In 2015, Forbes published an article by Robert Laura titled “When Couples Argue About Retirement” which grabbed my attention. Laura noted the one, often overlooked part of a couple’s retirement plan: managing their relationship when work is in the rearview mirror. Lifestyles, time management, and open-ended questions focused on mortality, values, and family must ease into conversations. This planning omission lies dormant in most advisor conversations for many reasons, not the least of which is fears associated with broaching the subject.

The question, however, clamors for a hearing! And we who earn our living as advisors would be wise to listen. Creating a retirement plan for a couple can be one of the most enjoyable and rewarding things we do. Investment, risk management, tax implications, and creating predictable cash flows all—every one of them—impact the health and well-being of committed relationships. A comprehensive plan requires more.

Why? Because, according to Laura’s research, most couples are so focused on “the number” or “the date.” Unaware, they may fail to talk with each other about time together and time apart, how they will invest their lives in family or volunteering or a hobby, and what retirement life will look like after “the big day” passes.

Do this going forward: Implement this lifestyle approach in your retirement planning conversations. For your convenience, I’ve developed downloadable talking points and questions titled, “Having the Retirement Lifestyle Conversation.” Address this topic in discovery conversations, include it when you meet with clients who are within five years of retirement, and revisit it from time to time. 

Next, be intentional and set a follow-up appointment with them two or three weeks out to learn what they learned, using the retirement conversation guide. By focusing on this aspect of a retirement plan, you show your value. In no way does having retirement lifestyle conversations diminish your role as an investment advisor. On the contrary, it strengthens that role, giving you vital insights into their life’s values and futures. 

When the couple comes back with their findings, listen sensitively. Note body language and emotion. If one person is doing most of the talking, find an entry to ask the other, “What did you learn about yourself and your partner?” What they learned about each other may surprise them. Did feelings like uncertainty, fear, and even questioning the retirement decision bubble up? Know that some couples may want to do this work with each other via email because jumping into the topic conversationally may be either too emotional or threatening. The goal is communication, openly sharing fears and dreams, personal goals, and the couple’s hopes.

You will learn many things about your clients’ non-financial lives that will impact their financial future. The bonus for us is that most couples know they need to address these issues but do not have a trusted person who will take the journey with them. Be that person and give your pre-retirement couples a wonderful gift.

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