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Advisor Insight | Transfer Wealth & Financial Information Between Spouses

By James E. Brennan, CFP®, 1 North Wealth Services

Transfer Wealth & Financial Information Between Spouses

“I don’t want to know anything about our finances. I let my spouse take care of that.” If this sounds familiar and you are the non-financial spouse in the family, please read. Chances are the financial spouse is handing this article to you…

It is natural in every relationship to have a financial spouse (the bill payer, tax preparer, budget guru) and a non-financial spouse (who would rather get a root canal than deal with the bills). There may be a time in your marriage/relationship when you, the non-financial spouse, will need to take over these tasks. Sadly, this is most often due to unexpected death, disability, or divorce.

Imagine for a moment that the unthinkable happened to your spouse. While grieving the loss of your partner, how would you feel to also be thrust into the responsibility for the financial tasks that this person had previously always taken care of? Would you feel lost, confused, or even angry? In my early days working as a retirement specialist, a good part of my day was spent on the phone consoling and counseling widowed spouses. A good majority of these individuals did indeed feel all of those feelings, including anger: anger that they didn’t know where the financial data was stored and anger with themselves for not taking the initiative to learn.

As a financial advisor, I urge each couple not to wait for such an event to become involved in your finances. If you do, you will undoubtedly make rushed decisions that could cost your family and you a great deal of grief and whole lot of money. My advice to the financial spouse is to take the time to educate your spouse how to run the family finances. To the non-financial spouse, I must stress that knowing this information will save you a great deal of stress in the future.

How do I recommend you get started?

  1. The best information to review is where your most updated financial data can be found. As part of the Financial Planning Process, we provided you with an Emergency Data Form that should be reviewed
    annually and consistently filled out or updated. If you have not gone through this form with us, please call or e-mail me.
  2. Take a quick trip through your filing system. Show your spouse where the Wills and other
    important documents are stored. If you have a safe deposit box, determine a good location for the key. If your files are not well organized, this is an excellent time for both of you to create a system.
  3. If your bank and/or investment account firm has web access, walk through the steps of logging on to
    the site and possible passwords for each site. We are still fans of securely storing all your passwords in LastPass to facilitate sharing passwords between family members.
  4. Review your bill pay routine together so that each of you knows where your money goes each month.
    This task will also keep your expenses in check as it is often the case that the non-financial spouse has no idea if your monthly income is keeping up with the family expenses. We are huge proponents of Auto Bill Pay and Online Bill Pay. If you don’t know or are not using either feature, please call our office and we
    are happy to guide you.
  5. We still recommend looking into This free site, created by Quicken, remains the best budget and financial data aggregation tool that alerts users to upcoming bills, account balances, and average spending in each category. Add only your checking, savings, credit cards, and mortgage accounts. No other account information should be relevant to your cash flow analysis!
  6. Finally, review your insurance coverages. From life, health, and disability coverages to home, auto, and umbrella policy details, if an emergency occurs, it is helpful to have both of you knowledgeable of your insurance coverages.

“My spouse doesn’t want me anywhere near our finances.”

If the financial guru of the house has built a good system for managing your money, respect that hard work. However, since you are the co-owner of these funds, you have a right and a responsibility to learn the system and be ready to implement it. Your spouse should realize that if (s)he doesn’t teach you, it be will his/her assets as well that will be in danger. This should be an excellent motivator for you both!

The time required for this review should only be a couple of hours, twice per year. We always recommend that couples reward themselves afterward by going out to dinner, as my wife and I do.As unpleasant as the task of family finances may seem, you work hard for your money and you need to do everything possible to keep it growing for you. We will do our best to guide you along the way.

As stated, we will continue to review the transfer of wealth between family members at our next Financial
Update meeting. This includes elder parents to adult children and gifting to younger children. If you have questions on family wealth transfers, please call or email us and we will be glad to guide you.