While couples are saving for retirement, they don’t seem to be discussing their retirement goals, according to a new survey by Fidelity Investments.

The study also found that wives are less involved or not as knowledgeable about their retirement finances – a dangerous trend given that women often live longer than men and tend to be responsible for caring for their children and parents.

According to Fidelity’s Couples Retirement Study released on Wednesday, couples are struggling to communicate with each other about the planning and management of their retirement finances.

The study, which was conducted in May 2011, reveals that just 41% of couples jointly handle investment decisions for retirement savings. Meanwhile, only 17% of couples are totally confident that their spouse is prepared to assume responsibility of their joint retirement finances, if need be. At the same time, 62% of couples near retirement don’t agree on their expected retirement ages and 47% don’t agree on whether they will continue to work in retirement. Seventy-three percent of couples disagree on whether they have completed a detailed retirement income plan

“Millions of American couples have worked very hard to save for retirement. However, far too many don't take the time, or have the comfort level, to jointly discuss their plans for the future,” said Kathleen A. Murphy, president of Personal Investing at Fidelity, in a press release. “To ensure alignment between spouses, and the best course of action, couples should sit down long before they retire to discuss key financial topics, such as when they plan to retire, where they want to live, whether they plan to work and what lifestyle they hope to enjoy.”

The study also showed that only 35% of wives said they felt comfortable assuming responsibility over their household retirement finances if necessary, compared to 72% of husbands. Meanwhile, just 8% of wives report they are the primary retirement financial decision-maker in their household, compared to 37% of husbands. At the same time, less than 15% of wives consider themselves to be the “primary contact” with their investment professional, compared to 40% of husbands.

Wives in the survey also tended to be less aware of retirement topics than husbands. When asked how much income they expect to generate monthly in retirement, 32% of wives didn’t know, compared to 15% of husbands.

Wives also tend to have a lower risk tolerance and invest less aggressively than husbands.

Fidelity suggests that couples should know where important documents are kept and what they would need to do if their spouse can no longer assist with financial decision-making.

“It’s essential that both husbands and wives have a voice in setting and achieving financial goals and that each is comfortable asking questions and providing input on key decisions,” Murphy said. “This is particularly important for wives because they tend to outlive their husbands and likely will need to manage their finances on their own, or work with an investment professional, later in life.”

Fifty-eight percent of couples work with an investment professional, but only 35% agree they work jointly with their advisor. Fifty-five percent of couples ay they have involved their adult children in planning discussions.  

The 2011 Fidelity Investments Couples Retirement Study surveyed 648 married couples (1,296 individuals), who were at least 46 years old, married and living with their respective spouses and have a minimum household income of $75,000 or at least $100,000 in investable assets. In 2011, 196 retiree couples, where both spouses are retired from their primary occupations, also were represented in the study, which previously included only couples who had not yet entered retirement.


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