When to Step In: Managing Your Spouse’s Finances

Aging is inevitable. Never do we wish to think that at some point in our futures we will need assistance with a lot of areas in our lives. One in particular, is help with managing finances as we become elderly. Figuring out how to approach your spouse when it seems they may have started losing a grip on their finances isn’t easy. It is hard to know when the time is right, and the emotional aspect of managing money can be a very challenging topic to approach.

Oftentimes we think that we are capable of taking care of ourselves and keep pushing forward even when we are struggling to maintain status-quo. While your spouse may not be showing outward signs that they need help with their finances, there are subtle queues you can keep an eye out for. It might be an uncomfortable topic, but if you begin to notice recurring signals, it might be time for you to step in. Here are some things to look out for if you suspect your spouse is struggling:

  1. You are finding unopened bills, tax reporting forms or bank statements tucked away throughout your home.
  2. There are opened bills and trash found stashed together in your home.
  3. Bills are not being paid in a timely manner or paid off multiple times in a period.
  4. Late charges are posted on current bills.
  5. Utilities are turned off for lack of payment.
  6. Checks are being bounced or returned for insufficient funds.
  7. When you are working to file income tax returns together, gathering data about their finances is confusing, overwhelming or not thoroughly completed.
  8. Estimated taxes are not paid.
  9. The annual required minimum distribution (RMD) from their retirement accounts are not occurring or is not reported on tax returns.
  10. Insurance policies have lapsed.
  11. Your spouse’s driver’s license has expired.
  12. The registration for your car(s) has expired.

Your spouse may not outwardly admit that they need help with managing their finances, but these signs might be speaking for them. Easing them into the idea of you stepping in to help out can start with something as simple as going through all your incoming mail and bills together so things don’t keep slipping through the cracks. Below are other ideas to consider easing in the transition of support.

If the bank is returning checks that have insufficient funds, confirm with your spouse that their monthly inflow of cash and spending is enough to cover expenses. You may even suggest that you take over paying the bills and balancing bank statements each month. Be sure to utilize electronic bill paying services and automatic options for recurring debts payments.

A good way to help your spouse still feel in control of their own financial life is by having them sign the checks that you write. This way the bills are still being paid and they still play an important part in this process. If you go through your bills and make payments together each month, try to file all forms pertaining to your finances together as well. This way you can both have the same information to be reported on the following years’ tax returns. Also, work together to keep track of important dates such as car registration deadlines, property taxes and rental property receipts. If you are unsure of your credit score and concerned it might be bad, you can order a free copy of your credit report at www.annualcreditreport.com.

Review your home, auto and umbrella insurance policies together to confirm that your coverage still meets both your needs and is still in place. If changes need to be made to your policies or your insurance company needs to be notified that your spouse’s drivers license has expired, consider contacting an agent in a joint call.

Confirm that their required minimum distribution (RMD) is being withdrawn from the appropriate retirement accounts and reported on tax returns. The IRS penalty can be significant if an RMD is missed. To avoid missing this mandatory withdrawal and facing penalties, make a joint call to your investment advisor to make your RMD withdrawal an automatic distribution.

Review and confirm your estate planning documents are signed and current. You may or may not have a trust or several trusts, but make sure there is a basic plan in place. Be sure you have power of attorney for both finance and health care, and if you don’t have a will in place consider creating one. Make sure that your current estate planning documents are stored in an easily accessible but secure location. Contact an estate planning attorney for guidance if these documents are lost, need to be updated, or do not exist. Another one of our posts: Where There’s a Will, There’s a Say, is also a fantastic resource to reference if you don’t already have an estate plan in place.

Take the time to go through all your bank, brokerage and real estate statements to confirm that your assets are titled appropriately. If assets are incorrectly titled after your spouse’s death, you will not be able to re-title accordingly. In addition, check with your spouse to see if they have a safe deposit box or storage unit. Be sure you know where these assets are located and how to access them.

Make sure that if you both have any beneficiaries on your life insurance policies, annuities or retirement accounts, that they are correct. It is not uncommon that a beneficiary is still listed when they are no longer the intended recipient on your contracts. Again, if your spouse dies you will be unable to make changes to unintended beneficiaries and a will cannot override this mistake.

In terms of your investments, if you have a portfolio take the time to review it and make sure the asset allocation is still appropriate for your age. Consider consolidating accounts that are similar in title or risk into one joint account to provide transparency in your assets together, and minimize the number of statements that need to be managed.

Finally, make sure you have the contact information of your spouse’s doctor, accountant, attorney, bank, brokerage firm, financial advisor, and any other important advisors. If your spouse passes away you will need this information to settle the estate and assets of your loved one and you will appreciate that you had it ahead of time.

We know this isn’t easy. But helping your spouse to organize and manage their personal finances with dignity and respect will provide them the chance to transition through the various stages of aging gracefully, while offering you the peace of mind that their intentions are honored and implemented.

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