I am occasionally asked to speak with groups at senior centers and churches about money-saving tips and tax breaks for older residents of South Carolina. When I meet with these groups, I often get valuable advice in return.
One thing that I have consistently heard, from widows and widowers, are regrets about not getting detailed information about family finances from the spouse who was in charge of paying the bills.
People talk about making a “bucket list” of things they hope to do before they die, but often overlook making a “what if I kick the bucket” list for those who will have to take over their financial responsibilities.
If you are the bill-paying spouse or partner in a relationship, ask yourself today how ready your significant other would be to take over the bills, the investments and the bank accounts if lightning (or a bus) struck tomorrow.
And what about all those online accounts, with user names and passwords? Are you the only person who knows what they are?
If your partner handles all the bills, would you know what to do if they were suddenly gone? Or would you be like the 75-year-old widow I spoke with last week whose husband had always handled those sorts of things.
“We used to have such good credit,” she told me, after describing the way she unsuccessfully juggles bills each month, constantly getting hit with late fees and overdraft charges.
At the Lowcountry Senior Center earlier this month, I heard similar stories from widowed men about how they struggled to figure out the household finances after the passing of a wife.
There are lots of things couples know they should do just in case a calamity strikes, but they tend to put those things off until another day, because no one really expects to die unexpectedly. Buying life insurance, writing a will, and creating advance medical directives are all in this category, but making a financial “if I die” list is the easiest of the bunch.
It doesn't cost anything or require professional help. I plan to take my own advice and create one of these lists this very weekend (see, I've been putting it off, too).
Here's what needs to happen:
First, keep financial security and identity theft in mind. You're creating a road map for accessing all of your financial information and your bank accounts. Certainly don't email something that sensitive. Personally, I think an old-school handwritten list stored in a secure place, like a safe-deposit box, is the way to go when it comes to things like account numbers and passwords.
Next, imagine you're suddenly not around, and someone else will have to deal with all the bills, the insurance, the investments. What are those bills? Where are your bank and investment accounts? And if you handle such things online, what are the websites, the user IDs and the passwords?
Are there any big, important bills that come around infrequently? Things like annual insurance payments deserve a special note.
And what about financial planning? Maybe you have a clear picture of a plan for saving for big future expenses, like a child's higher education, or a plan for managing retirement savings. Summarize these plans for the person who may have to take them over.
When you're done, discuss the document you created with the person it's intended for. They need to know that it exists, and where to find it. Make sure you date it, so that it's clear how old the information is, and plan to update it at reasonable intervals.
It's easy to put off making that financial bucket list, but you'll be glad you did. As an added bonus, making such a list will give you a fresh, clear overview of your household finances, and maybe you'll find some ways to simplify them or save some money.
Reach David Slade at 937-5552 or Twitter @DSladeNews.
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