President's Blog - The Family Dynamic of Retirees


There are many advantages – financial and emotional – to marriage. There are many advantages – more emotional than financial – to having children.

In both cases, one of the prime advantages is having someone in your life on a relatively permanent basis. While those relationships carry some weight over time, they are hugely beneficial when it comes time to retire.

Retirement means different things to different people, but for retirees with enough money to live comfortably in retirement, it means travel and extended time with family and friends. Married retirees get to take trips to those places they never went to before, and retirees with children often get to spend free time with their children’s children, namely, the grandkids.

These aspects of retirement are considered positive, and are certainly missing for retirees who do not have spouses, children or grandchildren. They are also aspects of an investor’s life that advisors must be aware of in order to properly address their financial concerns leading to retirement as well as into retirement. 

Spectrem’s new study on the life of retirees, Financial Wellness in Retirement, indicates just how strong is the effect of having family in your life when you retire.

To begin, family determines when you retire. If you have no spouse or children, you retire when you are ready financially and emotionally and there are no other factors. Family changes that dynamic: is your wife still working, do the kids need anything more from you financially, are the grandkids a factor? Family adds half a dozen pressures on the retirement decision that retirees without family do not have.

Having a spouse plays a huge role in decisions related to Social Security, especially if the spouse also worked and has Social Security benefits coming. The complexities of Social Security are highest when a married couple prepares to take benefits, and wise retirees will consult a professional advisor or accountant to determine the best path to take.  

Having a spouse also plays a significant role in terms of medical spending and savings. If both members of a married couple reach an age where medical concerns outweigh all other concerns which can negatively affect finances in retirement. Preparing for the eventual health concerns of two people is twice as complicated as preparing for the eventual health concerns of just a single retiree. According to the Spectrem study, worries over one’s own health and the health of a spouse are the two biggest worries for investors in retirement, much greater than any financial concern related to investments or savings. 

There are also advantages to having a spouse to bounce ideas off of. According to the Spectrem study, the spouse was the most helpful human for retirees planning for retirement, more so than a financial advisor or other family members. 

The issues related to the next generation are also complex, and retirees who do not have children do not have those concerns.

The least of their worries, albeit one that takes a great deal of time, is passing along the wealth investors have accrued. When there are multiple children, and those children have their own children, a wealthy retiree can spend significant time planning a wealth transfer.

“This has been more of a worry lately; how to pass what money we are going to have on to our kids without them being taxed heavily,’’ said one investor in interviews related to the Financial Wellness in Retirement report.

Finally, family members play a monstrous role in deciding how a retiree is going to live once it is determined they cannot live alone any longer due to reduced capacity of some sort. Are family members going to be nearby to help a retiree maintain his or her own home? Will they help make a decision on other living arraignments such as continual care or a nursing home facility? Will they play any role in the care of an aging retiree?

Advisors need to have a comprehensive and detailed understanding of how an investor’s family is going to affect present and future decision-making. Quite frankly, investors with fewer family members are easier to deal with from an advisory standpoint. Those with a sizable family have a greater safety net upon which to depend, but also can have a complicated financial future that advisors can help with.