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Boomer Spouses Often Clash Over Retirement Goals

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Husbands and wives in the boomer generation often disagree with each other on what they’re going to do once their working days are over. In many cases, they even differ on when they will retire, Fidelity Investments Life Insurance Company found.

New research by Fidelity also discovered potentially significant holes in their retirement plans, including life insurance and long term care protection.

Steven P. Akin, president of Fidelity Personal Investments, said he was surprised to find so many couples close to retirement had not yet discussed basic retirement goals or even income sources.

“That’s why creating a retirement plan is so critical,” Akin says. “It helps husbands and wives address those tough but basic planning questions that can dramatically alter a couple’s retirement savings strategy.”

Fidelity surveyed about 500 married couples, comprising boomers and older pre-retirees, born between 1937 and 1964.

Among its surprising findings: More than 33% of husbands and wives gave completely different answers when asked at what age they would retire.

In addition, 41% differed on whether both or at least one will work in retirement, while 37% failed to agree about the quality of their post-retirement lifestyle.

When asked which income sources they would rely on most in retirement, most couples agreed that workplace savings plans, pensions and Social Security would top the list. But just 39% agreed on which of the 3 would be their main source of income.

On the question of who would be the surviving spouse’s key financial advisor in the event of the other’s death, 58% of couples failed to agree on who that would be. In fact, 22% of couples could not even agree on whether they currently use a financial advisor to help them plan for retirement.

Most couples knew what kind of workplace retirement plan each other had in the workplace, along with details about each other’s bank accounts and IRAs. They were not always quite so sure, however, about retirement products such as annuities, brokerage accounts and pensions.

Among couples who own annuities, only 51% of husbands and 53% of wives knew when they could draw income from their annuities. Moreover, less than 25% knew the actual dollar amount their annuity income would be.

About 70% of both husbands and wives knew at what age they could draw from their own pensions, while 60% of men and 27% of women knew when they could draw from their spouse’s pension.

Although 90% of couples fully agreed on whether they owned life insurance policies, 39% gave different answers about the actual face amount of those policies. And 40% disagreed on whether they had enough life insurance.

Couples even showed confusion about how much in Social Security benefits a surviving spouse could expect upon the other’s death, although women were more likely than men to know about that: 48% vs. 39%.

Asked what unexpected financial issues worry them most about retirement, 70% of couples agreed that health care is a concern, and 47% concurred that it was the biggest concern.

Yet few had planned for the possibility that one or the other would need long term care: Only 23% of couples said they have already planned for the need, such as by buying long term care insurance, while 35% could not agree on what they had done about it.

Partnership in financial decision-making was in short supply, with only 23% reporting joint involvement with their finances in terms of making mutual decisions on retirement planning, insurance coverage and other particulars. Couples who were mutually involved were generally older, more prepared for the unexpected in retirement and more optimistic about their expected lifestyle once in retirement, Fidelity found.

In contrast, 62% of couples who did not partner in financial decision-making were unprepared for the unexpected in retirement, lacking important elements of financial planning such as life and LTC insurance, wills and estate plans.

Couples who are jointly involved in financial decisions are also confident in each spouse’s ability to assume full financial responsibilities, Fidelity found.

It also found that the best-prepared couples were those who had completed such important planning steps as purchasing life or LTC insurance and preparing wills and estate plans. They were also most likely to own retirement-oriented products.

Among such prepared couples, 32% agreed on owning an annuity, compared to 10% of unprepared couples, while 47% agreed on owning a brokerage or mutual fund account, vs. 28% of unprepared couples.

Jon J. Skillman, president of Fidelity Investments, notes the importance to couples of knowing their guaranteed income sources.

“What this study shows is that there’s still significant confusion around pension, Social Security and annuity benefits,” Skillman said. “We need to get every couple to a point at which understanding the benefits and details of their annuity is as easy as understanding their 401(k) or IRA.”

Skillman thinks survey results show financial advisors who involve themselves with both husband and wife can deepen their relationship with the client.

“Certainly to the extent that advisors have only been working with one party, they might want to take the opportunity on their next contact to try to involve the other spouse,” he says. “Clearly, couples can plan more adequately when they’re in agreement. Often, basic conversations about retirement don’t take place, and the financial advisor can help facilitate those.”

The survey covered respondents who were planning to retire but had not yet done so and had household incomes of at least $75,000 or investable assets of at least $100,000.