Published Date

November 27, 2022

Resource Type

AHA Resource, For Departments, For Professional Development

AHA Topics

Professional Life

Guidelines for Retirement

Jacqueline Jones
November 27, 2022

When it comes to retiring, there is no single one-size-fits-all set of considerations or procedures. Although many people see retirement as the beginning of a new stage of life, personal circumstances vary, and those circumstances determine what an individual can or cannot do to make the transition away from paid work as smooth as possible. Retirees who move residences or otherwise upend their living arrangements take on additional challenges. The following checklist may or may not be relevant to your situation; different kinds of employers mandate their own procedures and paperwork for retirement. What is standard for employees of colleges and universities may not pertain to employees of K–12 public or private schools, museums, historical societies, governmental agencies, other kinds of nonprofits, and so forth.

This document suggests some issues you might want to consider and tasks you might have to complete in connection with your retirement. Every individual’s situation is different and it is advisable to get advice from a financial advisor, trusts and estates lawyer, accountant or other relevant professional prior to making any irrevocable decision. This list is not exhaustive and should not be considered financial, legal or tax advice.

The first step is deciding whether and when to retire.

  • Barring a mandatory retirement date imposed by your employer, you should educate yourself about the financial and personal implications, as well as the timing, of this decision. Estimate your post-retirement income from monthly Social Security payments, pension funds, personal savings, and/or employee retirement plans. Learn which benefits your employer might continue to provide in terms of supplementary health, dental, vision, and life insurance. Many employee retirement plans provide personal financial-services consultants who can advise you on the timing of retirement as well as offer projections related to your future financial status.
  • Familiarize yourself with any retirement incentives your employer might offer, such as a period of leave with pay or phased retirement.

Begin the paperwork process at least three months before you want to retire.

  • Consult your employer’s HR website for guidance.  Ask a co-worker who recently retired what they learned from the process and if they have any cautionary tales dealing with, for instance, labyrinthian procedures, lost documents, or confusing requirements. Many employers offer seminars, webinars, or videos to explain their requirements.
  • Notify your employee retirement plan representative and your superior/boss/department chair of your plans in writing; be sure to give an exact date and follow any other requirements imposed by your employer.
  • Alert any students or co-workers who depend on you so that they can make plans once you retire. Check with your Director of Graduate Studies to see if you remain eligible to advise MA and PhD students and sit on dissertation committees.
  • A key requirement is that you must  enroll in Medicare Part B if you are over 65 and have never enrolled in it before. Make certain you secure the standard form certifying that you have been on your employer’s health insurance plan up until your retirement date. Send the form to the local Social Security office about a month before you retire.
  • If your employer offers post-retirement benefits, enroll in those programs. If you want to have the monthly premiums automatically deducted from your checking account, notify payroll services.
  • Check to see whether you are eligible for compensation for unused sick leave or vacation time.
  • Contact your retirement plan/pension representative to discuss the annual Required Minimum Distribution from your retirement account. You must start to withdraw a certain percentage of funds from your plan beginning the year you retire and annually thereafter (this is a matter of federal law).
  • Apply for emeritus/emerita status if your institution provides these honorific titles for retirees.
  • Have your unit or department move your online profile to “retired” so that you remain on the website but with your new status clearly delineated (if this is customary for all retirees).
  • Make certain that HR has updated your profile with new contact information (street address, phone, email).

Some employers might be open to negotiation on a variety of issues, including:

  • Reduced workload for a specific period (even if your employer does not offer phased retirement)
  • Use of an office, post-retirement (it may not be the one you have had)
  • Retention of email address and library privileges (both in-person and online)
  • Continued listing on department/unit/college email list-serv
  • Retention of laptop or other office equipment
  • Access to any unused research funds
  • Discounts related to parking, use of gym facilities, and so forth

Other questions to consider:

  • Do you have graduate students who will need a new adviser? If so, help them with the at-times delicate and fraught process of approaching your colleagues who can serve in that capacity.
  • Do you need to downsize or dispose of your personal library?  If so, consider inviting your students (or colleagues or staff members) to browse and choose books of interest.  Explore donating books and articles to a prison, though prisons tend to have strict rules about both the subject matter and physical configuration of the material-some do not allow hardbacks, for example. Local public libraries might have an interest in taking at least some of your books if they have the staff to process them and the room to shelve them. Many stores that sell used books will accept your books though pay very little in the process. For other ideas, see the AHA Member Forum Digest for June 14, 2022.
  • Do you worry about staying connected to colleagues and the discipline? If so, maintaining your membership in the AHA is the best and most efficient way to remain engaged with the profession in general and stay in touch with other historians. The rate for retirees is a real bargain—$60 per year or $172 for three years. Membership includes not only subscriptions to the American Historical Review and Perspectives, but also access to AHA webinars, special events, and (of course) the annual meeting (at a reduced registration fee). Retirees who move away from their former place of work, their colleagues, and their friends need not feel cut off from the intellectual stimulation and professional engagement that have been a large part of their lives for many years.


Perspectives on History published a special issue on retirement in May 2022, which included the following articles:

AHA executive director James Grossman discussed what retirement means for many historians.

David McLaren McDonald (Univ. of Wisconsin–Madison) shared his preparations since deciding to retire.

Allison Blakely, Jim Gardner, Linda K. Kerber, Asunción Lavrin, Joanne Reitano, and Richard White, who each retired over the last decade, reflect on what their lives look like now.

In the AHA Online Roundtable “Expanding Perspectives: Historians in Retirement,” authors from this special issue, including Allison Blakely (Boston Univ., emeritus), Jim Gardner (US National Archives, ret.), Linda K. Kerber (Univ. of Iowa, emerita) and Joanne Reitano (LaGuardia Community Coll., emerita), discussed their experiences in retirement in conversation with 2021 AHA president Jacqueline Jones (Univ. of Texas at Austin, emerita).

Jacqueline Jones
Jacqueline Jones

University of Texas at Austin