Don’t Forget to Get Involved: How to Become the Co-Pilot of Your Family’s Finances
As the saying goes, better late than never.
Educating yourself about your family’s finances and about financial planning in general may seem like a fool’s errand at this point in your life. But given the very real risk of widowhood for Baby Boomer women, it’s anything but.
However, getting started might seem tricky. Are you supposed to pepper your spouse with questions? Read the stock pages of the newspaper? Go back to school for an economics degree?
Thankfully, you don’t have to do any of those (well, you might need to ask some questions). But here’s what you can do to become the co-pilot of your family’s finances.
Step 1: What do you have?
Your first order of business is to figure out what assets you have and where they’re all located. You might know about the bank accounts and the properties, but what about your investment accounts, retirement savings, and pensions?
It’s important to have a list: but go one step further and really take a look. How much money is in there? How much is getting paid out? How’d your investments do last year? Your financial future won’t necessarily depend on how a particular mutual fund is doing, but getting familiar with the look of your financial statements is the first step to mastering them.
What to do:
If you can, sit down with your spouse and make a listing of all of your:
- Bank accounts
- Investment and retirement accounts
- Employer pensions
- Properties and physical assets
- Other financial assets, like a stake in a business
Add in the account numbers and any relevant contact information. That way, should something happen to one or both of you, your loved ones can step in more easily to manage things.
Next, get a look at how all of these assets and income sources work together as the foundation of your wealth. You can ask some simple questions, like:
- What is our home worth?
- How much do we have in retirement funds?
- How many month’s worth of cash do we keep in the bank?
- How much do we invest in stocks?
You’re not looking for a particular answer: the idea here is to just get familiar with the current state of your family’s finances.
Most Overlooked Retirement Risk For Women: Widowhood
Step 2: Learn the operations
Depending on your life stage, you might be drawing down on your retirement savings every year or still contributing. Either way, you’ll want to learn more about what goes into the day-to-day management of your financial affairs.
This might require some shadowing of your spouse or asking a few questions of your advisor. Take it step by step, and start with the issues you know little to nothing about – after all, those are the subjects where you’ll need to cover the most ground.
For retirement accounts, you might want to find out:
- How much do you contribute or draw down every year?
- If you’re drawing down, which account is it coming from? Why?
- Why are you invested in the current manner? What does it mean from a risk and reward standpoint?
For banking relationships, find out:
- How your accounts are titled. Do you and your spouse have any individual accounts? If so, it could make sense to switch to a Transfer on Death designation.
For insurance policies:
- Do you or your spouse have life insurance? How much does it cost?
- What about fixed annuities? If you have an annuity, what are the terms – and how might your income change if you or your spouse were to die?
For your home:
- Do you have an outstanding home equity line of credit? How much?
- How much equity do you have in your home?
This may sound like a random jumble of questions. But right now, you are in an information gathering phase. The more you know about your financial situation, the easier it will be later to start taking a position on specific items – or to manage an unexpected issue or problem. For example, knowing how much debt you have on your home relative to how much it’s worth can give you a sense of whether your home might be useful if you and your spouse need a large influx of cash later on. Knowing which retirement account is providing your income can help make decisions easier if you suddenly need to take charge of the withdrawals.
Step 3: Participate
As you learn more, you might find that you want to know more. Alternatively, you may also dislike the subject completely – but don’t let that stop you! If you ever have to take over on short notice, you will be so happy that you took the time to learn.
Now that you’ve learned more about the operations of your finances, find ways to participate in managing them. Sit in while your spouse makes a transfer from your IRA, or join in on the search for a new insurance policy. If you have a financial advisor, prepare some questions and join in the meeting.
It might be a surprise at first, but we hope your spouse (not to mention your advisor) welcomes the support. After all, a lifetime of hard work in building and managing your nest egg is best honored by ensuring that it can be tended to no matter what. It might take some conversations and a bit of a learning curve, but it is a worthwhile endeavor.
To that end, your advisor should also be a source of information and guidance. A good advisor will be able to connect with you on the financial topics that matter, and should leave you feeling empowered and informed by your conversation.
Make a plan
If you’re a married Baby Boomer woman, you need to read our free eBook series on women, retirement, and widowhood. The Most Overlooked Retirement Risk Facing Women covers the frightening reality of widowhood by offering important information about planning ahead, avoiding mistakes, and dealing with the aftermath of loss.
Download it for free today!
Most Overlooked Retirement Risk For Women: Widowhood