I meet and work with people over a broad spectrum of ages, cultures, and lifestyles. They say as a “teacher” you tend to learn as much, if not more, about people and financing than you teach. Nothing could be truer than this over the 13 years I have been consulting people on life and finances. When it comes to married couples, like any “team”, there are roles that must be taken on by both spouses to support the greater good of the team.
I often talk about the 1996 Chicago Bulls basketball team. You do not have to be a basketball fan or even a sports fan to remember one of the greatest professional sports teams of all time. Two of the five starters on that team are in the TOP 50 professional basketball players of ALL TIME! Together, that team won 6 NBA Championships. The reality though is that team was unique in that each player had a specific role. Each player understood that role and set out to do it to their best ability day in and day out. Those roles were represented by players whose personal strengths served that role the best. If every player on that team was like Michael Jordan, they most likely would not have become a successful team.
Like marriages, there are roles, and those roles are typically supported by the spouse whose strengths best suit that specific role. I have found in finances that depending on the marriage, one or the other spouse typically “takes care” of that role for the family. One thing that I speak to all of my married clients about is what happens if the person who takes care of the finances in the family passes away?
This is an extremely important question, one that recently came up just prior to writing this article. I was introduced to a newly widowed lady who had just turned 70. Her husband was a professor and had a doctorate in math. It was naturally his role to handle the finances for the team. He was a “do it yourselfer” and his abilities brought very unique and alternative investment strategies. This produced good “fruits” for them while working and into their retirement. Unfortunately, he fell ill with an aggressive form of cancer and passed away early this year.
His wife, still grieving at the sudden loss of her husband, was left to take over that role. These strategies were complex, confusing and without her husband and all of his characteristics to manage, she found herself in a tough spot. She spent hours on 1-800 numbers trying to figure out what she owned and what she needed to do to move forward and be able to maintain her finances for the remainder of her life.
I had the great honor of assisting her in managing her situation. I made sure she was empowered with a clear understanding of what she had and how it would assist her in achieving her goals and objectives now that her husband was gone. I consulted her so that she could feel comfortable sliding over from the passenger seat to the driver seat and take over the financial role.
This is a situation I see often. Whether you are in this situation or have a dynamic like the one I mentioned, it is imperative to work to make it possible for the spouse to handle that role. This is one of the benefits that you should get by hiring a financial advisor or consultant. Having someone that is part of the conversation to help mediate, educate and provide insight to the living spouse whose role was not finances so that they avoid missing a beat if their spouse should pass away.
Have your ever thought about this: What would you do if you were the one who does not handle the finances? What would you want to happen if you were the spouse handling this role? These are questions that you and your advisor should be making plans for. We have a saying at Financial Strategies, “We plan for the worse, so that the clients can receive the best.” If you haven’t ever thought about this, ask yourself why. More importantly, make a plan so that your family is protected.
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Written by Ronnie Thompson