When they discuss the future, couples in their 50s and 60s often put the focus on their children and grandchildren or the needs of their aging parents. If they get around to talking about themselves at all, they might discuss an upcoming vacation or something that needs fixing around the house.
But what they tend to skip over is what will happen to them once they retire--and that's a mistake.
What will their life together look like? Do their individual visions match up or is there a complete disconnect?
I'm amazed at the basic issues couples haven't talked about together before they come to talk to their financial professionals. Here are a few that stand out:
1. What does retirement mean to each of you?
Maybe one of you wants to travel, and the other wants to spend more time at home, gardening or helping out with the grandkids. That's okay--as long as you have a plan to make it work. Talk about your goals and dreams now so you can work toward making them mesh later on.
2. At what age do you plan to retire?
It's surprising how often couples ignore this topic--and then argue about it later. Some are disappointed when they learn their spouse doesn't want to head off into the sunset as soon as possible. Others--worried about money or if they'll get along if they're together all the time--push for age 70 or beyond. A 2011 Fidelity study found that 62% of couples didn't agree on the appropriate retirement age. Discuss your concerns now.
3. How much money do you have--and where is it?
In most households, one person takes on the bulk of the responsibility for handling the money. And that's fine. But there's no excuse for being totally clueless about your retirement income. Both spouses should know their financial professional, and stay up on what's happening with savings and investments. Also, both you should be aware of where the paperwork is filed and whose name is on what.
4. What is your idea of risk?
Women tend to be more risk-averse than men, but sometimes it's the other way around. Regardless, I've watched many clients go wide-eyed when they saw what their spouse was willing to gamble with the hope of getting a bigger payback. Make sure you're on the same page on this one, or it could lead to bitterness and resentment in the future.
5. What happens to your income when one of you dies?
This takes the third point above a little bit further: Both spouses should know about pension rules, Social Security changes and insurance payouts. Don't make the mistake of thinking that when you're gone, your spouse will only need half as much money. There should be a plan in place to cover the surviving spouse's needs.
6. Are you going to leave money to your kids? If so, how much?
Don't assume everything you have left when you die will go to your children. Taxes and other costs can eat away at your legacy. Talk to each other about how you want to handle your estate--and then talk to a qualified financial professional and attorney.
When you have these retirement conversations, expect to have some disagreements, but keep looking for compromise. And don't hesitate to consult your financial professional--or a marriage counselor--for some assistance.