Stern Advice - Till death (not retirement) do us part

Reuters

By Linda Stern

NEW YORK, Oct 9 (Reuters) - Statisticians have noted a risein "gray divorces" lately. Spouses who stayed together throughdecades of sickness, health, richness, poorness, child rearingand parental health troubles are breaking up, just as they aresupposed to be entering their own happy golden years.

No doubt some have unhappily "stayed together for the kids,"but something else is at play here. Spouses who have compromisedfor years see retirement as a last chance to do what they want.

So when he wants to move to a small (lawn-free) retirementhome and she wants to stay in the big (near the kids) familyhouse, or she wants to travel and he wants to putter, sparksfly.

"I tend to be the mediator at times with those couples,"says Jacob Gold, a financial adviser with ING U.S. FinancialPartners in Scottsdale, Arizona, who specializes in retirementcounseling.

It is a common story, according to research from FidelityInvestments, which found that 4 in 10 couples who aren't retireddisagree about the lifestyle they expect in retirement. Morethan a third don't agree on where to live or have no idea wherethey want to live. One-third disagree about whether they willcontinue to work in retirement, according to a Fidelity surveyreleased at the end of September.

Not every disagreement will break up a marriage, of course.One partner works a couple of extra years while the other onedoesn't - happens all the time. But how can you solvedifferences that run deeper, short of a retirement trip to Renofor a quickie divorce? Here are some thoughts.

- Get on the same financial page. Even if one partnerhandles the investments, both should know exactly how much theycan afford in retirement, says Kathy Murphy, president ofFidelity Personal Investing. It will help frame the discussion.(To get started, you can take a couples financial quiz on theFidelity website,.)

- Collaborate. Many financial advisers insist on meetingboth spouses rather than doing retirement planning with one orthe other. That gives couples a clear understanding of wherethey are, as well as an impartial sounding board for theirdiffering views.

- Then talk about dreams. Put the budget aside, and talkabout what you'd really like to do for the rest of your lives.You can whittle down your ambitions later to match your bankaccount. But at least know that one person wants to ride horsesin Montana while the other feels life won't be complete withoutsome Caribbean sailing.

- After the dream talk, figure out the details. Maybe shedoesn't need to live in Montana, and he doesn't need to own abig boat. They can spend one month a year in each place. Onesolution advisers sometimes recommend: Sell the big house andget two more modest places in different locations.

- Talk about togetherness. Couples often have very differentideas about how to spend their days. Murphy says it is commonfor men to want to immerse themselves in sports and athleticswhile women want to spend time with family, volunteer in thecommunity or pursue hobbies.

That's not a problem for most couples, who are used tospending their days apart. ("I married you for breakfast anddinner but not for lunch" is an old retiree punch line.)

But if one spouse thinks retirement means spending days withthe spouse he or she has missed all these years, it can be aproblem. "We can see the time they have together could create awedge," says Gold. That can be particularly acute as one spouseor the other transitions from full-time work. Discuss, berealistic and compromise, he says.

- Compromise sequentially. Baby boomers are increasinglyexploring the concept of a phased retirement. Those folksheading to Belize or buying recreational vehicles don't allexpect to live that way forever. Perhaps you can structure a"we'll do this for two years, and then we'll do that for twoyears" agreement.

- Try a new activity. You and your spouse got together inthe first place because you enjoyed each other's company. Maybeone of you loves tennis and the other loves woodworking. You canagree to give each other space for those activities and pick athird - bridge, say, or birdwatching - that you haven't done,and learn it together.

- Talk about the end of retirement. Gold notes that he oftensees couples disagree about how to handle their estates - onewants to die spending the last penny, the other wants to leave abequest. He tells people their priority should be to ensure acomfortable retirement and then earmark dollars to pass on. Ifthey can't agree on the line between "comfortable" and "save forthe kids," he sometimes tells them to buy a second-to-die lifeinsurance policy that will pay off to the estate when the secondspouse passes. That won't come cheap, but if it saves you from amarital spat, it could be as worthwhile as the cleaning servicethat kept the household peace during your working years.

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