Do Both You and Your Spouse Understand Your Finances?

Very often in a marriage there is a division of labor between spouses, with one spouse managing the bills and the assets.  Most of the time this is a good way to delegate responsibility, but it is important that each spouse have a baseline understanding of the family finances. 

Often this is a difficult topic for married couples to discuss. In a recent study by Fidelity Investments, just 28% of couples were “completely confident” that either spouse alone was prepared to handle their joint retirement finances.  Too often disability, divorce or death can force one spouse to take on these responsibilities when they are ill prepared.

The first thing couples should discuss is a list of assets.  Sitting down together and making an inventory of assets is imperative.  Both spouses should know what they own, and its value.  Knowing this information will help you make informed decisions.

Couples need to start a list of accounts such as 401(k)s, individual retirement accounts, and brokerage and checking accounts.  In addition to accounts, couples should also list information regarding any insurance policies they currently hold.   They should make note of the beneficiary listed on each account or policy.  Included in this list should be information about their emergency fund and how to access it. 

In addition to listing a couple’s physical assets, they should also make a list of atypical assets such as airline miles, hotel points and vacation timeshares.  It is suggested that couples not just write up a list of assets, but instead draft a detailed letter explaining how those assets should be managed.  Once this letter is finished it should be put in a safe place.

Couples who openly discuss how much they are willing to save and spend are prepared when disaster strikes.  Understanding and being familiar with household finances will make spouses more confident that they can manage those finances in the future.

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