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Common Cents

Tom and John Mills' Common Cents: Don't leave your partner in the dark about finances

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Most people don’t enjoy money management. This creates an interesting dynamic in marriage. One person inside a couple usually emerges as the “money person.”

My marriage is no exception. My wife is a very driven and busy person, but she is happy to leave the money issues to me. Despite my best efforts, she just has different priorities.

While this money dynamic does make some things easier, it also leaves a surviving spouse exposed. If the money manager passes away, the remaining partner is left in the dark.

I don’t like the idea of my wife struggling with money management at the same time she is dealing with the loss. She would jokingly say the grief would be easy to overcome, but she would have a lot on her plate with four kids. If something were to happen, I’d like to make that easier.

Several months ago, I created a spreadsheet to help. This spreadsheet listed all our financial accounts and contained basic info like account numbers, custodians, and balances. I added a few extras columns for how each account is taxed and if she will need to update the costs basis.

I also added a column for where the account should go if I pass away. My IRAs should all be transferred to hers. The non-retirement accounts like the trust don’t need such a change. At the passing of a spouse, some accounts will need consolidation, and others can be left alone. A spouse who is coming in blind will need to know the difference.

Below the account section, I have a section for life insurance. I have two policies. That section contains essential policy information, how to access the cash, and where to move it.

The next section is for debts and bills. I listed each debt along with each bill. I also listed the amount of each debt and when the payment is due. One of the most significant problem areas after a spouse’s death is the transition of bill paying. Missing bills will kill credit scores. The transition needs to be seamless.

At the very bottom of the spreadsheet, I have a list of miscellaneous advice like how many death certificates to order and a reminder to remove me as the primary beneficiary on her IRA. I also include a note that she shouldn’t consider my advice infallible as laws change. She might want to run the ideas by other professionals.

There is more to settling an estate than can be contained in a single spreadsheet. Still, I am confident this exercise will be incredibly important.

This type of planning can also be precious to those who are not married. Many children trying to settle their parent’s estate would love to have such a tool.

If you think this spreadsheet could be valuable as a model for your own planning, I will change some of my information and share it with anyone who needs it. Please email or call my office if needed.

Tom and John Mills are registered investment advisers and certified financial planners. Reach them at 254-0155 or Securities offered through LPL Financial, Member FINRA/SIPC. Investment advice offered through Strategic Wealth Advisors Group (SWAG), a registered investment adviser.

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