Could Your Significant Other Take Over The Family Finances?

by Travis Pizel · 7 comments

My wife and I talk about finances every week. More specifically, we discuss how much money in our discretionary funds is available, and then decide together how we are going to spend it. We also do an overall budget review periodically, but she leaves the handling of paying the day to day bills to me. This fact recently led her to a startling revelation — she doesn’t actually have adequate knowledge to handle the family finances if something should happen to me.

She asked me to build her an outline of what she would need to know. Realizing her request was a great idea, I opened my laptop and created a document that contained every detail of our finances. Here is a list of what I came up with.

Work Contact

If something happened to me, she would have to contact my employer to inform them of what happened. I listed my manager’s name and phone number. He could also connect her with the right people to talk to regarding my retirement accounts with my employer.

Life Insurance Contact

In the event that I should die, she would need to know how to contact our life insurance agent to get the gears in motion to cash in on my life insurance policies. This would be critical to ensuring she has the funds to continue to support herself and our children.

Financial Advisor

After receiving the funds from the life insurance policies, my wife would need someone to help her build a solid financial plan. She would have to think about not only supporting our family in the present but also through retirement. Our life insurance agent doubles as our financial advisor, but that may not be the case for everyone.

David’s Note: Travis should seriously consider another person other than his life insurance agent as their family’s financial advisor, as there are just too many conflicts of interest for an insurance agent to do a good job managing someone else’s finances. He should also do his best to educate his wife on the beauty of low costs investing so she can find a low-cost advisor that values the benefits of passive investing.

Monthly Expenses

Each month I create a financial worksheet that lists our reoccurring monthly expenses, their amount, and the due date. I include the current month’s worksheet in the document as an example of what our bills currently look like. This information would help pay all the bills on time.

Lines of Credit

I also listed every loan and line of credit we have, their account numbers, and creditor contact information. This information includes our mortgage, our car loan, credit cards (whether they have balances or not), and other lines of credit we have through our bank. She would have to contact each of them to inform them if I passed away.

Online Accounts and Passwords

Every line of credit and reoccurring monthly expense has an online portal for which we have a user ID and password. She will need to know these if she ever wants to check on the accounts or make payments online.

Retirement Account Information

I included recent balance information for both my pension and 401k. She would have to work with my employer regarding how to handle those accounts if I passed away, but the inclusion of the information at least gives us an idea of how much we currently have in those accounts.

Satisfied with how the document turned out, the next logical question was what we would do with the document. We came up with a three-step process:

  1. Update Monthly: This document is simply a snapshot in time, and will need to be updated as time passes. We agreed that we will update and go through the document together as part of our first budget review of the month. By making small, frequent updates, we will ensure that the information is always up to date. By reviewing it each month together, my wife will be extremely familiar with our overall financial state too.
  2. Back It Up: The document would be kept on our laptop, but it would also be backed up on a USB key flash drive.
  3. Keep It Secure: The USB key flash drive would be stored in our fireproof safe along with our other important documents.

We don’t expect a medical emergency to occur that would result in myself being seriously injured or even killed. But knowing that this document exists gives us peace of mind that my wife can easily slip into the role of handling our family finances should she be required to.

Do you handle the majority of the family finances? Is your significant other informed enough to take over should a catastrophe occur?

David’s Note: Yikes. I handle all the major money issues in our family and Emma would have a big learning curve if something were to suddenly happen to me. And it’s not just learning how to pay the bills either, because that’s the least of her problem if she were put into the unfortunate position. I run this site, so Emma would have to know how to operate it on a pinch. She would also need to know how to manage our investments and have it last.

My excuse for not coming up with a plan has been that the chances of something truly catastrophic happening to me are extremely low, but we all know that chance isn’t zero. And it doesn’t even have to be life and death for things to spiral downward. Just being hospitalized would mean many of our bills won’t be paid, and the site won’t be updated.

It’s scary just thinking about it. Looks like I have work to do.

What about you? What would happen to your family’s finances if something were to happen to you?

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  • Emily @ says:

    Great list, and Gary’s comment about making sure another trusted family member knows where to find this information is spot on. My mom did me the favor of making a list of all of her accounts and giving it to me. It was very helpful when I had to execute her estate, but we ran into a bump at the end because she had a safe deposit box that neither my brother, her husband nor I knew about. No one had a key, and we had to pay $75 to get it drilled only to find it empty.

    • Travis @enemyofdebt says:

      Thanks for sharing your experience, Emily……that’s why it’s always a good idea to review the information periodically to ensure that ALL the necessary information has been recorded.

    • David @ says:

      I bet finding an empty safety deposit box after drilling into one is more common than most people think, so don’t dwell too much on the wasted cost.

      At least you saved a ton of time with the list of accounts your mother gave you. Something simple otherwise could take hours and hours, and months could go by before you can find them all.

  • Paul says:

    Keeping it on your computer. Fine! Only if it is encrypted. Same with USB… but, what happens if say there is a house fire, one person dies? Where is that information? Up in smoke most likely.

    Better to also have it secured in KeyPass and a copy of the KeyPass database saved to an online storage system, such as Dropbox or similar. KeyPass is not handled in the cloud and is password protected. So, as long as both parties know what the password to KeyPass is this information is safely available.

    • Travis @enemyofdebt says:

      My USB key is kept in our fireproof safe, which hopefully would survive a house fire. Although that does make me a bit worried as well. Maybe another backup would be a good idea. 🙂

  • Gary @ Super Saving Tips says:

    This is a very important step to being prepared in case of an emergency. While my wife is just as much a part of handling our day-to-day finances as I am (we use Quicken for all our transactions and we can both access the data whenever we need to), we realized that if something happened to both of us at the same time, my mother-in-law would need the information so we let her know where to find our wills, list of insurance policies and accounts, IDs and passwords, etc. I highly recommend telling a trusted relative where to find the details they’d need just in case.

    • Travis @enemyofdebt says:

      That’s a great tip, Gary. My wife and I are in the same place at the same time a lot – so it’s reasonable to think that if an accident would occur, it’s *possible* that something could occur to both of us. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

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