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Elliot Raphaelson

Elliot Raphaelson

Although the divorce rate of younger couples has been dropping, the National Center for Health Statistics and the U.S. Census Bureau reports that the divorce rate for married people over 50 has doubled, and for those ages 65 and older the rate has approximately tripled since 1990. Some financial planners have specialized in this area and can provide the necessary guidance to families facing this situation.

Dennis Stearns, founder of fee-only Stearns Financial Group in Greensboro, N.C., has focused on this issue for a decade. He has written a comprehensive and concise book, “Fourth Quarter Fumbles: How Successful People Avoid Critical Mistakes Later in Life.”

Couples who read this book will learn what is needed for successful aging, and will learn some insights that could significantly reduce the probability of facing divorce later. Stearns identifies the problems that almost all couples will face in retirement, and he elucidates the factors that are needed for successful aging: a physically active and mentally stimulating lifestyle, strong social engagement, and the purpose and meaning in life.

Going into retirement carries transition risks such as adjusting to lifestyle changes, one partner still working full time, lack of good transition planning, spending problems because of too much free time, boredom and inadequate exercise. Stearns points out that there are additional risks as couples age: Health deteriorates and caregiving issues arise.

Stearns poses a number of key questions for couples to consider, including: What is your vision of an ideal retirement? Do you have a clearly defined financial roadmap for retirement? Are both partners on the same page when it comes to retirement housing or joining a community?

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Once couples agree on a financial roadmap, an attorney, financial planner and insurance agent should be able to work with them to carry out their strategy. It is crucial that couples decide on whether they plan to spend more in retirement on travel and vacations than they have previously. How important is it to leave some of their assets to their children? Couples who agree on these questions before retirement will increase their chances of happiness.

Stearns draws a distinction between “wellness vs. the absence of illness.” According to 2016 EBRI study, 80% of healthy respondents were “very satisfied” after 15 years of retirement, compared to 25% among those who were in poor health. There are many things you can do to ensure a higher quality of life: Eat sensibly; exercise regularly; get enough sleep; exercise your brain regularly (I recommend volunteer work and hobbies that facilitate this). Also, feed your spirit. Regardless of your religion, healthy aging in the fourth quarter benefits from a good spiritual foundation.

Stearn summarizes a few of the key actions to minimize fumbles.

  • Health is your No. 1 asset in life. Focus more on the pursuit of wellness, not just the absence of illness.
  • Explore your “why,” your reason to get out of bed every morning.
  • Nurture your “who” in order to face the challenges of the fourth quarter. You need a team of friends, family and advisers to help you avoid or recover from fumbles.
  • Consciously work on better decision making. Have several friends or family to help you.
  • Sharpen your bounce-back skills. Resiliency is a top predictor of fourth quarter success, and it can be improved.

The bottom line is that all couples will be facing significant issues in the fourth quarter of their lives. By focusing on the issues needed for successful aging in the early stages of retirement, it is much more likely that couples can stay engaged with life, and keep a marriage together.

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Elliot Raphaelson welcomes questions and comments at raphelliot@gmail.com.

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