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Life expectancy calculator will allow people to plan ahead but needs to be handled carefully

  • @simonnread

Should people be given a forecast of when they are likely to die? That's Pension Minister Steve Webb's latest proposal. But far from being a ghoulish idea, it's an eminently sensible one.

If you have a rough idea of your life expectancy, you'll have a better chance of working out how much cash you'll need to last you in retirement. And if you know that, you'll know how much you'll need to save now to ensure you have enough money to last you in your later years.

But a life expectancy calculator needs to be handled carefully, warns pension expert Ros Altmann.

"Telling people when they can expect to die is a turn-off – most would respond better to being told how long they are likely to live," she points out.

"Of course, we want people to realise their pension money may have to last longer than they might expect, but to do that we need to engage them, rather than put them off the whole topic.

"Actuaries may find forecasts of date of death useful, but most people would relate better to a forecast of how long they are 'likely to live'."

This is not just semantics, she says. "It is vital to help people want to think about later life financial planning. Too often, the pensions industry puts people off, using terms which are not user-friendly. A life expectancy calculator can only help if it used in the right way."

Crucially it would need to be updated regularly. Estimates of life expectancy are much more accurate when someone is 75, than when they were 65 as health issues become clearer.

"Therefore, to be more meaningful for financial planning, any forecast needs to be updated at regular intervals," says Ms Altmann.