Make sure your partner can manage financial affairs after you are gone.
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By Sue Stevens, CFA, CFP, CPA | 11-16-06 | 06:00 AM | Email Article

Having observed many couples over the years, I see that the majority of the time one spouse is more "financially attuned" than the other. One spouse usually takes the lead on financial matters. But what happens when that financially aware partner is gone?

Sue Stevens, CPA, CFP, MBA, and CFA Charterholder, runs her own financial planning firm, Stevens Portfolio Design, and manages over $100 million in assets.

The reality is that you need to prepare your partner to manage his or her own financial affairs. In the October 2006 issue of Morningstar Practical Finance, I laid out some guidelines to get you started.

How to Locate Financial Documents
Take the time now to write out instructions on how to find everything financial. Leave this information with a trusted individual such as your attorney or financial advisor.

  • A list of all financial accounts including account numbers, passwords, institution and contact information
  • Any hiding places where you've stashed things.
  • How to value collections of stamps, musical instruments, art, antiques, and so forth.
  • If you have any stock certificates or bonds, transfer them to your investment account or www.treasurydirect.gov.
  • The combination to your home safe.
  • Where you have a safe deposit box and where to find the key.
  • Where you keep important papers for annuities, appraisals, birth certificates, cemetery deeds, credit cards, deeds, marriage certificates, divorce decrees, insurance policies, mortgages, income tax returns, retirement accounts, prenuptial agreements, titles for cars, estate documents.

What to Keep and Where
In a bank safe or deposit box

  • Car titles
  • Deeds for property
  • Business agreements like partnerships or buy-sell agreements
  • A detailed home inventory listing all valuables including pictures or videos and appraisals
  • Ethical will: typically an account of your life, usually videotaped, that explains important life lessons or values that you want your heirs to know about

In a fire-resistant home safe

  • A copy of your will and/or trusts
  • Insurance policies
  • Investment account numbers and passwords
  • Original powers of attorney for health care and property (copies should be given to those people who are named your agents)
  • Letter of instruction explaining final wishes

In a home filing system

  • Three years of statements for insurance payments, bank accounts, investment and retirement accounts
  • Credit card and mortgage statements for the past year
  • Three years of tax returns (if not seven years)

At your attorney's office

  • Signed and witnessed will and trust documents
  • Copies of powers of attorney

Who to Call, Who to Trust
Make sure your loved ones know where to find detailed contact information for your accountant, attorney, banker, financial advisor, life insurance agent, other insurance agents, and veterinarian (if pets need temporary care).

Share Financial Responsibility Now
You can help this inevitable transition go more smoothly by introducing your spouse to your trusted advisors during your lifetime. There's just something about that personal bond that brings comfort and reassurance for all parties involved. 

A version of this article appeared in the October 2006 issue ofMorningstar Practical Finance.

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Sue Stevens, CFA, CFP, CPA does not own shares in any of the securities mentioned above. Find out about Morningstar's editorial policies.
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