Originally posted September 24, 2014 Wednesday by Rodney Brooks in USA Today, First Edition, Money; Pg. 3B and on http://www.ifebp.org.

That retirement you’re looking forward to in five years: Be prepared for it sooner than you expect.

Numerous surveys have shown that people think that they are going to retire later than it happens. The two big reasons: health issues and losing your job. According to the Employee Benefit Research Institute, 47% of American retirees in a 2013 survey retired before they planned, mostly because of health or disability.

Unplanned early retirement can create havoc with your retirement plans. Those five or 10 additional years of saving were no longer possible. Some may have had to take Social Security earlier than expected.

“I have several clients and families who have gone through this,” says Greg Sullivan, with Sullivan, Bruyette, Speros & Blayney In McLean, Va. “What we are always doing is trying to keep our clients prepared for the unexpected.”

Others are not prepared psychologically.

“Don’t leave your retirement to hopium,” says Kimberly Foss, president of Empyrion Wealth Management in Roseville, Calif., author of Wealthy by Design. “Hopium is a foolish hope. It allows people to ignore sometimes unexpected realities, such as unemployment. It keeps people from making a proper plan. If they do ignore it, it leads to financial ruin.”

How to be ready:

Do an assessment. Sullivan says you should look at cash flow, balance sheet, insurance and estate plans to get an idea of where you are today and the impact of earlier-than-expected retirement.

Plan for the unexpected. “If you pre-rehearse those types of contingencies, you are far more likely to make good decisions in an emotional moment,” says Joe Sicchitano, head of wealth planning for SunTrust Bank.

It’s not that different from helping children who are afraid of monsters in the closet, Sicchitano says. “The best solution is turn the light on, and see how big he is, how scary he is.

“Build an emergency fund. “You want to make sure you’ve built an adequate emergency fund,” says Marc Freedman, president CEO of Freedman Financial in Peabody, Mass., and author of Retiring for the Genius. “Six to 12 months of your living expenses,” he says. “If you are 55 and faced with retiring soon, you should be able to do that.

“Consider what you want in retirement. Once people get into their 50s, they need to look at how early they can retire, based on what they want, says Joe Franklin, president of Franklin Wealth Management in Hixson, Tenn. “Determine at what age you are independent enough to say, ‘I can keep working if I enjoy it or leave if I don’t like it.’

“Reduce debt. “The more you can lower your committed expenses, the more flexibility you have,” says Sicchitano.

Maximize contributions to your 401(k) and minimize fees. Jerry Schlichter, partner in the St. Louis law firm of Schlichter, Bogard & Denton, says the more attention you’ve paid to your retirement plan, the better you position yourself for an unexpected retirement. “You want to avoid paying fees that will deplete those assets. The Department of Labor has said a 1% difference in fees over a work life expectancy of 25 years will make a 28% difference in the retirement assets you have. Watch your fees, and make sure they are appropriate. Your company has a duty to make sure you are paying reasonable fees.”