Every so often, I’ll get a call or have someone come into the office and say they want to bring their spouse in for a meeting, but they’re not really sure how or if we can help them. Then they pause. I long ago stopped filling that pause with all the reasons why and how we can help them. Instead, I’ve learned that the best approach is often to simply ask, why? While the responses I receive vary, the storyline is predictable. Here it is.
One spouse takes care of the finances and budgets, maintains the check register and/or spreadsheet and the family budget. The other spouse is content in letting them do that. Managing money is not something they feel pulled to do. As the family ages, Spouse 1 (spreadsheet spouse) begins to create an instruction book with steps for Spouse 2 (non-financial spouse). This way if Spouse 1 gets hit by a bus, Spouse 2 will understand not only how to turn on the computer, but where to find the spreadsheet, unlock it, and then interpret it. As we’ve witnessed over the years, this action provides Spouse 1 with much satisfaction, clarity and guilt-free happiness. Until Spouse 2 asks a question so basic it makes Spouse 1 wince.
This is the point where Spouse 1 becomes certain that the reason Spouse 2 is confused is because the instructions weren’t clear. Despite their best efforts, Spouse 1 finally realizes that Spouse 2 has no desire whatsoever to live in harmony with the spreadsheet, should something happen to Spouse 1.
This is the exact moment when Spouse 1 picks up the phone or shoots our team an email. See paragraph one.
The majority of the time, what I see from folks who’ve been self-directed in their money management is that they’re worried that Spouse 2 wouldn’t know what to do after they’re gone. Most of the time when we look at the spreadsheet, Spouse 1 has done a phenomenal job for their family. You can definitely build a solid financial plan mathematically. But the reason we get the call is that they know the math won’t solve the problem if Spouse 2 doesn’t know how to read the spreadsheet. The one thing they’re left to worry about is their own longevity.
In my 25 years in this industry, I can tell you that some of my most loyal clients are the widowed/widowered Spouse 2s. They firmly believe in the planning process because they were blessed to have someone for decades who took care of these very things for them.
If you are self-directed and I have the opportunity to sit down with you, I’m not going to try to convince you that your strategy is wrong, or that your savings percent should be X, or that you should or shouldn’t pay off your house or car early. I will talk you through the pros and cons of when to claim Social Security, of how retirement income affects Medicare withholdings, and I will speak to you from experience about how having a plan for your future health and long-term care is important, regardless of whether you use it or not. These are all things a spreadsheet won’t tell you.
Regardless of what relationship we have moving forward, I know you will be able to rest easy and your family will be at peace knowing that, when life changes and situations arise that a spreadsheet can’t solve, you have a team here at Family Financial Partners that you can turn to. When we tell folks in that initial meeting that one of our primary jobs is to help them organize their financial life, many people think that means we do the actual organization for them. Well, we can’t, due to every site in the world having two-factor authentication these days. But if the rapture happens to you, we’ll be able to give your family options, and certainly a balance sheet of everything they have.
So, don’t be afraid to call any of us here at the Family Financial Partners team and say, “I’m self-directed, and I want my spouse to talk to you, but I’m not sure you can help.” We’ll keep the coffee hot.
Article by David Smyth, Senior Partner at Family Financial Partners — a financial services firm in Lexington, Kentucky.
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