Talking about money is hard. It is hard enough for spouses, and many spouses even today still do not talk about their financial, credit and tax issues. It is often the case with older couples that one spouse dies with the surviving spouse knowing little or nothing about where assets are, what the tax situation is and how bills will be paid. It is especially difficult for adult children to begin what Oprah Winfrey has called “the talk”- the conversation or series of conversations that help parents secure their financial future and enable them make wise decisions closer to the end of life. Often, it is almost impossible for older parents to share personal financial information with adult children. You may have grown up in a household where financial issues were not discussed openly, or you may have privacy issues related to “exposing” your personal information to others. You may feel that your children are “after your money now,” or that they are trying to move you toward a nursing home. Or, you may have so many medical and health issues on your plate that the financial and tax considerations fall either by the wayside or are “parked” until a better time – which often never comes.
So where do you start? First, it is critical that your spouse – and adult child or children have information about:
- Your Will or Trust- and where it is – in a safe deposit box, in a safe or at an attorney’s office. Also a living will for health care if you have one.
- Your Executor or Trustee.
- Your assets – and where they are held – with account numbers and contact information.
- Your checking account- and how bills are paid- automatically, online or by check. Also what income comes in every month – Social Security, Pensions, IRAs etc.
- Your credit cards and statements.
- Your monthly bills and annual bills, including property taxes, health, auto and long-term care insurance.
- Your physicians and their contact information.
- A complete list of medications.
- Your attorney, financial advisor and tax professional – including a copy of the last tax return filed.
Whew! This seems like such a HUGE list when at the same time there is so much else to think about. Why should I tackle this? How and where to begin?
There are several important reasons to gather this information now:
- If someone dies, the trustee or executor will need this information. It is often difficult to find- it takes not just weeks, but months to locate important documents. I have one client whose husband was killed in a tragic car accident, and it took almost a year to locate all his assets- both in the US and in India!
- Some things may have been missed- like applying for long term care or some past due bill- that can be taken care of now, before a bigger problem happens.
- There may be little things, like sweepstakes checks written by one client of mine with Alzheimer’s (uncovered by her daughter when she reviewed her checkbook), or a monthly charge for credit review (found upon checking my own husband’s credit card bills and reversed by the credit card company).
- There may be ways to make your life easier and better, like consolidating brokerage accounts and working to better invest your monies for more income.
- Make your final wishes are clear and known, including who will take care of your Estate after your death.
- You can connect your “team” (tax, financial and medical) with your children in order to all work together now and in the future.
When my husband turned 80, he prepared a folder with this information for me and for his adult children (from a prior marriage). At first, I (a lot younger) was scared and a little sad; then I truly appreciated his courage in giving me what I would need when the time comes. Most of us can’t do this. What we can do is to begin to gather this information – often your tax advisor or attorney is the one to trust and talk with – and then set up a meeting in their office to start the dialogue.
This is not only good advice for those of us who are older – but important for everyone to take charge of your financial and tax situation right now alongside your medical issues.