Women Need Detailed Knowledge of Family’s Financial Affairs

Investing and Financial Planning

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Women Need Detailed Knowledge of Family’s Financial Affairs


Women Need to Have Detailed Knowledge of Family's Financial Affairs

By Ken Bloom, J.D., LLM


            It's a scenario I see all the time. One spouse seems to be in charge of the family's financial affairs, and the other spouse is only involved on the surface.  Then, when the financially aware spouse passes away, the widow or widower is lost regarding insurances, investments, and other critical financial matters.

And in my experience, it's often the husband who is in charge of the financial responsibilities in the household. Today, it is more important than ever for women to be fully involved in the family finances to ensure that in the event their husband dies, or they get a divorce, they will have the knowledge to continue to make sound financial decisions.   

For many people, their knowledge of financial matters revolves around the checkbook and credit cards.  But if you stop to think about it, there are many more financial details that people need to be aware of to help manage their money and family finances.

Organize All Your Important Financial and Personal Documents So They Are Easy to Access - The first place to start is by gathering all your important financial documents and keeping them easily accessible in the event you need them.  Among the most important financial documents are your recent tax returns because they are the central point for some key information, including your spouse's social security number, W-2 form, and 1099 statements from your bank accounts, mortgage statement, investment accounts and retirement plans.  You should also gather other key financial documents such as insurance policies and credit card accounts. .

You should then gather all your family's other important documents, list them and secure them in a safe place.  These should include marriage licenses, wills, trusts, car titles, deeds, stock certificates or bonds, insurance policies, medical powers of attorney, birth and death certificates and other legal documents.

Inventory Other Important Items in Your Home - You should also inventory all the items in your home that have both sentimental and collectible value, such as photos, family jewelry or heirlooms, antiques, musical instruments, art, stamps and coins. Documenting these items on a video, along with their location, would also be a good idea to assist a surviving spouse or other family member in locating the item and determining its potential sentimental or monetary value.

Keep Documents in Fire-Proof Safe or Safe-Deposit Box - Obviously, it is wise to keep all this information and documents in a fire-resistant home safe or a safe-deposit box.  Keeping financial information only in a file on a computer is always risky, because the computer could crash and you could lose all the information.  For important documents, you should scan them into your computer and then copy them onto a CD and save in fire-proof box or safe deposit box. This provides you with a back-up in case any documents are lost or damaged. 

Develop List of Key Financial, Legal Contacts - You should also develop a list of names and phone numbers of your attorney, accountant, investment advisor, banker, insurance agent, and other important individuals who your spouse may need to contact if you pass away.  Because many families have numerous bank or credit union accounts, you should list the name bank or credit union where you have accounts, each individual account numbers, and who each account is registered under.  For example, if you have children in college, you may have a joint checking account with them to facilitate payment of college costs.  However, one spouse may be on one child's account, and the other spouse may be on a different child's account.  Therefore, knowing as much information as possible for each account can be vital for a surviving spouse.   

Make Sure You Know all the Passwords to Access Financial Information - If you are also using online banking and online access for financial accounts, you need to know how to access those online websites and accounts and have the user name and passwords so you can log in and manage the accounts.  

If you use a software program such as Quicken or Microsoft Money to manage all your finances, you should know how to access the file on your computer and provide an orientation on how to use the program and what accounts you are managing with the program.

Have a Meeting with Your Husband to Discuss Financial and Estate Planning Matters - As you are organizing your account information and files, it is a good time to discuss all the details of your financial and legal matters with your husband and to agree upon a place to keep all this information and documents so both spouses will have easy access to the information in the event the other one passes away.  In addition, it is also advisable to share this information with people in your family so they can find the information and documents they need in the event that both spouses are deceased. 

You should also talk about your investment portfolio, your financial goals and your investment strategy.  In the event one spouse passes away, the other spouse should understand how your portfolio is doing and the investment decisions they may need to make in the future.  By having this type of discussion on a regular basis, the surviving spouse will be able to work with your financial advisor and make sure that they are still able to meet their financial and retirement goals.   

The old saying, "knowledge is power" is never more true then providing both spouses with information regarding a family's financial and legal matters. It is hard enough for a woman to deal with the loss of a husband or a divorce without having the added burden or trying to determine who to call to claim an insurance policy or retirement benefit or to get information about financial accounts.


Ken Bloom is an attorney and tax expert and a partner in Bloom, Bloom & Associates and Bloom Asset Management in Farmington Hills. For more information, visit his website at www.bloomlawfirm.com.     

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