Retirement can be exciting, but it’s also a major life and financial transition. The stress brought about by the inevitable changes surrounding retirement can cause rifts significant enough for people to contemplate divorce.1 To a lesser degree, it can make the estimated 1 in 3 married couples who don’t have a shared vision of their golden years2 confront what could be difficult realities, including financial discord.
You may help married clients who are contemplating retirement perhaps avoid some strife and/or verify that they’re on the same page when it comes to retirement finances. Start by asking these simple yet profound questions that they may not have posed to themselves or each other:
1. What’s your target retirement age?
Recent survey data reveals that nearly half of couples disagreed on when they’ll retire.3 This seems trivial, but lacking a definitive answer could interfere with setting retirement savings goals.3
2. Will you retire at the same time?
Like retirement age, determining a workforce exit strategy that maximizes Social Security benefits and preserves retirement savings could mean staggering retirement dates.3,4
3. Where do you intend to live?
Downsizing out of a home or moving to a different location geographically could have advantages and drawbacks. Depending on their home’s market value, selling could mean extra cash for the couple’s savings as well as freeing them from maintenance costs and labor. However, relocating could ultimately increase expenses as income taxes, property taxes and general cost of living vary widely from state to state.4,5 The “Should we stay or should we go?” question may best be answered by putting pencil to paper and looking at the numbers objectively.
4. What does retirement look like to each of you?
Do you have shared priorities? Aligning retirement goals doesn’t mean one spouse calls the shots. The couple needs to be clear on what they expect out of retirement, but be willing to compromise in order to align retirement goals.6 The couple’s financial situation will largely dictate what they can accomplish and how they can live in retirement, so you might suggest they establish a list of priorities to maintain a realistic outlook about retirement.3
5. Can you afford to live the retirement you envision?
Dreaming about retirement and actually funding it may be vastly different things. Determining the sources of monthly income available to the couple in retirement, their intentions about working in retirement, and their willingness to develop and stick to a budget all impact how comfortably they’ll live.7 If this question suddenly has one spouse — or both — panicking about shortfalls, encourage them to start saving as much as possible, as soon as possible. Compounded investment returns may build on themselves and help close the gap.3
6. Do you have a plan for covering unplanned expenses?
Post-retirement surprises are no different than those that spring up prior to retirement. Check in with the couple on the status of their emergency fund, and encourage them to keep the balance as close to six months’ worth of daily living expenses as possible.7
7. How do you intend to handle changes to your income when one of you passes away?
It can be an uncomfortable topic, but the discussion about survivorship is necessary. How will the surviving spouse’s financial landscape change if Social Security, pension payments or other income streams cease? Couples should strategize how to replenish lost income before it’s needed in order to avoid rushed decisions during an emotionally charged time of life.6 This may also provide an opportunity to discuss creating or reevaluating estate plans.4
8. How will you handle any inheritance?
Spouses could have divergent views about where their inheritance goes and how their estate is handled. Assuming that any children take precedence over a certain charity or passion project could leave couples reeling. Get it out on the table now to reach and document satisfactory solutions.5
9. Have you agreed to a mutual investing style?
During working years, each spouse likely managed their own 401(k) accounts or other retirement plans according to their own preferences and risk tolerances. Shifting into retirement generally means pooling cash. Guidance from a financial advisor will help build a portfolio that serves mutual goals, and that can be periodically adjusted to find investment strategies that accommodate draw-downs.5
10. What’s your tolerance for stock market risk?
There’s no way to accurately predict what the market will do in or out of retirement. Since most couples will likely be counting on draws from an investment portfolio to fund retirement, assessing the level of acceptable risk and introducing tools like MEMBERS® Zone and Horizon risk control annuities are among the most important things a financial advisor can do.6
The point of this type of guided conversation isn’t necessarily to produce immediate answers, but to get couples talking about the future. From there, you can better understand how to serve your married clients because they will have cleared away assumptions and miscommunication about retirement finances in favor of compromise and clarity.
To further help all of your clients embrace the future, use the practical advice found in our Step by Step Guide to Helping Your Clients Achieve Financial Security and Satisfaction in Retirement. Click the button below to access your copy now.
1Forbes, An Emotional Playbook For Couples In Retirement, June 27, 2018
2The Washington Post, Can retirement ruin your marriage?, May 7, 2018
3Forbes, How To Talk Retirement With Your Spouse, July 5, 2018
4New York Life, 10 Financial Considerations For Retired Married Couples, Undated
5Merrill Lynch Bank of America Corporation, Checklist: 5 Retirement Questions Every Couple Should Ask—And Answer, Undated
6Kiplinger, 5 Topics Couples Should Discuss Before They Retire, February 5, 2018
7WiseBread, 5 Money Conversations Couples Should Have Before Retirement, September 5, 2017