I came across an interesting article worth sharing in this past week’s Sunday New York Times.
This article addresses how the pandemic has created urgency amongst couples to share information about the household finances. Three heterosexual couples are highlighted and what is both surprising and a bit unfortunate is that in all three cases it is the wife who is “in the dark” deferring to her husband to control the money. All of the women showed some measure of discomfort in discussing the finances with their spouses. As a married woman and estate planning attorney, if this is national trend, then this is very disappointing. I say this in light of all of the discussion of Ruth Bader Ginsburg (may she rest in peace) and the debt of gratitude we owe her for advancing women’s rights. WWRBGD What would RBG do? I believe she would have been disheartened by this article.
Certainly, it is not atypical to have one spouse assert more control over the household management. One spouse may pay the day to day bills and generally have a better handle on the monthly expenses but for the other spouse to be completely in the dark about the couple’s assets, debts and estate planning documents is dangerous and fraught with peril. I have handled estates where the surviving spouse has been blindsided about her deceased spouse’s expenses, assets and debts. These are the spouses who might be left struggling because their spouse has inadequate life insurance or significant debts. THIS IS IRRESPONSIBLE AND UNFAIR TO BOTH PARTIES.
If I am working with a couple, I require both of them to attend the consultation. We discuss all of the assets and debts. We review beneficiary designations and how accounts are titled. I encourage open and honest dialogue between couples even if it causes friction during the meeting. For individuals who do not want to share information with their spouse, I will not meet with or retain the spouse as a client. However, most couples embark on the estate planning process together. In addition to preparing documents to address incapacity and death, the sharing of asset information is a critical step in the process.
In fact, I believe in and encourage couples to maintain their own individual accounts if they desire to do so. There is absolutely nothing wrong with some financial autonomy in a relationship. What is wrong is keeping your spouse in the dark, especially if you are hiding something.
For each of the couples highlighted for the article, there was discomfort in asking the tough questions. My response is “Get over it.” Have the difficult discussions because these are life and death matters. Would you really want to leave your spouse, who may be devastated by your sickness or death, with absolutely no idea how to take care of the household if you got sick or passed away? I facilitate these discussions on a regular basis within the context of estate planning. If you’d like to set up an appointment to discuss your estate plan, please contact the Law Offices of Kristen R. Gross, P.C. and stay safe!