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3 Financial Planning Strategies for Couples

August 31, 2019

Recently a woman in her 40s approached me to talk at the end of a financial workshop that I delivered. With tears in her eyes she said simply, “Thank you for tonight. I wish that I met you six months ago.” Deeply moved and very curious, I asked if she would share more. Theresa and her husband Francis (names changed to protect privacy) made a deal when they got married: he’d take care of their family finances and she’d focus on her career. Francis enjoyed managing their money and Theresa found it uninteresting. They both knew how much Theresa loved her profession. Shortly after agreeing to this deal, Theresa became very successful in her work. Their family grew to include children they both adored, and things got busy… very busy.

Life always seemed to get in the way whenever Theresa and Francis meant to talk about their finances. While both Theresa and Francis knew that it was important to have these conversations, there always was a reason why they didn’t happen. And Theresa unsuccessfully tried to rationalize away that lingering guilt that she felt about not knowing more about their finances by reminding herself of just how good her husband was at managing their money and how much he enjoyed doing it. Ultimately, Theresa justified not talking about finances with Francis as her husband’s gift to her; Francis loved her so much that he owned all responsibility for this important part of their lives and didn’t bother her with it.

This made it that much more devastating when Theresa’s healthy husband died very suddenly and unexpectedly, just months before Theresa and I met at the workshop. Not only was Theresa thrust into the shocking loss of her life partner at a young age and thrown into new responsibilities being the sole parent to multiple children under 18 years old, she was propelled into the most traumatic search and find experience of her life. Learning the different pieces of her family’s total financial picture, trying to access them, and then determining what to do about them, having no context for how they were organized and why.

Theresa explained that my workshop was the first time that she had heard a financial advisor emphasize the importance of estate planning as part of comprehensive financial planning, and additionally offer specific strategies that all people should follow even if they trusted someone else like their spouses to manage family finances. Unfortunately, Theresa is not alone. Too few people in committed relationships have clarity on their collective financial picture. It’s okay to divide up responsibilities so that everything gets done; in fact, this can be strategic, efficient, and enjoyable if you end up being responsible for tasks you like to do. Also, it may make sense to separate out what you have and what you spend by “Yours” “Mine” and “Ours”. What’s not good is losing sight of the pieces that comprise your family’s total financial situation, understanding why they are as they are, and knowing how to access and adjust them if needed.

If you are like Theresa and trust a partner to manage finances for your family, the following are three strategies I recommend you both consider to protect yourselves.

  1. Assemble the Pieces of Your Financial Puzzle
    • Have clarity around what you own (e.g. investments, insurance, property) and what you owe (e.g. mortgage, college debt, credit card debt).
    • Know where your money is located and its intended use (e.g. tax-deferred retirement accounts not to be touched for years versus emergency savings to be utilized as needed).
    • Store financial details, (insurance) policies, estate planning documents, and instructions for how to access (online) accounts in a safe place.
  2. Know How Your Financial Pieces Fit Together
    • Understand your income and expenses, including which activities are automated and which accounts are linked.
    • Monitor account (credit card, investment, checking, savings) balances and interest rates associated with debt you carry.
    • Confirm whether any professionals assist your family (e.g. Certified Financial PlannerTM, Accountants, Attorneys) and retain their contact details in the same safe place you store your other financial puzzle pieces.
  3. Make Planning a Priority
    • Name beneficiaries for your financial accounts and double check that the right individuals are named after major life events happen (e.g. marriage, divorce, death).
    • Ensure legal documentation is in place and continuously reflects your wishes (e.g. will, power of attorney, health care proxy, trust if needed).
    • Understand the savings, spending, investment, and insurance plans you have in place today and why; as life changes, revisit your current approaches and adjust as needed.

If you would appreciate an independent view on your family’s current approach to finances or if you, like Theresa, would value working with an experienced professional who guides you in identifying the pieces of your unique financial puzzle and manages your investments, know that I am here.

Caroline Wetzel is one of Natural Nutmeg’s 10Best Winners for Business/Life Coach. Vote for her again this year in Natural Nutmeg’s 2019 Category 6 Life/Business Coach. Caroline is a Certified Financial PlannerTM (CFP®) and Vice President, Private Wealth Advisor with Procyon Private Wealth Partners, LLC. Procyon Private Wealth Partners, LLC and Procyon Institutional Partners, LLC (collectively “Procyon Partners”) are registered investment advisors with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”). This article is provided for informational purposes only and for the intended recipient[s] only. This article may also include opinions and forward-looking statements which may not come to pass. Information is at a point in time and subject to change. Procyon Partners does not provide tax or legal advice.

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