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Frank conversations with your spouse

Created date

December 22nd, 2014

The death of a spouse undoubtedly brings emotional turmoil, and for many, it also has financial repercussions. A recent New York Life ( survey of 897 widows and widowers revealed that 55% of widows and 34% of widowers had to adjust to a change in income, and 38% of widows and 24% of widowers had to cut discretionary spending. 

“These insights should serve as a lesson for couples: there are actions that can be taken now to alleviate the future financial burden that comes with a loss,” says Chris Blunt, copresident of the Insurance and Agency Group, New York Life.

Here are six conversations you should have with your spouse to reduce the risk that one of you experiences financial hardship after the other passes away. 

1. Do we have enough income? Mark Triplett, president of Mature Markets at AMZ Financial Insurance Services (, says many retirees rely on social security for about half of their income needs. When one spouse dies, the surviving spouse will lose one of the benefit checks, which could make it difficult to cover fixed expenses. If you have a pension, make sure the survivor benefits are adequate to maintain the surviving spouse’s lifestyle. Consider adding life insurance or annuities to your financial plan to account for loss of income when one partner dies.

2. Can we afford to indulge? Some retirees err on the side of caution. Triplett says many widows and widowers regret not having enjoyed life more with their deceased spouse. “Too many couples are held hostage by the fear of running out of money, but they don’t have to worry,” he says. Spend your hard-earned money where it counts to enjoy your retirement to the fullest.

3. Do we have the right living arrangements? New Jersey financial planner Nick Ventura ( says a couple may be able to maintain a property together, but it could be too difficult for one person. He says to explore alternative housing arrangements before you are forced to make the decision.

4. How do the bills get paid? Typically, one spouse takes charge of the household finances, which can be disastrous for the survivor who’s in the dark. Texas financial planner Gary Silverman ( says the household money manager needs to actually “train” the other spouse to handle the finances. “Just having them know what you are doing is not enough,” Silverman says. “They need to actually do the task and then periodically take it over so that they keep up the skills they’ve learned.”

5. What are our passwords? Increasingly, financial accounts are managed online. That means a surviving spouse won’t even be able to access accounts without the log-ins and passwords. Economist Lisa Kaess ( says to keep online account information in a secure place—but tell your spouse where it is.

6. What are your end-of-life wishes? Kaess says it’s important to have a medical directive or living will for many reasons, not least of which is financial. “People talk about death, but what if you are incapacitated or in a coma—remember, many expenses are not covered and nest eggs can be devastated,” she says.