At the altar, you make hopeful and sincere vows to love and cherish each other until death do you part. Your goals for your long and successful marriage include many milestones: opening your first joint savings account, buying your first home, having a child, getting a dog for your child, having another child … another dog … travel and adventure … planning a comfortable retirement. Then, out of nowhere, you get an unexpected and devastating phone call. Your spouse of 15 years has dropped dead of a heart attack. An emotionally jolting, dark cloud descends.
As you start to pick up the pieces of your life and shield your children from the unknown, the financial setback of your loss begins to set in. You remember your spouse had a life insurance policy, but can’t remember the name of the insurance company or where the policy is located. While your life turns upside down both emotionally and financially, you turn the house upside down to find the vital information you need to move on. Where is the list of usernames and passwords for your bank accounts and investments? What is the name of the financial planner we saw? Are the titles for the cars and deed to the house in the safe-deposit box? Where are the keys to the safe-deposit box? If only you had sat down together to get organized.
It makes you think: What vows do you promise to keep if death does part you and your spouse?
Imagine your bank froze your assets because the only person with the combination to the vault had died. Incredibly, in a widely reported case earlier this year, the wife of the CEO and co-founder of a Canadian crypto-currency exchange, along with the company’s investors, found themselves in exactly that position. This CEO, who died unexpectedly while traveling in India, was the sole keeper of the password to accounts valued at $190M. Forced to file for creditor protection with the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia, his widow said his death left the company unable to access the bulk of its crypto-currency funds.
As unpleasant as it may be to think about, and as difficult as it may seem to find an extra hour together, organizing your family’s financial life will benefit you now and in the future
While your individual portfolio might not include crypto-currency investments, this is a cautionary tale for every married couple. Complete transparency during the marriage is key to not leaving your family in the lurch. As unpleasant as it may be to think about, and as difficult as it may seem to find an extra hour together, organizing your family’s financial life will benefit you now and in the future. It is a way for you to minimize the financial agony your spouse and children may face after your death. It may also prompt important financial discussions to have now with your partner, as uncomfortable or unromantic as they may seem at first. At the very least, this process will give you a clear picture of your financial well-being.
Dozens of workbooks and resources are available in print and online. No matter which one you select, this process will educate both you and your spouse about each other’s finances and records. Start by compiling a complete list of passwords. Take some extra time while you’re focused to identify all your assets and liabilities (those in your name, your spouse’s name, jointly held), and note when and how these assets were acquired. List your family’s insurance coverage (medical, dental, property, auto, life, umbrella) and take steps to fill in any coverage gaps you may find. Talk about making an estate plan if you haven’t already, or updating the one you have, including advance medical directives for each of you.
While all of this may take you away from Sunday football or Tuesday night Real Housewives, consider the long-term benefits that your short-term sacrifice will have for those you love and cherish.