A Couple’s Guide to Retirement Planning
Money + Markets

A Couple’s Guide to Retirement Planning


Dreaming about retirement with your significant other can be a thoroughly enjoyable experience.  Planning for said retirement, however, can be less of a pleasure.

That may be why only about one in five couples has developed a detailed retirement income plan, according to a recent Fidelity survey. Still, planners say that tackling your retirement plans as a couple is key to finding the strategies that will be most successful. “If you’re envisioning your retirement together and you’re on the same page, it can be easier to find money to set aside for that shared goal,” says Marilyn Timbers, a retirement coach with Voya Financial Advisors.

Follow these steps to make sure that you and your spouse are on the same track — and the right one — when it comes to planning for retirement.

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1. Start the conversations early. In most couples, one partner takes the role of family chief financial offier, overseeing the investment strategy and making most of the day-to-day money decisions. While that may work fine for the short-term, when it comes to long-term planning it’s important that the couple make decisions together. It’s also important that spouses and partners both understand where they are starting from financially in order to make an accurate plan. More than a third of couples disagree over the amount of their total investable assets, Fidelity reports.

Discussing retirement plans early on ensures that one person isn’t blind-sided by the state of accounts or expected lifestyle down the road. Making retirement planning a joint activity also ensures that if the family CFO is ever unable to carry on that job, the other spouse can step in smoothly. “Even if you don’t want to think about it, one person may eventually have to handle everyone on their own,” says Carina Diamond of SS&G Wealth Management. “When you make your plan, share all your passwords and account information.”

2. Get ready to compromise. Whether you have different views on how much you should be supporting adult children or you’re in disagreement about whether and when to sell the family home, almost all couples will find that their visions for retirement don’t align perfectly. Nearly 40 percent of couples recently surveyed by Voya did not agree or hadn’t discussed where they’d live in retirement, and half of those surveyed by Fidelity disagreed on their exact retirement age.

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Be respectful of each other’s viewpoints. Knowing that you’re likely not going to get everything you want may make it easier to find places where you can come to agreement. See if there are any common themes that you do agree on, which can help you find neutral ground on stickier points.

3. Bring in professional help. Having a neutral third party such as a financial planner can help if you reach an impasse about the details. “A good adviser knows that it’s not all about the numbers, but there’s also a human element to retirement planning,” says Kay Lynn Mayhue, president of Botsford Financial Group. “Sometimes it becomes about the psychology of planning and getting to a scenario where you can meet in the middle.”

A professional may also be able to help you consider details you may not have considered, such as how to pay fewer taxes in retirement and how to factor inflation into your calculations. Working with a planner can also help you get an honest assessment of whether your retirement goals are feasible and what steps you must take now to make them happen. Couples who have a retirement plan in place are twice as likely to expect a “very comfortable” retirement, according to Fidelity.

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4. Plan for the worst. No one likes to think about worst-case scenarios, but planning for such circumstances now can ensure that your wishes are carried out and that you’ve partner is in a financially secure position.

If you don’t have an estate plan, or if your plan hasn’t been updated since your kids were little, put one together now. Couples should also draw up living wills that outline the type of end-of-life medical care each person would want. Discuss how you’ll pay for and provide long-term care, if necessary, as well as ongoing health care costs. “Many expenses go down in retirement, but the expense that always goes up is health care spending,” says Arielle O’Shea, an investing expert with NerdWallet.

You should also go through all of your financial accounts, such as IRAs, 401(k)s or life insurance policies, to make sure that the beneficiaries still reflect your current choices.

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5. Fill in the kids. For some families, transferring wealth to adult children or grandchildren is a significant part of the retirement planning process. In that case, informing your children about arrangements can help them with their own financial planning and prevent surprises or resentments that could crop up later. These conversations are especially important in blended families or other cases when matters of inheritance can become emotional or contentious.

6. Adjust as needed. Just because you’ve got a written retirement plan doesn’t mean that the details are set in stone. You may end up making more (or less) money as your approach retirement than you anticipated, or you may decide that your previous dream of playing golf seven days a week isn’t for you after all. Periodically revisiting your plan before and during retirement and making modifications as needed is a key part of a happy and financially secure retirement.