In most households, there is one spouse who handles financial matters- paying bills, filing tax returns, planning retirement income. While division of labor might be great, there could be problems if the “non-financial” spouse is the survivor- he or she might be easy prey for those who try to sell inappropriate investments or insurance policies, or might be a victim of out-and-out theft. There is a solution, but it requires work while both spouses are alive. A technique I have used is to create a notebook with important information:

  • what bills must be paid, and how are they paid
  • what are the sources of income- pensions, retirement plans, Social Security- and how is that income received
  • where are the financial assets located, and who is the contact for each of them
  • if there are business interests, how are they owned; are there agreements among the owners; what are the buyout arrangements
  • is there life insurance on either spouse
  • are there debts, such as a home mortgage
  • what “things” need to be done during the year, such as home and auto maintenance
  • whom should the survivor contact at the decedent’s place of employment
  • is there a trusted advisor the survivor can consult if there are other questions

Maybe we should view this as a fire drill: a run-through of what happens if something bad happens. Add to that a statement of what the survivor could or should do- what is the plan for the retirement years, including living arrangements and the withdrawal of assets from various accounts. One spouse might have a clear idea of what to do, but unless both spouses discuss and understand it, that won’t be enough. It’s important to enjoy the later years in life to the extent you can, but you need to plan for several futures.