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Survive Retirement with Your Spouse: 9 Topics to Tackle Now for a Happily Ever After

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Before you got married, you probably discussed where you wanted to live, whether or not you would have kids, and your general hopes for the future.

Before you bought a house, you and your spouse talked about where would be best, what size home you hoped to acquire, and more.

Before you had kids, you hopefully discussed discipline philosophies, educational goals, and roles and responsibilities for raising them.

survive retirement with your spouse

As you approach and enter retirement, the big conversations are not over. Retirement is another massive life transition and one that requires deep alignment on important topics.

The bad news? A survey by Fidelity Investments found that disagreements on retirement goals are common. About 50% of couples report being misaligned about when to retire and how much savings are needed. Couples also often disagree about investment risk and how much spending is prudent.

The good news? While there is an awful lot to discuss and conversations about money can be extremely difficult subjects, couples who communicate well are more likely to:

  • Expect to live a comfortable lifestyle in retirement
  • Rate their household’s financial health as excellent or very good
  • Say that money is not their greatest relationship challenge

Here are 9 discussions you should have with your spouse before you retire. Let’s start with what should be an easy one:

1. What Do You Want to Do in Retirement?

Many people don’t discuss or even think about their long-term goals and aspirations, let alone what their spouse might want to do.

It is perfectly fine for one spouse to follow the other’s lead. You can certainly think of spouses who picked up golf because their partner plays, or found a way to love camping because their spouse seeks the outdoors.

However, it is good to think about what you really want out of this time of your life, sit down, share, and then prioritize as a couple. Not sure? Here are a few resources to help you figure it out:

You don’t have to have the same goals for how to spend your time in retirement, but your financial plan should be crafted to accommodate what you both desire.

2. When Are You Going to Retire?

It is not unusual for one spouse to want to retire long before another. In fact, less than 20% of all couples stop working in the same year. However, you both need to be on board with the financial strains that retirement may cause, never mind the marital stress.

“Research shows that marital stress increases during the initial two years of retirement, especially when the husband retires first. Jobs, like kids, can be buffers in a relationship. Once the structure of work is gone, unresolved issues rise to the surface,” said Stephanie Coontz, a social historian, to AARP.

While the difficulties of mismatched free time can not be easily addressed, you can prepare for them if you’ve discussed your retirement date and are in agreement with your overall plans.

When you retire (and how long each of you live) are factors that have a profound impact on your lifetime financial health.

Making sure that you and your spouse understand and embrace the impact of an early or late retirement date is an important point to fully understand and negotiate. However, few people fully understand what is needed for a secure future. The Fidelity study found that 52% of spouses don’t know how much they need to have saved to maintain their current lifestyle in retirement. Yet, 77% expect to live comfortably in retirement.

The NewRetirement Retirement Planner makes it easy for you to see how much you need at various retirement ages. And, discover alternate ways and compromises to meet your goals. (Not using NewRetirement? Be sure to use a retirement calculator designed for couples. Many online tools don’t accommodate the inputs that are unique to each spouse.)

Working with a financial advisor is another option. Collaborate with a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™, a professional from NewRetirement Advisors, to identify and achieve your mutual and individual goals. Book a FREE discovery session to assess how fee-only advice can help you plan your future.

3. Where Do You Want to Live?

Have you ever dreamed of living in a shack on the beach? Closer to grandchildren? In an apartment in the big city? Anywhere else than where you are now? Maybe you want to stay put. Does your partner know about these dreams?

Retirement is a really unique opportunity to uproot your life and live the way you have always wanted. And, because housing is typically the biggest expense for most families, relocating can have a huge impact on your overall finances.

The point is, that you need to discuss your goals and figure out what each of you want. Then, try out different housing scenarios — downsizing, up sizing, getting a reverse mortgage, and more — in the NewRetirement Planner.

4. What Roles and Responsibilities Do You Want if a Long Term Care Event Happens?

No one wants to think about — let alone discuss — the possibility of a long-term care event.

However, the reality is that one of you is likely to experience an event like a stroke, diabetes, or plain old age that will require you to need help with your care. Forty-two percent of people over the age of 65 require or will require long-term care and neither Medicare nor Medicare supplemental insurance cover the costs of these services — neither in your own home nor in a nursing facility.

Without a clear plan in place, the burden of your care will fall on your spouse. Though many individuals consider it an honor to tend to their loved one, you might want to clarify each of your thoughts on this subject and budget appropriately. Can you afford assisted living or in-home assistance? Furthermore, what happens to the remaining spouse after one of you has passed. What is the plan for the surviving partner?

You can explore 10 alternatives to long-term care insurance.

5. To Enjoy Retirement with Your Spouse, Discuss Your Overall Retirement Financial Plan

A study from Hearts & Wallets reports that only 35% of couples actively engage in retirement planning together. This is unfortunate since money issues are perhaps among the most important to figure out. Terri Orbuch, the author of 5 Simple Steps to Take Your Marriage From Good to Great, told Money Magazine, “Money disagreements are the most distressing and the most likely to persist unsolved.”

Money issues become even more critical when you retire and are living off of a fixed set of resources for 20–30 years. After you have discussed what each of you wants out of this time of your life, you will really need to dig into the details to see if your finances make what each of you want at all possible.

You’ll want to look at every financial detail when you retire.

When you each start Social Security?

How much do you want to spend and how will that change over time?

What kinds of savings each of you have?

Do you have life insurance?

What kind of health insurance?

How much debt?

An online Retirement Planning tool like the NewRetirement Planner can be a great way to facilitate a meaningful discussion about your finances in an organized and unemotional way. Approach a joint planning session as an ideal way for getting the two of you on the same page. Good calculators, like the retirement planning calculator, will ask you important questions and guide you through the process. Schedule a couple of hours with your spouse and go through the calculator as a couple.

Just be prepared to communicate clearly and compromise fairly.

As part of your overall retirement financial planning, you will need to agree on some ground rules and values that will govern your retirement finances.

“Even in the best relationships, money can stir up intense feelings that complicate the retirement decision,” says Dorian Mintzer, coauthor of The Couple’s Retirement Puzzle.

Each of you may have had different upbringings and experiences that shape your relationship to money, risk, planning and other topics that play into how you manage your finances.

You may be able to have more productive conversations with your spouse if you understand your own financial values, experiences and money personality type as well as theirs.

Some people are willing to take more risk with their money than others. As a couple, you’ll need to agree about how much — if anything — you are willing to potentially lose.

Do you want to guarantee adequate retirement income through something like annuities? Or are you willing to hope that nothing happens to the financial markets that would cause you to live below your desired lifestyle?

There are lots of people who simply would never quit working while they still have debt. What do you do if your spouse is one of those people and you are not?

How will you, as a couple, handle unexpected expenses like an aging parent or child who needs money? A natural disaster?A car accident?

It is likely that one of you knows more about personal finance than the other. However, this can only complicate planning since it may sometimes feel like you are each speaking a different language.

When you were working, your monthly spending could flow more freely than it can in retirement. Depending on your finances, you may need to adhere to a strict budget. Some people are naturally good at this, others take a more freestyle approach to spending. If you and your partner are not of the same budgeting style, it can get tricky and stressful.

To resolve some of these nitty gritty and complicated issues, again, you may want to walk through a retirement calculator together where you can see the immediate and long term impact of each viewpoint.

You may also benefit from meeting with a financial advisor to help you navigate these matters and forge a compromise that both makes sense and feels right to each of you.

7. How Often Will You Revisit and Update Your Plans?

The economy is always in flux. Hardly a day goes by without a disturbing headline about the stock market, inflation, taxes, healthcare costs, the collapse of Social Security and more. Never mind how your own personal situation will evolve.

It is therefore important for couples to sit down periodically, quarterly at least, to discuss and update your overall retirement and estate plans.

The NewRetirement Retirement Calculator is one of the only tools that saves your information for you so you can easily log in and look over the results together and then play with ways you can improve your plan.

It is not enough to plan to have enough money to support your desired lifestyle for as long one of you lives. You need to make sure the surviving spouse will be comfortable after one of you has passed away.

Depending on how you arrange your finances, the death of a spouse can have dramatic implications for the survivor, particularly with regards to income.

9. Do You Have an Estate Plan?

A retirement plan is not all that you need. You also need to forge a mutually agreed upon estate plan.

  • If you are wealthy enough, you need to agree about what you will leave behind and to whom? It is not uncommon for one partner to have made promises that the other is not aware of. Retirement is a good time to get on the same page.
  • Do each of you have and understand each others’ Advance Directives? Advance directives are documents — usually a living will and a medical power of attorney — that define how you want to be cared for if you become incapacitated.
  • Will you be each others’ financial power of attorney? Or, will you assign one outside person to serve for each of you?
  • Have you documented all of the details of your life that your spouse will need if you are incapacitated or have passed away? Think about:
    • Funeral wishes
    • All of the numbers and passwords for all of your accounts — mortgage, brokerage, banking, insurance, etc.
    • Location of official papers like Social Security cards, marriage certificates, etc.
    • A list of all of your medications and doctors
    • Your address book of friends and family
  • Make sure all of your beneficiary designations are up to date.

The Fidelity research finds that couples that work with a financial advisor are more likely to agree on their vision of retirement, find it easier to start money conversations, and feel confident about their financial health.

If you are struggling to get on the same page with your spouse, an advisor may help. NewRetirement Advisors enables you to collaborate with a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professional to identify and achieve your goals. Learn more or set up a free discovery session.

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