My parents' generation, and many people in my own generation, divide the household responsibilities in such a way that excludes one spouse (usually the wife) from knowing about the business end of their life. Husbands may have had the best intentions of "protecting" their wife, or maybe he simply regards the family finances, etc., as his job and not her worry. This is a terrible idea. A strong and chivalrous husband would do better to protect his wife by keeping her informed, in case anything should happen to him. The business-minded wife who has always handled the family finances must make sure to keep her husband aware. You never know when a bus with your name on it is going to come barreling at you. It can happen to anyone, at any age, at any point in life.
- Know where your insurance policies, investment portfolios, birth certificates, pension plans, union membership information, bank accounts, deeds, social security numbers and titles are kept. All of them. Both spouses must know who your financial planner, accountant, insurance agent and personal banker are.
- You may need to create a family finances chart. What payments are due on what day, how they are usually paid and from which account, as well as money coming in from where and going into what account.
- If your taxes are complicated due to investments or self-employment, be sure to keep a complete file on them and that your spouse knows where to find that file.
- Keep a list (in a secure place!!!) of the log-ins and passwords you have for online banking, email and anything else that will need attention. Keep it up to date.
- It sounds simple, but make sure each of you knows some basic stuff. Our friend's widow doesn't know where the gas tank is on her car. I've been filling my own tank for a long time, but my mother never did. Does your Mom know who the family mechanic is? Does Dad know where Mom keeps the check book?
- If you have children, make sure that both parents know the important things about them. Are they allergic to any medications? Who is the family physician? I know one gentleman who lost his wife suddenly and didn't know exactly where their daughter's preschool was.
Losing a spouse is so stressful and disorienting. No amount of preparation can make the sadness and pain go away, but good communication and knowledge can limit the reeling confusion that may ensue. How difficult to have not only the crushing loss, but also terrible fear because you have no idea how to handle the daily tasks.
Please. Have this talk with your parents today. Have this talk with each other today! Think of it like cross-training at your job. It would never do to have only one person in the office who could do certain things. No matter that it's their job and they are responsible for it on a daily basis. It is still crucial that someone else can fill in if there were an emergency.