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Ignorance is Not Bliss in the Case of Financial Affairs

It’s frequently the case that when people get married one partner takes the lead on financial matters.  Issues such as financial investments, life insurance, filing taxes, and planning for retirement are handled by one spouse.  Often, the other spouse is more than happy not to deal with these things.  However, contrary to the old saying, ignorance is NOT bliss.  With the permission of my client, below is a copy of a letter I received that addresses how important it is for both partners to stay informed.

Dear Elga,

I’m writing this letter to you in the hope that you will share it with others.  And, hopefully, it will help people to be better prepared when a partner passes away.

As you know, my husband died unexpectedly.  He was in his mid-50’s and our son was 15 at the time.  Within a week of his death, I was caught up in a whirl of activities.  His employer had to be informed, as did the life insurance company.  I needed to contact my bank to make the necessary arrangements so that I could access our joint checking account. And the list went on and on.

It’s been over a year now, and I’ve had time to reflect.  Here are some things I would advise your readers to seriously consider:

A. It’s critical that both partners know what their assets are and who to contact in order to access those assets.  Fortunately for me, my husband and I updated such a list annually.  Had we not done so, the strain of having to hunt down this information at a time when I was so emotionally distraught would have been overwhelming.

Our list consisted of things such as

  • All bank checking and savings accounts – bank names, account numbers, phone numbers, computer passwords, etc.
  • All financial investments and Life Insurance plans – IRA’s, 401Ks, mututal funds, etc. – the names of companies managing these assets, account numbers, etc.
  • Information pertaining to our mortgage – how much was outstanding, the name and number of the bank that held the mortgage, etc.

B. One thing we did not do was discuss our overall annual expenses.  This was a big mistake.  Once my husband was gone, I spent a great deal of time worrying about whether or not I would have enough money to remain in our home and provide adequately for our son and me.  It took a long time, carefully monitoring what I was spending monthly, before I understood my expenses. Had I been aware from the beginning, I would have been able to budget accordingly and reduce my stress enormously.

C. Also, my husband and I neglected to discuss where we placed important paperwork.  So, after my husband was gone, I was constantly hunting through drawers and filing cabinets in the house, frantically searching for things.  I needed the Title to my husband’s car so that I could have it insured correctly. I needed the stock certificates that had been gifted to us for special occasions. I needed certain receipts that our accountant required for tax filing purposes. Where were these things? Over and over again I would race around the house.  While this may seem like a relatively minor problem, everything is much harder and much more stressful when you are emotionally drained.

Given my experiences, I’ve come to realize how important it is for both spouses to stay informed about their financial affairs.  In life, it’s always good for partners to jointly participate in making financial decisions that impact both their lives.  And, when a spouse dies, making life as easy as possible for the survivor is a true gift and sign of caring.


Name Withheld

Getting Legal Help:

Experienced Estate Planning Attorney, Elga A. Goodman, can work with you and your spouse to address your estate planning and related financial planning issues.  She can work with you to help ensure that the decisions you make as a couple are in line with your needs and wishes.  Contact us today at 973-841-5111.






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