The key to a successful marriage is communication, and planning for retirement is no exception. As it turns out, this is yet another bone of contention between husbands and wives.

More than 30% of 500 couples born between 1937 and 1964 that Fidelity Investments surveyed gave completely different answers when asked what age they will retire, what kind of lifestyle they will lead in retirement or whether they will continue working during those years. And only 23% said they jointly oversee their finances.

Most financial professionals assume couples are planning their retirement together, but the fact is, few actually do, said Steve Atkin, president of Fidelity Personal Investments.

"It was surprising to us that given how close many of these couples are to retirement, they had yet to sit down to discuss and agree on basic retirement goals, aspirations and income sources with each other," Atkin said. The average age of those interviewed in the 60-question "Couples Retirement Survey" was 54.

Discrepancies arise between men and women about what age they plan to retire. Women surveyed said age 63, while men believed they would head for the golf course by age 61.

Asked whether retirement would lend to a comfortable lifestyle, 37% of men gave more optimistic responses as to whether it will be enjoyable and they'll have enough money to live on, Atkin noted. When asked whether one or both spouses would work during retirement, 40% of couples gave different answers.

Couples aren't completely at odds on retirement, however. They tend to agree on which investments to own, and when asked what will be their primary source of income, the majority cited workplace savings plans, pensions and Social Security. In addition, most of the men and women surveyed had an equal understanding of investments, particularly workplace plans, bank accounts and individual retirement accounts, noted Jon Skillman, president of Fidelity Investments Life Insurance Co.

However, they didn't have a good grasp on annuities, brokerage accounts or pensions. For instance, among those who own annuities, only about half knew when they would be able to draw down income from them, and less than one-quarter knew how much income their annuity will generate for them in retirement.

Among couples where both people have pensions, nearly 70% of both men and women knew when they would be able to draw from their own pension, but only 60% of men and 37% of women said they knew when they would be able to draw from their spouse's pension. As to what will be their primary source of income during retirement, they were again at odds on which would be top of the list.

Asked about what financial issues concern them the most about retirement, 70% agreed that healthcare is a major concern, with 47% citing it as their biggest worry. Nonetheless, only 23% had bought long-term care insurance or a similar product to allay these fears. Other issues they cited were inflation and reduced Social Security benefits.

Not surprisingly, older couples surveyed are more prepared for retirement, but increasingly, younger people are beginning to think about retirement. When people get within five years of retirement, they begin to delve into more details of where income is going to come from and how and what to do if they don't have enough, Atkin said.

Recently, MainStay Investments, the retail arm of New York Life Investment Management, conducted an "Across Generations Survey" that found that affluent married couples are generally in agreement on financial goals and how to achieve them, but the result still suggests a lack of communication among couples.

MainStay interviewed 1,500 men and women between the ages of 27 and 83 who had minimum household assets of $250,000. That survey found that 81% of married women believe they share equal decisions about financial planning with their spouse, but only 44% of men believe they do, and 56% of men think they make most of these decisions on their own. Still, 68% said they agree on their financial goals and how to go about achieving them.

"Married couples often believe they are on the same page when it comes to financial goals, but when advisers start to talk with them individually, it is apparent that they are often carrying different playbooks altogether," said Mike Coffey, managing director at MainStay.

"It is the adviser's obligation to get the husband and wife together in the same room and mentally on the same page," Coffey added. Seventy-three percent of couples said they meet with their adviser together. Also, 58% of men and 63% of women agree that they would seek advice from a financial adviser when preparing for retirement.

Advisers should also be mindful that they may need to use various communication strategies as women tend to be more methodical and men act on instinct rather then consensus, Coffey said.

Fidelity encourages advisers to work with both husband and wife and to interact with both, Atkin said. Fifty-eight percent of couples failed to give matching answers when asked who their spouse would turn to for financial guidance in the event of their death, and an adviser could be beneficial in that situation.

"It can be hard to overcome inertia and think about retirement," Atkin said. It's like putting together a picture album of all the photos you have collected over the past 30 years. It's a hard thing to do, he said.

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

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