Mutual fund companies and their financial adviser partners might start thinking about targeting engaged couples as clients, as it benefits couples to talk about finances before they get married and it is a way to reach new clients, experts said.

While difficult to think about finances during wedding plans, money is the number one cause of marital arguments, and for the most part, it is because couples are not on the same page, according to data from OppenheimerFunds of New York.

The average length of a marriage in the U.S. is 7-1/2 years, according to data from the National Center for Health Statistics.

"Given the odds, it is more important than ever for women to have an open dialogue about finances with their future spouse not only to avoid martial spats, but also to mitigate financial losses in the event of widowhood or divorce," said Ellen Schoenfeld, vice president of educational initiatives at OppenheimerFunds.

A number of financial advisers are now offering complimentary consultation to engaged couples, she said. One adviser's client gave his child a session with the adviser as a pre-wedding gift, Schoenfeld related.

With weddings becoming more and more expensive, many couples are starting off marriage in debt. It can be useful to work out a wedding budget with an adviser and set up an account to help pay bills, Schoenfeld said.

Currently, Oppenheimer advisers are getting engaged couples' business by word of mouth through their existing clients, Schoenfeld said. In the future, Oppenheimer might consider a marketing campaign geared toward young couples, but no initiatives are in place right now, she said.

"It is positive to reach out to couples early on and get people engaged in the financial planning process," said David Wray, president of the Profit Sharing/401(k) Council of America in Chicago

Norm Mindel, a financial adviser with Genworth Financial in Schaumburg, Ill., relates that a lot of his clients refer their children to him to work on a financial plan. If a child is engaged and is set to inherit a lot of money, often parents will want their child to sign a pre-nuptial agreement, and that can be tricky, he said.

An adviser must be in tune with their clients' family events, such as when a child is graduating from college or getting married, said Delia Passi, president and CEO of Hollywood, Fla.-based Medelia. People are not educated enough about financial planning and "a financial adviser takes on the role of the family ambassador in terms of financial education," she said.

An adviser might not capture the assets of a couple right away, but it is a great way to set themselves up to do so, Schoenfeld noted. Supporting people in the early part of their financial planning when they have small balances will pay off because the balances will grow larger with time, Wray added.

It is important to make retirement-related decisions with a significant other, Wray said. Two people might think they've informed each other about their financial decisions and have common goals, but have actually not had formal conversations about it, he said.

The most beneficial aspect of talking to an adviser is the third-party objectivity, Schoenfeld said. Even if a couple disagrees on financial goals, an adviser can help facilitate the conversation and work through differences.

"It is important for couples to get on the same page financially and have the same goals," Schoenfeld said. Also, the adviser meeting with a couple together is important because often women are not involved with investment decisions as much as they should be, she noted.

Some issues a financial adviser might be able to help bring to light are current savings and spending habits and if spouses' accounts will be joined or not. Also, they can raise other questions that couples might not think of, such as making sure they are the spouses' beneficiary on insurance and 401(k) policies and making sure a will is in place.

Having a will in place is essential, not only to leave possessions, but to also appoint a power of attorney, Passi said. "In case of an accident or tragedy, a spouse really needs to know their partner's wishes and be their voice," she commented. Life insurance is also a must have when couples get married, she added.

At the beginning of a marriage, the most important thing a couple has to do is start saving money, Mindel said. "An emergency fund has to be created right away," Passi agreed.

(c) 2007 Money Management Executive and SourceMedia, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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