NEW YORK (MainStreet) Since I take charge of the finances in my family, my husband has to ask me for the log-in and passwords if he wants to know something. Recently, he marched into my office and announced, "You know, I need to know about all our accounts, bills, assets and their log-ins and passwords in case I need to take care of any or all of these things on any given day. We need to make a list."
I hadn't thought of it, and he is right. If something happened to me, everyone else in the family would be locked out of all of our financial information across many different banks and accounts, a mortgage, college bills, several investment properties with tenants, insurance policies, a corporation and an LLC, not to mention three kids' worth of school, doctor and activity information. In addition, no one would be able to pay any of the bills without the log-ins and passwords now that I've signed up for paperless billing for every single bill. What a scary thought.
Splitting financial responsibilities
According to a 2012 TD Ameritrade and Learnvest Study entitled, "Love and Money in America" six in ten respondents were just like my husband: they trust their partners completely to manage their finances as a couple. In terms of financial responsibilities, only about half said the different financial tasks for their household are joint responsibilities.
Females said they were more likely to tackle groceries, day-to-day expenses and the household budget while male respondents are more often solely responsible for investing decisions, retirement savings and tax returns.
The survey also found 38% were only somewhat, slightly or not at all aware of their significant other's assets or liabilities. That means if something happened to either partner, the other may be at a real loss of information and the power necessary to continue the day-to-day operations of handling the family finances.
Create a master financial access list
"People blow these things off until the problem slaps them in the face," says Kathleen Grace, certified financial planner and managing director at United Capital and author of Prince Not So Charming, a story of women and the importance of financial independence. She says whether you are a spouse, a partner, an adult child or a parent responsible for another adult, you owe it to the others involved in your affairs to share all the financial information to protect your family.
"It would be hard to pick up the family finances without the other who was in charge of it, if you previously had no knowledge of it and nothing to do with it," she said.
Family finance expert and author of The 60-inute Money Workout Ellie Kay agrees.
"Too many couples do not know the full extent of their partner's accounts, much less their passwords," she said. "The one way a tragic loss or incapacitation of a partner could be made even worse is if the account numbers and passwords are lost with that partner. This only leaves a trail of financial chaos that the surviving partner has to deal with, in addition to their grief."
Grace says if you need to approach your spouse, parent or adult child to ask for this information or give this information, do it right now.
"If you don't, the very real implication is accounts could go unpaid, late fees and interest can accrue, money and investments can be lost and services could get cancelled without this information," she said.
What to include on your master financial access list
Experts say to include every single thing about your financial life together, and even personal accounts, assets, debts and business information you do not share jointly. The important things to include for each listing are the account numbers, contact information, websites, login information and especially the passwords for access.
- Banks and bank accounts
- Investment accounts
- All assets and contact information
- Mortgage and any other loans
- A current listing of all debts, including credit card accounts
- A current listing of all bills and monthly, quarterly or yearly payment amounts
- All types of insurance policies
- Any life insurance account information, pensions, social security or benefit information
- Any important family medical information, medications, doctor's contact information
- Any current educational institutions and monthly payment amounts
- Kid's activities, school and important contact information
- List of any trusted important people who can help and contact information
- Business account, safe, website and trusted associate's contact information, if applicable
- Tax identification numbers, business and personal
Online or hardcopy: how to keep it safe
While there are free online services for storing financial information, Grace advises against them due to security issues. "Always research the security features of any service before adding financial information to it," she says.
Mint.com is a free online service which stores all account information for access at-a-glance. Manilla.com is another free online service for all-in-one-place bill paying. Passwordbox.com is a free service that stores passwords across all your accounts and devices and allows you to share it with an authorized user.
You may also find private online storage of your pertinent financial information such as the "Family Legacy Book" offered to clients of United Capital which is securely uploaded to an encrypted online vault.
If you don't like using online services and would rather create a hard copy of your master financial access list, you can create an organized spreadsheet of the information using Microsoft Excel or even a simple Word or text document or pen and a legal pad. Once your document is complete, keep a hard copy locked in a safe deposit box along with a saved digital copy if applicable on a USB flash drive (also called a thumb drive, a pen drive or a stick drive) so you can update the document as information changes. Remove the document from your hard-drive on your computer, and don't keep the document just lying around the house in case a thief is looking for this information.
Do it now...
The Learnvest study found that couples talk about money with their significant others only around 20 times a year with an additional five fights about money, on average. Kay says creating this master financial access list this should be just one of many financial conversations you should have with your spouse at least 60 minutes every week.
"Creating your master financial access list may not get it done in one 60-minute workout, and you may have to schedule more time together to complete the process, but it would be highly worth it," advises Kay.
It took my husband and I more than five hours to create our master financial access list, but the peace of mind lasts forever.
--Written by Naomi Mannino for MainStreet