Financial professionals, though, say ignoring the eventuality of death is unwise when it comes to a couple’s decisions about retirement and money.
“The decisions you make today can affect your spouse’s financial situation after you pass away,” says Peter Bombara, CEO and founder of PCB Financial Advisory Group (www.pcbfinancial.com).
“A lot of people aren’t comfortable talking about the subject because they don’t want to think about their husband or wife dying. But you have choices to make about your pension, your Social Security and your investments, and the implications of your choices will have a lasting impact on your surviving spouse.”
For example, both a monthly pension payment and a monthly Social Security payment could disappear essentially overnight, leaving the survivor to struggle with a drastically reduced income.
Bombara says couples, especially those nearing retirement, should:
• Consider pension options carefully. Not everyone has a pension any more, but those who do may have a few options available to them. A pension pays a set monthly amount for the rest of the person’s life. But often there is a survivor benefit that allows the person’s surviving spouse to continue to receive a check after the pensioner dies. Choosing the survivor’s benefit, though, means the pensioner receives a reduced amount while alive. “Some people choose the highest dollar amount so they have the most money coming in each month,” Bombara says. “But if they choose the largest amount, their spouse gets nothing when they die.”
• Weigh Social Security decisions. A surviving spouse can be eligible for their deceased partner’s full Social Security benefit, but when they claim that benefit is a major factor in how large those monthly checks are. For example, a surviving spouse can qualify for reduced benefits as early as age 60, but they can get full benefits if they are at their full retirement age.
• Seek professional advice if you’re confused. A financial professional can help you better understand the options available for both your pension and your Social Security. A professional also can provide advice on how to manage your assets so that the surviving spouse is in better shape to handle a potential drop in income.
“Most people want their spouse to do well financially after they pass away,” Bombara says. “So, as unpleasant as the conversation might seem, they really do need to talk about the money situation and make sure they have a good plan in place.”