Valentine's Day, time for soul mates to talk about ... money

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If you really want to say "I love you" to your sweetheart on Valentine's Day, you'll talk about where your financial documents are stored, whether beneficiary designations are up to date, what strategies you can use at work to maximize your savings and your vision for what your retirement might look like. That's the advice offered by the latest survey report from Fidelity Investments -- or should I say "Dear Fidelity"?

Fidelity's survey shows that large numbers of couples don't agree on where important financial documents are stored, who the primary beneficiary on life insurance policies should be and how much they'll need to work in their retirement years. Roughly four in 10 couples disagree on the lifestyle they want to lead in retirement.

Fidelity recommends talking to your spouse or partner about the following issues:

  • The equality of handling your finances. Your financial responsibilities should be roughly equal, so that either one of you could take over if necessary.
  • The appropriate beneficiaries for life insurance and brokerage accounts. You should discuss and agree on this and know where these documents are located.
  • 401(k) and IRAs for both partners. It's important that you both do what you can to maximize your savings opportunities with these investment vehicles.
  • Retirement lifestyle. You should have a shared vision of what your retirement will look like.

If you're stumped about what to talk about at your romantic Valentine's Day dinner, check out Fidelity's suggestions about how to start the conversation concerning these important financial matters. The tips are divided into generational topics for boomers, Gen X and Gen Y. And if you really want to turn on the charm, you might bring your computer tablet so that together you can take the nine-question quiz to see how compatible you and your sweetie are when it comes to financial matters.

You may be smiling right now, but this is a truly serious topic. The recent Fidelity report is just the latest in a string of studies showing that American families don't spend much time discussing important financial matters, and that's a serious mistake. Merrill Lynch recently published an excellent report discussing the significant benefits families realize when they discuss important matters, such as retirement security and long-term care. One important finding was that people who discuss these matters with family members feel much more confident about their future.

Genworth Financial, a leading company in long-term care insurance, offers a "Let's Talk" program to encourage family members to discuss caring for older relatives. A few years ago, AARP launched its Conversation Project to encourage family members to talk about end-of-life care. I can personally attest to the value of having these conversations, given my and my wife's experiences with our parents.

Buying flowers and chocolate, and taking your sweetheart to dinner are easy ways to show your love. And by all means, don't forget to do them! But who ever said love is easy? Show you really care by doing the hard stuff. This Valentine's Day, start the conversations.

OK, maybe the topic might be better discussed the day after your romantic dinner, but don't forget or chicken out! Your future depends on it.

  • Steve Vernon On Twitter»

    View all articles by Steve Vernon on CBS MoneyWatch»
    Steve Vernon helped large employers design and manage their retirement programs for more than 35 years as a consulting actuary. Now he's a research scholar for the Stanford Center on Longevity, where he helps collect, direct and disseminate research that will improve the financial security of seniors. He's also president of Rest-of-Life Communications, delivers retirement planning workshops and authored Money for Life: Turn Your IRA and 401(k) Into a Lifetime Retirement Paycheck and Recession-Proof Your Retirement Years.

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