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Despite their best-laid plans, a new poll says more than one-third of retired baby boomers did not choose when they left the work force.

The poll of Canadians aged 50-plus with financial assets of at least $100,000, released by Royal Bank of Canada Wednesday, found 85 per cent of not-yet-retired baby boomers believe they will work until they decide not to. But among those who have actually retired, only 62 per cent had that choice.

So what kinds of factors forced them to make an earlier-than-expected exit? A request from the employer, health reasons and needing to be a caregiver for someone else were some of the reasons provided by RBC.

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Certified financial planner Alexandra Macqueen, the co-author of Pensionize Your Nest Egg, says disability and chronic illness can push people out of the work force earlier than they had expected, with potentially devastating personal and financial consequences.

"Depending on what they were planning on doing with those final years of employment - often these are the years where many people make significant contributions to their retirement," Ms. Macqueen said. "This is when they are earning the most, they have paid off their other debts...like a mortgage and now is the time for them to turn their attention towards stocking away the money they will live off of."

The RBC poll also found that Canadian baby boomers didn't have much lead time – the amount of time between the initiation and execution of the process – before their retirement date.

Twenty per cent of retired boomers knew one month or less before their actual stop date that they were going to retire and 42 per cent had less than six months notice before they retired. Some 27 per cent had more than one year's notice and 11 per cent had more than five years notice.

Roger Mannell, director of the RBC Retirement Research Centre at the University of Waterloo, says that many companies continue to downsize and since older employees often make more money, their jobs are often the ones that get cut.

He questions how many people actually have a good solid retirement plan in place. "Many have not saved enough money to finance the lifestyle they would like to have when they retire," he says. "Retirement is about more than subsistence. If you want retirement to be successful, meaningful and rewarding, you need to plan for that and finance it."

Among retired boomers who felt their retirement came at the right time, the RBC poll found that good health was cited as the main reason for the timing of their retirement, ahead of having enough money or being unhappy at work.

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The RBC online poll of 2,833 adults over the age of 50 with household assets of at least $100,000 was conducted by Ipsos Reid in February and March of this year.

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