there are many units for sale it may take a while before yours is sold.

Q: How do you feel about long- term care insurance?

Hinden: Long-term care insurance is great if and when you need it. Having said that, it is fairly expensive, and there is no guarantee that you will use it. The LTC business has been changing, and it is essential that if you want to buy a policy, you do a lot of research.

Michelle’s Mailbag features questions I couldn’t get to during the live chat. You can also send me questions by e-mail (, Twitter (@SingletaryM) or Facebook (

Readers may write to Michelle Singletary at The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or Personal responses may not be possible, and comments or questions may be used in a future column, with the writer’s name, unless otherwise requested. To read previous Color of Money columns, go to