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Coordinate couples' income needs ahead of time

Differences in how men and women view longevity can have big impacts on their finances during retirement

Oct 26, 2017 @ 4:09 pm

By Phil Caminiti

The differences between men and women have been humorous fodder for late night talk shows, movies and books for a long time. But planning for retirement as a couple is serious business.

We know the stats: women live longer than men, typically earn less than men and generally earn less income over time because of family obligations. According to EBRI, women underestimate their longevity. Therefore, women plan for a shorter lifespan, giving themselves a higher probability of a more difficult financial situation as they age or even running out of money in retirement.

Men, on the other hand, can sometimes overestimate their longevity, suggesting that they often don't spend as much as they could because they think they will need the income for longer. So how can you "marry" these competing perceptions and realities? Here are some points that can help with planning for the long term no matter who thinks they will live longer.

COUPLES PLANNING

It's essential that both partners share the financial decision-making and avoid outsourcing financial decisions to just one spouse. Schedule a meeting with both spouses. I bet you've wondered if the husband and wife actually speak to each other at home because their views on savings, investing and retirement are so different. Not only is their time horizon and needs around financial planning different, there are fundamental psychological differences between the sexes as Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus posited decades ago. Here are a few ways to encourage and find success meeting with couples.

(More: Good luck picking the "best" insurance product.)

Factor in age and health differences. Plan for the younger partner's extra years in retirement. Discuss if one of them will retire later. Staggering retirements may ease the transition for both of them, financially and emotionally. Don't think of money as his and hers. Have them take a household view instead of taking different investment options independent of each other.

Many retirees leave the workforce earlier than planned. So not only is retirement coming more quickly than expected, planning for it is behind schedule. A discussion about decumulation, or how the couple will turn their nest egg into income in retirement, can be an eye opener. Getting focused sooner on what the couple will need and want to do in retirement will serve both spouses well.

JOINT INCOME OPTIONS

The differences in longevity affect spending for men and women. This can cause disparities in a couple's retirement income. You should not only plan with the couple together, but also have a strategy in place for the survivor.

One consideration might be an income annuity with a joint life option. This option ensures that the couple will get guaranteed income for as long as they both live, and the survivor will continue to receive the checks for the remainder of his or her life.

(More: Retiree health care costs up 6%, new study finds.)

To maximize Social Security for your client and their spouse, they might consider claiming later. When one person dies, the spouse is eligible to receive the monthly Social Security payment as a survivor benefit, if it's higher than his or her own amount. We all know that the longer we delay our Social Security payments after our full retirement age, the more one's benefit will grow, and so will the survivor's benefit after one's death.

If your client has a defined-benefit pension, it may have a joint and survivor benefit, where monthly payments are made for the pension holder's lifetime and the spouse's lifetime. Joint and survivor pension benefits are lower than a single life benefit, which makes payments only on the pension holder's lifetime. Your clients will have to determine the right course of action.

If you keep these points in mind when working with your clients, you can have a hopefully long and fruitful relationship with them as they retire.

Phil Caminiti is a managing director at New York Life.

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