March 31, 2010

Have You Had That Talk??

maryBy Mary Schricker, SRES
Ruhl&Ruhl Real Estate

None of us want to face the fact that we are not immortal so this is not always an easy talk to have with our loved ones.  It is however one of the most important discussions you will ever have with your spouse.

It seems that the division of household duties among many young couples today is much more equitable than it was in the days of Ozzie and Harriet. The tasks of cooking, cleaning, shopping, bill paying and parenting are often shared by both partners depending on career demands and schedules on any given day. There is a sense of independence that allows the couple to function within the household both singularly and as a team.

As I talk with seniors today it is evident that the assignments of household chores are much more firmly planted in tradition. This may not pose a problem until declining mental or physical health begins to impair one or both of the seniors. The surviving spouse is often left without total knowledge about the functionality of the household. When I evaluate seniors’ homes prior to selling I more often than not hear the words, “I don’t know, my husband ( or wife) handled that!” A feeling of helplessness or at the very least inadequacy prevails. There are some preliminary things that can be done to prevent this scenario from happening to you.

Discuss with your spouse your financial situation; develop a list of investments, the numbers and amounts of insurance policies, your credit card numbers and balances, mortgage information, and bank accounts. Keep copies in a safe place where they can be readily accessible upon the illness or death of your mate. It is wise to also share the information with a family member or friend who will be responsible for your affairs in the case of a simultaneous death of both of you. 

Share the responsibility of handling routine finances. Show your husband or wife how to pay the bills, balance the checking account and tackle the normal day to day financial routine that every household must deal with. A little on the job training goes a long way.

Discuss the family budget. Many wives and husbands, especially those who have been married for a long time, have little understanding of how much they spend relative to the family income. Most important in this conversation is the awareness of how much income will be available to the surviving spouse. 

Discuss what might be done with your home and living arrangements.  For many Americans the home is their largest asset; on the other hand it may also be the largest liability or drain of income. Meeting mortgage payments, taxes, routine utility bills, and repairs can take up a substantial portion of the monthly income. It is recommended that you have enough liquid assets available so no immediate decision of selling and moving will be necessary. The death of a spouse is traumatic enough without having to decide to immediately sell and relocate.
Talk about the options that might be available with regard to relocating and make some preliminary inquiries about your possible choices. You may even decide that downsizing while both partners are healthy is a wise thing to do. The liquidation of property and material possessions is a difficult task for a surviving spouse. Think about doing it together. At the least evaluate your present living situation and know the value of your home on today’s market. A qualified licensed realtor can give you a comparative market analysis free of charge. Be sure to make a list of recent home improvements with dates and warranty information readily available. 

Last but not least meet with your attorney and financial advisor to discuss preparing the necessary papers to maximize your estate and make sure your post mortem plans are conducive to your personal wishes and in the best interest of your spouse.  

None of us want to face the fact that we are not immortal so this is not always an easy talk to have with our loved ones.  It is however one of the most important discussions you will ever have with your spouse.  Don’t put it off until tomorrow!