Is it better for married couples to have one portfolio between them or separate portfolios?

Opinions vary.

“My feeling is that husband and wife are one, and financial planning for a married couple should be done as one,” says Rick Rummage, president of Rummage Group, an adviser consulting firm in Herndon, Va.

Stephanie DeWitt, managing partner and portfolio manager at Ascend Financial Consultants in Pasadena, Calif., says that in practice, some 80% of her client couples have separate portfolios, but there are certain advantages to just having one investment portfolio per couple.

“It takes more time to manage two portfolios than one,” she says. “And if you do have two [individual retirement accounts] to manage, you don’t want to do the same thing with both of them.”

Dalal Salomon, chief executive and founding partner of Salomon & Ludwin in Richmond, Va., favors separate portfolios for spouses, though she says, “It’s not a one-size-fits-all thing.”

Noting that if each person in a couple has an IRA or 401(k) plans, there will automatically be at least two investment portfolios with which to contend, she says that even in the case of non-tax-advantaged investments, her firm prefers separate portfolios.

“We make it mandatory to work with both spouses in a couple, unless one spouse specifically grants the other power of attorney and doesn’t want to be involved,” Salomon says.

Having two portfolios allows advisers to provide the couple with more diversification, for example two different risk profiles or two different investment strategies, she says.

“You might have one portfolio with a buy-low, sell-high strategy and another with a strategy based on momentum,” Salomon says. “These would behave differently if, say, you had a stock market downturn.”

Separate portfolios are even more important when the client couple are both on their second marriage and both have their own children, Salomon says.

“In that case you want separate accounts for estate and separation purposes,” she says.

Also those who go into a marriage with pre-existing assets created those savings with different goals and desires, and those need to be respected, Salomon says.

DeWitt agrees that while two portfolios are more work than one, and that much of extra work for the adviser is uncompensated, there are advantages in both married clients having an investment portfolio.

“If you can get both partners engaged with separate portfolios, it’s a win-win for the adviser,” she says. “If you’re only involved with one person in a couple and that person dies or leaves as the result of a divorce, you could lose half or all the assets.”

This story is part of a 30-30 series on ways to build a better portfolio.