A medical situation I recently experienced made me realize that if something unexpected and dire happened to me, my husband wouldn’t have a clue how to begin unraveling our finances.
It’s not that I’m keeping things from him. He has just never shown any interest in our financial affairs and has left the reins in my hands for our 31-year marriage. This could be a terrible problem for him and our loved ones if I’m not here someday or become incapacitated.
Preparing for the unexpected together
And if it sounds like your marriage — no matter which spouse couldn’t care less about money matters — it’s essential that you both take steps to prepare for the worst as soon as possible.
In the past, it might have been easier for my husband to figure out our finances. Years ago, all he’d have to do was go to the mailbox to see our bank, investment and credit card statements. But like many households, I’ve turned all our banking and billing online. Problem is: While most of the world is connected, my husband is one of the estimated 13 percent of Americans who don’t regularly use the internet.
It turns out our situation isn’t at all uncommon.
A disaster for some couples
“This is not even a generational thing,” said Mike Pruitt, a certified financial planner with MBE Wealth Management in Madison, Wis. “There is usually one spouse in a relationship that is not interested in the finances.”
It can be, however, disastrous for the spouse or partner who isn’t in the loop should the other spouse or partner die or become incapacitated.
Doris Belland, a financial literary educator and the author of Protect Your Purse, was only 32 when her husband passed away. They both handled the finances of their respective businesses, but he took care of the investments. When he died, she realized she was unprepared to deal with the finances and the $400,000 of debt on his business because she didn’t know much about the family investments.
Belland wishes now that she had discussed more about money with her husband. “Having these types of discussions is not being morose,” said Belland. “It’s about your protection, and when you are prepared, it leads to a more joyful life.”
Advice for couples mismatched about money
Here are some tips for couples where one spouse is begging off dealing with finances:
Prepare a valid will. Belland’s husband didn’t have one, which greatly complicated matters. While preparing a will, you also need to get important papers in order, said Rick Kollauf, director of business advisory at BMO Wealth Management in Milwaukee.
Make sure each of you knows where all your key documents are located. This includes marriage licenses, birth certificates, passports, life insurance policies, and passwords to all your financial accounts. Be certain, too, that both partners have access.
In addition, both spouses should have a list of the household’s financial advisers: attorneys, insurance agents, financial planners and bankers.
Plan a monthly date night to talk about money. These might not be the most exciting dates you’ve ever had with your spouse, but Belland recommends them. Start with the basics and don’t get too complicated.
“Look at what comes in and what goes out and put all the bills on the table and add in your discretionary income,” said Pruitt. “It all starts with both understanding the basics and making cash flow decisions together.”
Move on to a conversation about insurance and investments. When there is a comfort level with the basics, move on to helping your spouse understand insurance and investment portfolios. “We can assume one partner is better at it, but it’s amazing what the other partner can learn,” Belland said.
Analyze the rest of your assets. Don’t overlook reviewing the value and financial documents for things like real estate, vehicles and any collections.
Create a plan for ‘what if.’ Pruitt said, “A plan is essential, but it is just a piece of paper.”
Bring a financial adviser into the picture. If one of you works with a financial adviser, the other should meet him or her. And if neither of you has a money pro, you might want to get one. Be sure the person you hire is what’s known as a fiduciary, who is supposed to put your interests first. “This still isn’t a guarantee that you won’t fall into the wrong hands, but at least it gives you more legal recourse,” said Pruitt.
The adviser can also help the spouse who isn’t interested in money become more comfortable with the topic. “It’s my job to help the spouse breathe easier, not to sell them something,” said Scott Thoma, an investment strategist for Edward Jones in St. Louis.
Hmmm. I foresee a romantic date night with my husband with the flicker of the computer screen, a spread of numbers and a couple of glasses of wine.
Kerri Fivecoat-Campbell is a freelance writer whose work has appeared on Forbes.com, AOL.com, Mainstreet.com, Creditcards.com, Bankrate.com and elsewhere.
This story originally appeared on NextAvenue.org.