By: The American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys

John and Susan have been married for 38 years. Like many couples, early in their marriage, they gravitated toward a division of labor that worked for them. John is an amateur chef, so he handles the grocery shopping, the meal planning, and the cooking. Susan loves the outdoors, so she takes care of the lawn and the garden. Susan, who is a neat freak, does much of the cleaning, while John keeps track of the family finances.

John and Susan have done something else, something really smart. Despite their division of labor, each of them knows how to handle all of the other’s responsibilities. This way, if one spouse goes out of town or gets sick, the household continues to run smoothly. Meals are still cooked, the lawn is maintained, and the bills are paid on time.

Last year, when John had a mild stroke, this “cross-training” paid off in a big way. Susan knew exactly where to find John’s important medical documents. She had all the important information about his health and disability insurance coverage. When it took several months for him to get back into the swing of things, she was able to keep their finances on track without missing a beat.

You and your spouse likely divide the household responsibilities, but do you take the extra step and stay up-to-date on each other’s tasks? If you don’t, you might want to start with your family’s finances. No matter which spouse handles your family’s budget, it is essential that both of you know some basic information. Here’s a checklist to get you started:

  • An overview of your basic monthly bills, including how each is paid and from which account
  • The locations of your checking, savings, and brokerage accounts
  • Your account numbers and passwords
  • The email account and password where you receive billing statements
  • An overview of your filing system
  • The locations of your insurance policies, declaration pages, and/or cards, including:
    • Health insurance
    • Auto insurance
    • Homeowner’s insurance
    • Life insurance
  •  The location and details of your estate planning documents, including:
    • Living Trust: Many people opt for a Living Trust to serve as the foundation of their estate plan. This tool allows you to plan for your family’s security in case you become disabled. It also lets you distribute your assets without the need for probate in the event of your death.
    • Will: Even with a Living Trust, a Will is a necessary part of your estate plan. A Pour-Over Will “catches” any assets left out of your Trust and allows those assets to be distributed in accordance with your overall plan. A Will also lets you designate a guardian for your children.
    • Financial Power of Attorney: A Financial Power of Attorney allows you to name an agent to handle your financial decision-making in case you are incapacitated.
    • Healthcare Power of Attorney: A Healthcare Power of Attorney lets you name an agent to make medical decisions for you in case you are too ill or injured to do so yourself.
  • The names and contact information for each of your trusted advisors, including:
    • Estate Planning Attorney
    • Insurance Agent
    • Financial Advisor
    • Primary Care Physician

With a little planning, you can spare your family the confusion and stress that too often accompany hard times. If you do not have an estate plan, now is a great time to put one in place. The best way to do this is to connect with an experienced estate planning attorney. He or she can walk you through the process and design a plan that meets your family’s unique goals and needs.

Set aside a few moments this week to sit down with your spouse and go through this checklist. You’ll be so glad you did!

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