Many of us boomers and older adults fear that we'll retire with too little saved, and that over time, we'll outlive our savings and die with empty pockets.
Well, a study has now confirmed our worst fears: 46 percent of people die with either no financial assets, or less than $10,000.
Many of these households didn't own a home (or gave up ownership later in life) and relied almost entirely on Social Security benefits for income, according to the recent analysis of households with people in their last years of life.
The study confirms, among other things, just how important Social Security is to older adults' well-being. Without it, many people would be plunged into poverty.
Retirement research typically focuses on whether people approaching retirement age have accumulated enough assets to be able to live comfortably in their later years. But the economics professors who conducted this analysis say they wanted to measure retirement preparation in part by studying the holdings of adults' last years.
In examining asset levels, the authors said that many of these households may have been deemed to be well-prepared for their retirement years because their income in their final years was adequate and not substantially lower than their income in their late 50s or early 60s.
Yet with such low assets at the end of their lives, they would have been unable to pay for fun activities or travel, let alone sudden and unexpected expenses like a health crisis, according to the study, which was first published by the Washington Post.
Not surprisingly, the study found that people who lived longer had higher wealth levels, perhaps because those who were poorer couldn't afford proper medical care.
Many people aren't saving enough for retirement, yet there's more pressure on older adults than ever because they're living longer and face rapidly rising medical expenses including long-term care. And some economists say that our retirement system -- saving, say, 6 percent a year in a 401(k) with employers' matching funds -- won't enable workers to accumulate enough without saving and investing in other ways.
Alicia Munnell of the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College encourages adults to work until age 70 if possible. Working those additional years, and taking Social Security benefits at age 70 rather than 62 (which will provide 75 percent more income), will help adults be better prepared for retirement.
To help you plan for your retirement, or to see whether your savings is on track, check out AARP's retirement calculator.