The Sun News

Ask the hard questions now

I read years ago that the “average age of most widows is 56.” I had a hard time believing this, until I started meeting these women. Most of them were completely overwhelmed with what they were now responsible for managing.

Sometimes, they managed the household finances and their husband did everything else. Most times the husband handled the money. Here’s why this happens. When a couple marries they naturally, over time, divide the responsibilities.

Think about your current scenario. One of you likes to cook more than the other, so that person becomes the cook. This applies to every element of running a household as it’s only natural to split up the work.

Over time, as we become more involved in these tasks, we develop routines. If we pay the bills online, we may have a system for changing the online passwords. If we manage auto maintenance, there are things that we routinely do and probably don’t talk about. If we’re in charge of the yard, we likely have a plan for what treatments we do in certain months.

You get my point. Over time, there’s a lot of information that is not shared or written down anywhere.

The big problem occurs when one person passes, leaving the other person responsible for managing things they do not understand. Not to be stereotypical here, but ladies, when’s the last time you fixed a toilet, and men, when’s the last time you did laundry?

When you are mourning the loss of a spouse, this is hardly the time to review investment statements and start learning what you are invested in and why. Here’s the bottom line. When you die, all your knowledge goes with you.

So here’s the challenge I have for you couples. By the end of 2016, sit down and have the hard conversation, and ask the hard questions.

I have a number of clients who have written down extensive instructions for their spouses, because the spouses will not have this conversation. Please try.

One possible way to get started, is to ask the question, “If I died today, what questions would you have wished you had asked me?”

Here are some suggested topics to get the conversation going. Talk about the household budget, how bills are paid and where computer passwords are stored. Talk through your wills, powers of attorney and advanced directives.

Make sure you understand each other’s wishes and that documents are up to date. Talk about property and how it will pass, and whether there are any specific things that you would want to go to specific people.

Talk about retirement and investment accounts, your relationships with any advisers, and your financial future. You could also make an appointment with the adviser and ask for their help with this.

The same goes for accountants. If one person has been handling the tax returns, both of you need to make the visit next year. I could go on and on, but I’m sure you already get the point. Anything that you can do to create a smooth transition for a grieving spouse will be part of the legacy that you leave behind.