Retirement checklist for couples

To get started with retirement planning, it’s helpful to think in terms of a checklist.

A mature couple at home sitting at a table looking over a spreadsheet.

Preparing for retirement checklist

You and your spouse may be wondering how much a married couple should have for retirement. If you’re concerned about managing your cash flow, here are a few retirement considerations that might help:

1. Prepare for the long run

If you retire at 65 and live until you’re 100, are you prepared to take advantage of the next 35 years of life? You and your spouse should have open and honest conversations about your retirement goals and expectations, including where you may want to live, how you plan to spend your time, and what dreams or passions you want to fulfill during your retirement. Then consider how you’re going to manage a fulfilling retirement financially. Striking a balance between your aspirations and your financial capacity is possible with a little planning.

2. Plan to maximize Social Security benefits together

Married couples have a few added advantages when deciding how and when to claim Social Security benefits. While the basic rules apply to everyone, a couple has more options than a single person because you and your spouse can claim at different dates and may be eligible for spousal benefits. This is important, especially if you want to ensure that the surviving spouse receives the highest possible Social Security income. This can also help you increase the likelihood that your other assets will last longer in retirement. When making the choice about claiming your benefits, remember to consider how long you may live, if you’re financially able to defer benefits, and the impact the decision of when to take benefits may have on your survivors.

3. Make a budget

Retirement budgeting is about figuring out your postretirement income and calculating your daily household costs and discretionary expenses. Taking this approach helps you avoid financial pitfalls and increases your chances for a more enjoyable and worry-free retirement. The bottom line is to get an idea of what a good retirement income is for you, so you can plan effectively and ensure that you have what you need to cover basic expenses. Most people realize, after examining their current expenses, that they’ll need about 70% to 80% of what they customarily spend before retiring in order to maintain their lifestyle. While averages and rules of thumb can get you started, relying on your personal circumstances is the smartest way to plan for  your personal situation. If you’re still not sure how to get started, a financial professional can help.

4. Create an estate plan

The first step in developing an estate plan is to take stock of all your assets. This includes investments, retirement accounts, insurance policies, real estate, business interests, and valuable items like jewelry and cars. Next, you’ll decide what you want to achieve with those assets and who you want to inherit them. This is also a time to think about the person (or people) you’d trust to handle your business and medical affairs if you were no longer able to do so because of injury or illness. After you both make these decisions, you should discuss your plans with your heirs. It’s also a good idea to work with a financial professional and an attorney when drawing up your estate plan.

5. Decide whether to downsize

This is an issue that many pre-retirees are considering, and the right decision depends on your personal circumstances. If you’re considering downsizing, it’s important to weigh the pros and cons carefully and make the decision that’s best for you both. Here are some things to consider:

  • Finances – Will you have enough money to cover your housing costs and other expenses once you retire? If you have equity in your existing home, would you be able to use it to purchase a smaller home and have enough left over to add to your retirement savings?
  • Lifestyle – Will you need a lot of space for hobbies and other activities, such as entertaining guests? Or will you be paying for and maintaining extra rooms you might no longer need? This will influence whether downsizing to a new home is the best decision for you. It’s important to think about how much space you’ll need.
  • Health – Do you need assistance with mobility and various tasks? Will it be difficult to maintain a large home? If so, a smaller home may work better for you, especially if it’s in a retirement community with accessibility options. Some retirement communities may offer assisted living services, too. But bear in mind that retirement communities can be expensive.
  • Emotional attachment – Ask yourself how emotionally attached you are to your current home. Are you willing to let go of the familiar space and many of your belongings? If you move to a smaller home, remember that you give up a lot more than space. You’ll have to be sure that moving to a smaller home makes sense financially and physically.
  • Family members – If you currently live close to family, your connections may become a little harder to maintain if you move farther away. But if downsizing allows you to move closer to loved ones, it may be a better option for you and your spouse.

6. Name your beneficiaries

Most investment and savings plans allow you to designate beneficiaries in case of your death. Naming beneficiaries allows you to predetermine who’ll receive the death benefits of your life insurance policy, trust, 401(k), IRA, or employer-sponsored retirement plan.

You can name a living person, a trust, your estate, or any combination of these options. You and your spouse should periodically review and keep all of your beneficiary designations up to date, because significant life events, such as a marriage, a divorce, a birth, an adoption, or a death in the family, can change your perspective on who gets what.

7. Get life insurance

Prioritizing life insurance in retirement, may not be at the top of your list, especially if you’re financially stable, but it’s something you should consider, even if you’ve paid off the mortgage or have savings for your spouse to live on. Here are a few reasons why you may need life insurance after retirement: to support dependent children or grandchildren, to cover final expenses, to leave an inheritance for loved ones, to pay estate taxes so your loved ones won’t have to, to help pay for your children’s or grandchildren’s education, to leave a meaningful charitable gift, or to access the cash value of your life insurance policy to supplement your income.[1]

Your life insurance options will depend on your budget, age, and coverage needs. Consult a financial professional to help you determine what would be the best life insurance policy for you and your spouse.

8. Consider extended care

Most people approaching retirement recognize that medical care expenses may grow during their later years, but many people don’t include long-term care needs in their retirement planning conversation. If you need some type of long-term care in the future, will your spouse or other loved ones be able to manage your care? The costs of long-term care services could pose more of a threat to your retirement savings than market risk, but there are ways for you to prepare by asking yourself these questions about your future care needs: Who will provide the care, where will care be provided, and how will you pay for care?

9. Ensure that you’re financially liquid and flexible

The savings strategy you’ve been following during the accumulation stage may not be the optimal one after retirement. Since you’ll be partly dependent on these assets going forward, it’s wise to consider taking a more conservative approach. In addition, consider how you can make those assets a little more liquid and flexible, just in case you need them unexpectedly.

10. Choose when to retire

A lot of people are realizing that, even with all the preparing, saving, and investing they’ve done for retirement, they may still need to work just a little longer, or start a second career doing something they’ve always wanted to do.

Once you’ve considered these options, you may need some help in determining the best course of action. A New York Life financial professional is ready to help you explore options for your insurance and retirement needs and decide what’s best for you and your spouse. 


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1Accessing cash value will reduce the death benefit and available cash surrender value.