How to Be Money Smart -- Even If You Want Your Partner to Manage the Finances

April 23, 2015

Working with both husbands and widows throughout the years, I’ve learned it's not uncommon for women to rely on their partner when it comes to money management.  I also know, as a woman and a working mother, it's hard to get motivated to do something I find intimidating -- for me that's anything related to my car, for others it might be investing or planning financially for the unexpected.

Over the years, I’ve had husbands approach me asking how they can get their wives more engaged with their finances and, on the flip side, widows telling me how ill-prepared they were for the absence of their husband. The loss of a spouse is hard enough emotionally, but when you compound it with being unprepared or unsure of what to do financially, the results can be devastating.

What I tell clients is if a woman prefers to hand over the financial reigns to her husband, and if you do certain things together to prepare ahead of time, you can still have the best of both worlds. She can focus on the other things she enjoys in life (and still feel prepared for the unexpected), all the while he can feel comfortable that she will be taken care of upon his passing.

Some of my hot button to-do’s include:

1) Work together to gather your records and create a filing system that would be easy for you to get to if something were to happen to either of you.

Recommended items to include:

  • Birth and marriage certificates, social security cards and military discharge papers
  • “Net Worth Statement” or something that illustrates all savings and investment accounts as well as a listing of any money that is owed. An easy way to include all account numbers and contact information is to attach a copy of any of your account statements.
  • A “Money Flow Statement” or a statement that shows what money you have coming in and what bills are being paid out. (This will go a long way when it comes to determining if all bills have been paid.)
  • Contact information for any of your financial professionals including your current employer(s), your financial advisor, tax preparer, insurance agent and attorney, to name a few.
  • Your tax documents and any online log-in ID’s that your spouse could be in need of.

2) Go through the estate planning process together.

Regardless of how much or how little you feel like you own, consider having an estate attorney review your situation for areas that need to be addressed. This includes creating legal documents that will be invaluable if you or your spouse ever become unable to make your own decisions about your healthcare or your money.

3) Establish a savings stash.

This should be easy for you to get to quickly if needed and ideally would cover several months of living expenses.

4) Have a trusted confidant lined up.

This should be someone reliable who can help sort through things if that day comes. For many of my clients, that’s been a brother, a son or another family member that she can trust.

5) Establish an understanding about your financial path together.

Finally, and one of the most enduring things that I’ve seen a husband client do, is to write a letter to his wife. The one that touched me the most was a letter that, although this particular wife did have financial professionals she could trust, was there to help her understand what we had been working on together in the years prior to his passing and more importantly why.  I was so moved by this and how much easier her transition seemed to be as she felt that with this letter a part of her husband remained there, sitting on her shoulder providing her guidance and maybe even more importantly, emotional support.

This post was written for Money Smart Week by Wendi Strom, a Wealth Manager and CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ at Renaissance Wealth Management in Englewood, Colorado. A lifelong champion for investment literacy and women’s financial security, Wendi currently co-chairs the Pro Bono Committee of the Financial Planning Association of Colorado.  Securities and financial planning offered through LPL Financial, a Registered Investment Advisor. Member FINRA/SIPC