SBJ: The #1 Financial Planning Strategy For Couples

Industry Insight


The most important financial planning item for couples has nothing to do with stock markets, getting out of debt, or even selecting a good’s making sure you both have a basic understanding of your financial picture. So get together, get organized, and start talking it through now.

If a financial adviser has a closer relationship with one member of a couple than the other, could this become a problem in the event of a death? If one spouse handles most or all of the household finances, and the other has no clue, what will happen if the “bookkeeper” dies or becomes disabled?

Talk about this together now, and have a transition plan in case of tragedy—when life will be plenty upside-down without the added problem of financial disarray.

A couple we’ll call Mr. and Mrs. N sought help from their adviser with the proceeds from the sale of real estate which Mr. N had inherited from his father. His dad had purchased the land many years prior, so capital gains tax was going to be considerable. They talked with the adviser about strategies to stretch the tax hit over a couple of years, and how to conservatively invest the money so that it would be available to pay the tax bill the following year.

Near the end of the meeting the adviser asked Mr. N if he had any questions—and then turned to Mrs. N and asked the same thing. She responded, “I just hope I die first.”

Mrs. N didn’t feel she understood everything well enough…Mr. N handled most of the finances, and she just felt lost.

From that point on, the adviser took extra time each meeting so Mrs. N could catch up and keep up…so she didn’t have to feel exposed.

If your adviser isn’t already taking similar steps, take it upon yourself to get everyone on the same page. 

This is about both you and your partner knowing your resources and team members: accountant, attorneys, investment adviser, financial adviser, insurance agents. Meet together with each member of the team if you haven’t already. Make sure you and your partner have a basic working knowledge of what you own, and how it’s protected. Understand the plan for managing assets to meet basic needs…and how those needs might change in the event of death or incapacity.

And get organized. Albert Einstein said, “If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind…then what about an empty desk?” (Another Einstein quote: “I never said half the things I’m quoted as saying.”)

If you’re the Einstein who takes care of the finances for your household, and your desk is very cluttered (you know who you are)—what if something happens to you? Will the first question your survivors ask be, “Where is everything?”

Create a “survivors guide” using a three-ring pocket binder. The centerpiece is essentially a table of contents for your financial life—personal data, contact information for insurance agents, investment advisers, attorney, accountant, where your assets are located, where the car and home titles are kept, safe deposit box location, bank information (not account numbers and Social Security numbers because you don’t want those laying around the house—but the secure location where these can be found).  

You may also want to include copies of wills and trusts, insurance policies, health care directive, powers of attorney, and real estate deeds. Some even choose to include a self-written obituary and eulogy…yes you can truly get the last word!

Now it doesn’t take an Einstein to come up with list of items you need to organize, and a place to put all of it…but in addition to helping those you leave behind, it can also benefit you if you’re not already as organized as you’d like to be.

This is not something you complete overnight, it’s a project you work on over time. But once it’s in place, you can sleep better knowing your survivors can find everything. And maybe it will be the surviving spouse who benefit first…if that were to be you, do you already know where everything is? If you helped pull all this information together for your “survivors guide”, you’d know. And when you do find yourself suddenly on your own, it becomes yours, and you can update it for your own survivors’ benefit someday.

When you show your siblings or adult kids where you keep your survivors guide, and what’s in it—they may realize you did this for their benefit, and they may think about organizing their own financial lives too.

We do this to help the ones we leave behind pick up the pieces, to make those pieces easier to find, easier to pick up, at a time when the last thing survivors want is to have to dig through Einstein’s desk.

CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNERTM professional Kenny Gott is President at Piatchek & Associates and author of the book "Bottom Line Financial Planning". He can be reached at