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Coordinating Retirement With Your Spouse

Emily Brandon

When couples first retire, they need to develop new routines and renegotiate who does which household chores. And like all major life transitions, there is plenty of room for disagreements. "Oftentimes, people think of retirement as an individual decision, when really couples have two retirements: his and hers," says Phyllis Moen, a sociology professor at the University of Minnesota. Here are some ways for couples to ease the transition into retirement:

Decide whether to retire together or separately. Some couples would like to retire around the same time, while others retire years apart. A 2011 Fidelity Investments survey of married couples approaching retirement found that 62 percent don't agree on their expected retirement ages. "Oftentimes, men want to retire earlier than some women who have gone back to school or are starting a new career, especially if there is a big age gap in the couple," says Moen.

Be prepared for more face time. After decades of primarily spending nights and weekends together, it can be disconcerting to be with your spouse all day, every day. "Two-earner couples often haven't spent that much time together at home because during the day they were both working," says Maximiliane Szinovacz, a gerontology professor at the University of Massachusetts-Boston. "Now that they are both at home, one of the issues becomes how much time to spend together." Before you retire, it's a good idea to set up a few independent activities such as a hobby, volunteer position, part-time job, or consulting work. "Think of what you are going to do alone and what you are going to do together," says Moen.

Renegotiate who does which chores. As your routines change, the division of labor in your household might also need a few adjustments. "Some couples face the husband underfoot problem, where the wife feels that the privacy she had at home is now taken away from her because the husband is always there. And not only is he there, but he becomes involved in things he hasn't been involved in before and interferes," says Szinovacz. Or, especially if the husband retires first, "The wife might expect the husband to do a little more around the house such as cooking and laundry, which is time-consuming and the husband may not be particularly thrilled to do such tasks."

Don't neglect your social life. Workplace relationships often fade away once you retire. However, it's important to maintain friendships and develop new ones throughout retirement. "Work not only organizes our lives, but it is a major source of social networks and relationships, and all that goes away when you retire," says Moen. "You need to think about what social relationships you want to keep or that you want to create."

Decide where to live. Retirement is one of the few times in life that you can decide to move anywhere that suits your lifestyle and budget. However, a third of married couples either don't agree or don't know where they want to live in retirement, Fidelity found. Discuss with your spouse where you might like to live, whether it's a place with year-round pleasant weather, closer to your grandchildren, or near your current friends and neighbors. Also consider whether you will downsize to a smaller home or more inexpensive area of the country.

Coordinate retirement benefits. Couples need to pay attention to the eligibility ages for pensions, Social Security, and penalty-free retirement account withdrawals, and take steps to maximize their benefits as a couple. Couples have a variety of Social Security claiming options that single people don't, including being able to claim a spousal benefit worth up to 50 percent of the higher earner's benefit and survivor's payments. "Claiming early will lock your surviving spouse into a lower benefit for the rest of his or her life," says David Ekerdt, a sociology professor and director of the gerontology center at the University of Kansas. "If one can continue to work, the monthly checks are larger the longer one waits past 62, and it protects your spouse's income after you have passed away."

Prepare for health problems. At some point during retirement, one or both members of a couple are likely to need some form of medical care. "This is the time to talk about issues regarding preferences for medical treatment and even for body disposition after death, and how the other should go forward if something were to happen to me," says Ekerdt.

Plan for time with grandchildren. Discuss with your spouse how much time and money you want to invest in your grandchildren. "Some retiring grandparents may feel like now that they have time, they want to spend more time with their grandchildren," says Szinovacz. "On the other hand, adult children may think now that the grandparents have nothing else to do, they can take care of the children, whereas the retired grandparents may envision other leisure activities such as traveling."

Twitter: @aiming2retire

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