Like you, I appreciate a silver lining.
I’ve been advising long enough to have worked with some of my clients for almost 30 years.
With long, friendly relationships comes the reality of mortality.
Much has changed in our world over the last three decades. But what hasn’t, is that men still typically die first.1
While somber, the silver lining to this is when I meet—usually one-on-one for the first time—with the surviving half of a couple, and she leaves my office knowing that the plan they’d implemented and worked on has all been worthwhile.
Whether you’re partnered, male or female—and until the very real retirement income and preparation gap between men and women closes—it’s imperative that you understand everything you need to do.
Simply, whether female, male, married, divorced, widowed or single, either personally or by extension, the following applies to almost everyone.
1. Make certain you know what is where.
I met with someone once whose husband had died unexpectedly a year before. She’d been trying to get in to see me, but it had been impossible for her until then.
Why a year?
Because that’s how long it took to figure out not only where all the money and investments were, but to gain complete access to them.
With passwords and poor communication, the firewall of secrecy the husband had built around their finances took a surprisingly long time to tear down.
While not as common as it was years ago, this incredibly tragic scenario still happens. The spouse that handles the finances dies suddenly, and the survivor has very little understanding of where the money is, how it’s invested, and even what to do once it’s accessed.
For everyone reading this, if you or your partner aren’t 100% sure where everything is, or, worse, doesn’t have ready access to it in case of an emergency, that needs to be rectified.
Typically, no one means for this to happen. But, I’m sorry to say, that the denial of the inevitability of death will be proven wrong 100% of the time.
When it comes to money, if there are black holes of communication between you and your partner, have an “exchange of information” sit down today. Then, follow that meeting up with the accountant and the advisor to erase any mystery and to make sure there are no surprises, secret passwords or safety deposit boxes with hard-to-find keys.
2. Women, plan to live longer.
I once had a fascinating appointment with a couple that didn’t need me. (And I told them so.)
These two had a fantastic long and short-term investment strategy, they’d had years of maxing out both their retirement accounts, they were minor experts in Social Security, they had multiple streams of income, and they even had great healthcare and estate plans. All that, and not only had they done just about everything possible to prepare for their retirementtogether, they had an entirely separate retirement plan just for her.
Great savers obviously, these folks were not only prepared to fundat leasta 25-year retirement for the two of them (with no drop off in income or lifestyle), anticipating that she might someday be alone, they’d gone the extra mile to save for her,in separate and unique investment vehicles, for an additional 10-years.
3. Understand your Social Security options.
Should you wait? Should you apply early? Should one spouse apply and the other wait?
There are 81 unique ways for couples to approach and apply for Social Security.
Based on income, savings, and health, the best time to apply is not only unique for everyone, but it can be worth thousands, even tens of thousands of dollars in extra income over the course of your retirement.
Remember, especially when it comes to Baby Boomer couples, the woman is typically the one with the lower benefit. This means getting educated about your options and making the right choices about Social Security the first time.
4. Be your own advocate.
Whether married, partnered or single, no matter what stage of the retirement (or retirement preparation) cycle you are in, if you haven’t been, you need to be proactive. Due to averaging more time away from the workforce (which means less Social Security and lower retirement savings), pay gaps, more healthcare expenses, longer lifespans, or merely because you allow your partner to make the big financial decisions, women need to plan for longer retirements.
If you’re partnered and in the dark about anything related to retirement or investing, talk to your spouse about changing the process so that you either know your needs will be met, or you can make the necessary adjustments right now to see this process through.
I don’t like being the bearer of gloom. I like stories with silver linings. But time is typically not on our side. Putting off planning and organizing is a common mistake that I’ve seen countless people come to regret.
Take care of it now, and later, almost no matter what happens, you can look back and be glad you did.