Don’t Leave Them Hanging

Don’t leave them hanging. Specifically don’t leave your spouse hanging financially. Recently my girlfriend introduced me to someone who recently widowed. She is in her late 60’s and is now trying to figure out life without her partner. I’m sure it is a scary time as I have lost aunts and grandparents and I know their spouses go through a lot trying to cope with their new life, which I am sure can feel lonely. What makes this situation even harder is being thrown into something you have never had to worry about in your entire life, money.

From what I have seen it is pretty common in a relationship where one spouse may fulfill a certain role and the other spouse may fulfill a different role. Maybe one spouse cooks and the other does the dishes and laundry. Maybe one spouse earns an income and the other stays home to raise a family. Maybe one spouse takes care of the home, while the other handles the money. Now this is where a big problem may lie.

Say your spouse has done the laundry for the last 35 years and you don’t know how to wash your dirty underwear. I am sure your kids or relatives or YouTube could teach you how to run a washing machine and clothes dryer in about five minutes. Don’t know how to cook? I’m sure those same friends and relatives could teach you how to bake some chicken or use a slow cooker one weekend so that you don’t starve. All the years of not washing your own clothes or cooking your own food can be remedied, quite easily I might add. The issue lies if your spouse has “taken care of” the household finances your entire life and never involved you in that process. This can leave scars that are very hard to remedy.

Back to the woman I met. Her husband took care of the money throughout their marriage. Now she is left alone trying to learn how to pay her bills, where the money is, where the debt is, and what to do with their little nest egg they have left. Why? “Because he always handled the money and I maintained the house.” People who do this might think they are helping their spouse by not letting them worry about the household’s finances, but what they are really doing is hurting them. When the person who handles the finances passes away, suddenly loans against life insurance policies make their appearance, credit card collectors start calling asking for their payment, and you are stuck mourning your loss while wondering if you need to sell the house to be able to meet your living expenses.

This is a wake up call to those who think they are helping their spouses or even children by saying “don’t worry about the money, I’ve got it.” What you are really doing is making their time without you that much harder. It might be easy to learn how to mow the lawn or vacuum, but leaving a spouse to scrape together an income in their 60’s to survive is not how it should be done. Invite them to a monthly money talk and make it fun with booze, snacks, and maybe some Frank Sinatra. Make it a team effort. Involve them from the beginning of the relationship, even if it isn’t “their thing.” This will be something that stays with them long after you are gone.

Do you and your spouse handle money as a team? If not, why not?

17 thoughts on “Don’t Leave Them Hanging

  1. Brian @ Debt Discipline

    My dad passed away a few years ago and I had to help my mom learn a number of things. Lucky she was the one managing their finances. I did give her a few pointers. My wife and I handle them together. It’s a joint venture. We even involve our three children so they understand the household expenses and understand why we make some of the choice we do.
    Brian @ Debt Discipline recently posted…Net Worth Update: October 2016My Profile

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  2. Leigh

    I am so worried this will happen to us. My husband cares about his/our finances, but I get far more excited and I am the one who is more likely to do things quickly. So we need to be really careful that we both know exactly what is going on with our finances. A slow transition to more combined finances will probably help with this. We both use LastPass though and we plan to set up the death benefit feature, plus all joint accounts we have shared passwords for anyways.
    Leigh recently posted…Hindsight on Years of Aggressive Mortgage Pre-paymentMy Profile

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    1. Fervent Finance Post author

      Haven’t heard of LastPass, so I’ll have to look it up. It’s great that you guys are figuring this all out early in the marriage.

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  3. Mr. PIE

    Hi FF

    An important reminder on both “owning” the whole portfolio. We work as a team. Mrs. PIE certainly takes the lead on all the billing aspects and is chief strategy officer of travel hacking. I do all the background reading regarding investment fund choices but it is a joint decision to pull the trigger on anything.

    On a practical level, we use Dashlane for password management. A nifty little app where our collective eighty usernames and passwords for different software tools are stored and accessed from any device. Thus any one of us can make a decision on any aspect of our finances if necessary. Yep, in it together completely.
    Mr. PIE recently posted…Lessons in Investing: 5 Soundbites from the CEO of VanguardMy Profile

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    1. Mr. SSC

      Oh, that’s brilliant using that password management tool for that purpose. I would just ahve to muddle through the accounts I’ not on telling them, “Look man, she’s dead, how would I know her password…” lol

      Funny not funny. 🙂

      Time to set that account up and populate it. Thanks for the idea!
      Mr. SSC recently posted…Time Changes Everything: 2 years blogging!My Profile

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      1. Mr. PIE

        It was the Meb Faber podcast I picked this idea up from. A good PF podcast overall and some good tips beyond investing.

        For the convenience of all device access it is $39 per year fee but we think money well spent on something that is cumbersome to do otherwise. And something that is terribly important. As soon as we have to make any changes to a password we just populate DashLane and all set!

        For a single device access it is free but really defeats the point of it when you can’t share it. See if you like it with one device and go from there.
        Mr. PIE recently posted…Lessons in Investing: 5 Soundbites from the CEO of VanguardMy Profile

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  4. Mr. SSC

    I’ve seen this happen and it was ridiculous. The husband had terminal cancer and ran all of the finances and the wife just went into denial and didn’t want to know or accept she’d be doing it. He had income doing day trading with algortihms running his different accounts and what not. When he died, she was LOST…. It took my Father-in-law months of helping her just figure out how to pay bills like electricity, internet and what not. I’ve seen less extreme examples too, but yeah you can really do your significant other a dissservice by not being open about financial stuff.

    Of course, i’m the non-financial one in our household, so I would have a hard couple of months figuring things out. Things like, what bills does Mrs. SSC mail in vs ones that are automated (who mails things anymore?).

    To alleviate that a little, we helped out me, and our exteneded family by making a document of all of our assets and accounts in case we both died unexpectedly. This way, they know where our stash is for raising the kids and to not get rid of any sentimental things the kids may want. I have a banjo, guitar and dulcimer that have ties to my dad and his parents and maybe they’d be interested in them some day. That sort of thing.
    Mr. SSC recently posted…Time Changes Everything: 2 years blogging!My Profile

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    1. Fervent Finance Post author

      She’s lucky she had your father-in-law around to help. That’s smart to get that document that compiles everything. I don’t have dependents but it should be something I do as my nest egg continues to grow.

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  5. Penny @ She Picks Up Pennies

    I wish my husband were more involved. He is involved, but I know he always tries to “guess” what my thoughts are when we have money decisions to make. I guess when I think about it, I don’t really mean involved, I’m interested and excited. I think he could handle it now. If this was two years ago, not even a little bit.

    I also think it’s worth noting that what people can do normally is not always what they do in grief. I hope that we’re both to the point where we could autopilot, but I’m not sure. How people react to loss is so unpredictable.
    Penny @ She Picks Up Pennies recently posted…Yes to the Bridesmaid Dress AgainMy Profile

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    1. Fervent Finance Post author

      I feel the same way with my girlfriend, but she’s making strides. Slow and steady. That’s the other side, the emotional side of losing a loved one + money, can be a mess.

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  6. Jordan

    Money no doubt holds as the heaviest issue in a marriage. But when one goes, it is so important that both spouses were on the same page. Losing a spouse is devastating enough, the financial situation should be a smoother transition.

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  7. Jordan

    Moving on after a spouse passes is difficult enough, always make sure all affairs are in order before its too late!! Whether that means everything is ready for the other spouse to handle after you pass or the both of you are up to date with finances on a regular basis!

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