The topic of money is usually a loaded one for couple clients I work with. Sometimes, money issues just cause minor disagreements, while other times, they can build up into huge communication barriers and even lead to divorce. When I work with my couple clients, I always make sure to go over issues like discussing money without fighting, how to determine spending discretion, and who takes responsibility for most of the financial work. A common question that comes up when I’m meeting with couples is how much of their estate planning and wills they should share with each other. This is even more common in second or late-in-life marriages where one or both members of the couple have put plans in place prior to their vows. Here is what I share with my own clients about what details they should share and why.
Your wills, trusts, and other documents are there to take care of you and to take care of those you love. Since your spouse obviously falls into that category, there is no reason why you should not share details including:
Who gets assets.
What happens if you can’t make your own decisions due to death or incapacity.
Tax planning issues and how they should be handled.
Not only is this respectful to your spouse, but it also helps them prepare for decisions and understand what will happen should you die or be unable to make health or estate decisions for yourself. The last thing you want is for your spouse to be blind sighted when a tragedy occurs. He or she will have enough to worry about in this type of scenario and doesn’t need to wonder what decisions you want him or her to make or why you gave a certain amount of money to one child and not the other.
Sharing distribution details has a lot to do with your children. Obviously, if you and your spouse have children together, there’s no reason not to make these decisions in a joint manner. Together, you’ll need to decide who will take care of your children should both of you die as well as which assets each child will get and at what age. If you don’t put these details into your will, a court will decide who becomes the guardian of your children—and it may not be who you had in mind.
The issue gets a little murkier when you have a blended family or when you are discussing distributions to family members, friends, or charities. However, I always encourage my clients to still discuss these details and be on the same page to prevent disagreements or nasty surprises in the future.
Many of my clients have living wills and powers of attorney, both of which designate who should make decisions in their stead if they die or become incapacitated. Some of these decisions are health directives that will be important for doctors, surgeons, and other healthcare personnel. Others are end-of-life decisions that involve when life support should be removed or if life-saving techniques should be used (and in what circumstances). Of course you should include your spouse in these plans because many times, they will be the one who makes these health-related decisions. And if you have designated someone else to make these decisions, it’s always a good idea to explain to your spouse why you made that decision.
Communication is the key to all good relationships, and when you don’t tell your spouse details about your will, estate plan, or health directives, you are cutting off communication before it can even start. If you have a good financial planner who challenges you, you will be able to make crucial decisions about what to share with your partner when it comes to your finances and future planning. Have more questions about dealing with finance issues as a couple? Please reach out so we can talk more.
Patrick Tucker, the owner of True Measure Wealth Management, has over 20 years experience in the industry and has spent the last 15 years learning the ins and outs of the fee-only advisory business. He focuses on client behaviors and what ‘wealth’ means for each individual client to provide care-giving plans that lead to a mindful fulfillment of financial goals. A lifelong learner, Patrick uses his continued knowledge to become a valued partner for his clients and help them explore the wisdom of true wealth.