Mon. Dec 4th, 2023

In last week’s column, “ ‘Sudden’ Situation Can Put Retirement Finances At Risk,” I promised to offer advice to couples where one spouse was not able to take charge of retirement investing if need be, due to spousal incapacity or death.

This is how a reader I’ll call “Anna” put it: “I definitely fall into this category [of needing advice]. I am 67 years of age and my husband has been managing all of the investments up to this point. I really don’t have the knowledge, skills and ability — math has always been my biggest weakness!”

Anna and her husband, whom I’ll call “Bob,” would benefit from viewing retirement as a “joint venture” between spouses.

Here is the path to go forward.

First, a reframe: One has to accept that a change is necessary. The best way to do that is to state the obvious.

Anna acknowledges that she defers to Bob on things financial. She goes further by stating an interest in learning what it takes to increase her knowledge. And, she asks: What would Bob suggest?

Without Anna coming forward with an inquiry statement, someone in Bob’s position could assume a lack of interest on Anna’s part. It’s Anna’s job to initiate. It’s Bob’s job to be open to discussion.

Bob could begin with one very simple, very important retirement planning baseline: the retirement income gap.

In three easy steps, he would review:

1) Retirement spending

2) Retirement income from Social Security and pensions

3) The difference between those two figures, and whether there is a gap that needs to be filled from investments.

Knowledge of the gap is the foundational piece of information that leads to achieving retirement security.

This straightforward review would give Anna a start in understanding one important goal of a retirement portfolio — how to fill the gap.

Every investment decision flows from this base of knowledge — and it doesn’t take serious study. Even if you, like Anna, don’t care for math, you can do this work.

If you do this review, you will (hopefully) be better able to move on to discuss the investment strategy, how to stay informed of progress, and what to expect of financial professionals who may be an important part of the team.

While this is not the case for all families, couples should keep in mind that it’s usually — but not always — the wife who finds herself in the “suddenly” situation. As I mentioned a few weeks ago, the National Center for Health Statistics found that through the first half of 2020, the average life expectancy at birth for males was 75.1 years, which was 5.4 years less than for females (

As the Department of Labor pointed out for married women in its report “Taking the Mystery Out of Retirement Planning” (, “When preparing for retirement, you face the very real possibility of spending part of your retirement without your spouse’s financial support — most likely through widowhood.”

Well before you join the ranks of the suddenly single, consider this shift in thinking (and doing) on the part of both spouses/partners. Once you realize that both spouses would benefit from jointly being involved in retirement finances, it’s easy to start a review of the retirement income gap.

I’ll be writing more about this topic in future columns.

Julie Jason, JD, LLM, a personal money manager (Jackson, Grant of Stamford) and author, welcomes your questions/comments ( Her awards include the 2020 Clarion Award, symbolizing excellence in clear, concise communications. Her latest book, a curated collection of Julie’s columns, is “Retire Securely: Insights on Money Management From an Award-Winning Financial Columnist.” To hear Julie speak, visit

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