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3 Steps to Help Couples Find Retirement Bliss

As Valentine's Day nears, here's how to make money harmony

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Voya Retirement Coach Marilyn Timbers is a financial adviser with Voya Financial Advisors. A certified financial planner and certified divorce financial analyst, she serves on the Women Advisors' Network Board at Voya Financial.

As heart-shaped candies and bouquets of flowers are filling store windows, we tend to instinctively stop and reflect on that special person in our lives. Couples in their 50s and 60s may contemplate their future together after they’ve stopped working full time. But they often don’t take the time to think about how they’ll make those dreams come true – namely, how they’ll retire together.
 
While talking about money issues, like budgeting or planning for retirement, certainly won’t be the punchline of a Hallmark card, it’s arguably one of the most important aspects of maintaining a healthy relationship. By discussing these matters now, couples can avoid conflicts in retirement.
 
(MORE: The Retirement Talk Couples Need to Have Now!)

So this Valentine’s Day, don’t just give each other gifts. Take time to communicate with your partner about your finances  — past, present and future. Below are three steps to do this.
 
Step 1:  Let’s Talk Money Histories
 
As you and your partner are preparing for retirement, revisit conversations about saving that you may not have thought about since your newlywed days. Begin by sharing what your experience with money was like when you were young. The results of this simple, straightforward exercise might surprise you.
 
Were you raised in a family of risk takers and your spouse in a household of savers? Did either of your families experience financial hardships or windfalls? These types of histories offer a glimpse into our engrained financial habits and are good predictors of money expectations and practices in the future. By understanding where each of you comes from, you’ll be better prepared to have productive discussions about where you’re going.
 
You should also talk about any money skeletons in your closets. While not the most romantic of topics, it’s important to remember that your “for better or for worse” marital pledge may include living with past questionable financial decisions.
 
(MORE: Couples Disagree on Money and Retirement Plans)
 
This would be the time to come clean about credit card debt, risky investments or your dipping into retirement savings. A candid conversation can help shed light on where you both stand in terms of savings and retirement readiness, since nothing will ruin retirement faster than an unexpected financial burden.
 
Step 2:  Let’s Take Stock…
 
Once you’ve talked about your financial histories, have a chat about your current financial picture. This time of year is especially apt for it. You’re already pulling together your records to file your 2013 tax return.
 
Which resources do you have to help live out a happy retirement together? How much have you saved? Have you planned adequately for potential health costs or long-term care bills? What do you expect to be your sources of income after you’ve both stopped working full-time?
 
Take a close look at where you both are in the savings game — and where you want to be in the next 10 to 20 years.
 
(MORE: Housework Creates Dustups for Retired Couples)
 
The next part of this taking-stock talk — estate planning — is one that couples tend to avoid, but also one that gets more important as we age. The sad reality is that either you or your partner will likely pass away before the other, possibly suddenly. That’s why you should have a frank discussion about your inheritances and then work with a financial adviser to put your wishes into place.
 
Make sure you both know where all your important financial documents are stored and where your household’s financial accounts are held. 
 
Lastly, consider the financial impact of each of you becoming suddenly single and whether you may need life insurance to help cover final expenses, debts or income needs.
 
Step 3:  Now Let’s Enjoy It!
 
Once you and your partner have sorted through your financial past and present, you get to start the fun part: planning what you want retirement to look like.
 
Have an open dialogue about your dreams. Where in the world do you want to live? Will you become serious travelers? Will you take up a new hobby? Volunteer? Understanding what you and your partner aspire to do (and to be) in retirement will also help set a barometer for what’s financially realistic.
 
You might be surprised to learn that your partner would like to tour Europe, while you want to spend time at home or with your children and grandchildren. Perhaps you’ve discussed that you’d like to retire in a warm climate, but haven’t determined whether that means Florida or the Greek Isles.
 
If your visions are slightly (or very) different, what better way to show your partner you care this Valentine’s Day than finding a compromise?
 
Make each of your visions clear, understand them in the context of your retirement income and get on the same page. That will go a long way in securing a happily-ever-after retirement.

 
Securities and Investment advisory services offered through ING Financial Partners, Member SIPC. Neither ING Financial Partners nor its representatives offer tax advice.