Sign Here, My Dear
This was the title of a series of lectures to help spouses, mostly wives, understand financial matters. It addressed a very real problem that families face when the “financial spouse” passes on.
What bills do I have to pay? Will I have enough income to cover my expenses now that my spouse is gone? Will I have to sell my home? Or, will I have enough to make gifts to children and grandchildren during my life? These kinds of questions, which arise frequently in estate planning and administration, demonstrate the need for a kind of planning that incorporates knowledge of retirement plans, financial planning, elder law and estate-planning concepts. Lawyers practicing trusts and estates have most of these skills and need to understand the importance of having a wider view of the planning client’s requirements.
I have discussed with clients the preparation of a template during the lifetime of the financial spouse, setting forth what expenses need to be met and how they are paid:
- Bills paid every month, such as telephone, other utilities, car payments.
- Bills paid on a regular but not monthly basis, such as auto and homeowners insurance, life and disability insurance premiums.
- Bills paid as expenses are incurred or are chosen to be paid, such as credit cards, contributions, medical and dental expenses, veterinarian (if you live at my house), car repair, home repairs.
A second part of the template is things to do during the course of the year:
- Car inspections.
- Home inspections.
- Medical and dental checkups.
- Memberships in various organizations, such as ambulance services, that are useful to families.
- Required distributions from retirement plans, depending on the survivor’s age.
- Filing tax returns and paying any required estimated taxes.
A third part of the template is a list of the people to contact for assistance:
- Lawyer (always the top of the list).
- Insurance agents.
- Home service and repair people.
- Car repair services.
- Other specialized assistance.
And, finally, it’s important to have good organization of the information. There’s no point in assembling information if the survivor can’t find it. I’ve had some clients who went a little overboard on this (“walk three paces to the left”), but it is important that the survivor know where things are. As the large Baby Boom Generation moves toward retirement and beyond, it will be important to help them plan these practical aspects of the balance of their lives.
Robert H. Louis