Randy W. from Jacksonville, FL asks: In your interactions with clients, do you find that you only work with one decision-maker in the household? Or do you find it important/helpful to always include the spouse? My wife and I are looking to hire a financial advisor, and I’m curious if based on your experience you think it’s easier and more effective to work with just one person?

Mitch’s Response:

Thanks for writing, Randy. There’s definitely not a cut-and-dry answer to your question – just about every couple is different and levels of participation can vary greatly. But what I will say based on my experience is this: I find it most helpful in retirement planning when both husband and wife are involved, and in the case of estate planning, I think it’s very helpful to involve the whole family, i.e., to include the heirs in the discussion. In short, more communication is better than less when it comes to planning.

If your spouse has no interest in financial planning or investing, that’s OK too. In that case, I would suggest in the very least having a thorough discussion that details your retirement wants and goals. Because ultimately, the retirement discussion is largely one of making lifestyle choices: Where do you want to live? What kinds of activities do you want to engage in, whether its travel, sport, memberships, etc…? What kind of monthly passive income do you want? What do you want your legacy to be? And so on. Answering those questions generally happens outside of the advisor’s office, and are ultimately decided by you and your family.

After that, I’d try to encourage your spouse to at least participate in one meeting a year, to track your progress and be made aware of how the plan is working. I also think it’s important for the spouse to know the advisor and to feel comfortable contacting him/her at any time. Not to be morbid, but in the event that something happens to you, I think it’s imperative that your partner and/or kids know who to contact to make sure that your financial house remains in order. Establishing that point of contact early-on in the relationship with the advisor is crucial, in my opinion.

For the spouses who want to be involved in the planning process, I think that’s a wonderful thing and that the advisor should make it a point to have joint calls with everyone present and for meetings to always include both parties and other family members that are part of the plan. The advising experience should be one where everyone feels comfortable communicating and where channels of communication are always open.

Overall, I believe it is important not to delay these very important decisions.

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