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Only one-third of couples actively discuss retirement plans

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Retirement looms on the horizon for many individuals. So it’s especially surprising that only one-third of U.S. couples discuss their retirement plans with one another, according to a study by research firm Hearts & Wallets.

What’s even more disconcerting is that the study, “Retirement: Funding, Replacement Rate and Sources of Income,” which looked at Americans’ retirement lifestyle, income replacement rates and retirement income sources, showed that the percentage of couples that talk about retirement plans has dropped dramatically, from about 40 percent in 2013.

“Talking about retirement doesn’t seem like a romantic conversation, but thinking about the future could recapture that spark of when you were first planning your life together,” says Laura Varas, founder and principal of Hearts & Wallets, in a prepared statement. “In our studies, Americans talk about the positive benefits of retirement, like travel, less stress and time to do what they want. It’s important to plan together how to optimize that last chapter of life.”

One in four individuals say they worry that their partner would be unable to manage finances without them. The percentage of individuals who are worried about their significant other’s financial judgment rose, from one-fifth of all couples in 2013, to one-fourth. In addition, a large percentage of respondents say that they will be unable to manage after their partner’s death. One in six individuals is concerned that they will be unable to handle household retirement finances. Yet about 20 percent of partners are completely disengaged on the topic of joint retirement plans. 

Predictably, younger and less affluent couples are less likely to discuss retirement than their older and wealthier counterparts, with only 28 percent of emerging households with couples aged 21-27 talking about retirement. More than half of surveyed couples with more than $100,000 in investable assets — and about two-thirds of wealthy couples with more than $2 million in investable assets — jointly plan their retirement.

Advisors can turn this trend around by encouraging individuals to bring their spouses or partners into meetings, where they can discuss retirement goals and different retirement savings and income options that might fit their future lifestyle. Products like annuities can offer guaranteed lifetime income in retirement, so even partners who are only minimally engaged with the household retirement finances can be confident they would be able to maintain their lifestyle if their partner died.