"Who 'owns' the assets? Is anyone cheating on the budget? Will each spouse have to fight for what’s his or hers? And, are they putting their lives, homes, and assets at risk by not asking the right questions?
“Through death or divorce, many women will be alone at some point in their lives; they should be aware of their husband’s financial plan because someday they may have to live with it,” said Beth Wood, assistant vice president, Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company (MassMutual).
“Conversely, for the growing number of households where the woman is the CFO, there’s no excuse for the man not to know what’s going on with the family finances,” said William Dougherty, assistant vice president, MassMutual.
Wood and Dougherty have developed five questions spouses and partners should ask each other.
1) Are there hidden pockets of money?
Identify all accounts including checking, savings, retirement, investments, on-line trading, IRAs, etc. If you’re left alone and don’t know about the money, it could go unclaimed and neither you nor your children would get the cash. With today’s technology and being able to receive statements on-line, there’s no paper statement that necessarily comes in the mail. A spouse may just get an email that says ‘Here’s your statement.’
“Communication between spouses can be good - trying to "hide" money really won't work in the end especially if you file a joint tax return - you don't want to hide money from your spouse and you certainly don't want to hide money from the IRS, so full disclosure and honest communication about financial goals is key,” said Dougherty.
2) Am I the owner of this account?
One spouse may have opened a checking, savings, or investment account; but if you're not named as owner or beneficiary, there could be issues and complications as to how that money gets distributed in the event of death or divorce. It's a good idea to know what accounts exist, where they exist, and whether you're an owner or beneficiary.
“This isn’t about one person snooping on the other; this is about working toward a healthy financial life and relationship. If there are secrets out there or things you don’t understand, that can never lead to any good,” said Wood.
3) Are you cheating?
Anyone in the relationship could run up huge credit card bills. Is someone living beyond the budget? Are you saving for college, mortgage payments, cars, and vacation – or is someone spending their money on “toys?”
“If you don’t share and stick to common financial goals, it can break the budget and the marriage. There may be an awful lot of spending for sports, electronics, spa treatments, and clothing outside the household budget,” said Wood.
4) Where’s my cut?
Have a budget, but don’t let it be your ball and chain. It’s important to do things for yourself. Peel off a portion of the household income for things important to you - but don’t call it an allowance.
“It’s important that each spouse feels they are a valuable, contributing member of the household – whether they bring home a paycheck or stay home to take care of the children and run the house; both are full time jobs,” said Wood.
5) Do your safety nets have holes?
No harm done if the milk expires, but it could be a huge problem if a spouse’s life insurance protection expires - and you don't know it. “There are critical differences between the many kinds of insurance people use to ensure the family can continue to pay its bills and survive if a spouse dies too early, lives too long, or becomes disabled along the way,” said Dougherty.
Mass Mutual offers more than two dozen free calculators for savings and financial planning.
Sharon is the author of the Frugal Duchess: How to Live Well and Save Money -- a coming of age memoir about money -- and a contributing writer in Wise Bread's 10,0001 Ways to Live Large on a Small Budget.