What happens when you suddenly find yourself in charge of your retirement finances without the benefit of having much experience on the subject matter? I’ve seen this many times, and it is avoidable, with some planning. In my practice, I encourage couples to treat retirement as a joint venture. That’s a new experience for couples who, like most I know, haven’t thought about the “Gosh, I’m suddenly in charge of the family finances” risk.

Here is the reality: Sooner or later, a partner is unexpectedly left on his or her own to figure out a financial situation that is complicated and possibly overwhelming — retirement finances being the biggie. For anyone in this situation — meaning, having done no preparation — the temptation is to look for help, perhaps from a lawyer, accountant or a financial adviser, or a relative or friend.

That can work, if you are lucky enough to have skilled and ethical advisers to choose from. I’ve seen people go down this path and never find their bearings; the danger lies in creating a dependency. To be effective, the help has to be short-term and focused on specific outcomes that lead to strength — sound, independent decision-making strength.