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Planning for retirement must be collaborative effort for couples

| Sunday, July 3, 2011

DES MOINES — Workers have become more involved in retirement planning, but too often just one member of the family takes care of investments and strategy, leaving the spouse unprepared to take over if needed.

Fidelity Investments says 41 percent of the couples surveyed in May handle retirement investment decisions together. That means just one person — usually the husband — handles the retirement planning for a majority of families.

More worrisome is the fact that only 17 percent of couples say either spouse is prepared to assume sole responsibility of their retirement finances if necessary.

Women, who are more likely to survive their husbands, are not at all confident that they could take over. Just 35 percent of wives say they are completely confident in their ability to do so, while 72 percent of husbands say they can.

"The life expectancy for a woman on average is about three years longer than a man so there's a likelihood that the wife will have to manage the retirement finances alone or at least be the primary decision maker at some point in time in retirement," said Chris McDermott, senior vice president of retirement and financial planning at Fidelity.

Husbands and wives should know where critical documents are kept and what they would need to do if their spouse is no longer able to assist with financial decision-making. Both also should have an understanding of the family's finances and the savings and investment goals. They should become active in financial planning. Both should meet with the family's financial adviser.

The survey also suggests husbands and wives don't talk enough about fundamental facts of retirement living. Consider these results:

• 33 percent said they don't agree or don't know where they plan to retire.

• 62 percent of couples approaching retirement don't agree on the age at which they will stop working.

• 47 percent of couples approaching retirement don't agree on whether they will continue to work in retirement.

Those are some very basic factors used to determine how much money couples will have to live on in retirement, McDermott said. They need to talk about and be on the same page on these matters.

Boston-based Fidelity, one of the country's largest individual retirement account and workplace retirement plan providers, surveyed 648 married couples with a household income of at least $75,000 or at least $100,000 in investable assets. Respondents had to be at least age 46, married and living with their spouse to be included.

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