If Something Happened to Your Spouse Today...
If you've been following me on Instagram this week, we've been addressing three essential issues that come up repeatedly for married midlife women; smart, fearless, educated women where finances were managed solely by their spouses. In full disclosure, I was one of them at one point in my life (even while I was in a financial services career). It's hard to believe now, I know. Yet, at that time in my life, I had given away my power.
Let's dive in.
Here's Why You Need to Know Where the Important Documents AreSeveral months ago, I talked with a woman whose husband unexpectedly passed away while on a business trip. He had a massive heart attack in his sleep. She called because he handled everything in their finances, including all the bank statements, insurance papers, mortgage docs, copies of tax filings, passwords to online banking, etc... yes, everything.
She had no idea what their financial situation was or where any of their important documents are. At 55 years old, she essentially had no idea where to begin and had to scramble to figure everything out.
She was devasted, of course, and it was a heart-wrenching conversation not only because she didn't get to say goodbye to her husband, but because of all the scrambling she found herself in, she didn't have time to properly grieve the loss of her husband much less figure out how to get her life on track financially.
If something happened to your spouse today,
can you easily find all of your important documents?
Can You Confidentally Take Over the Finances?
During the introductions of the group, we went around the room asking, "So what do you do?" Most of the responses were, "I'm a stay-at-home mom or I'm a nurse" or some other profession that escapes me at the moment.
My turn came and I said, "I'm a securities trader for Renaissance Investment Management. We manage the portfolios of high net-worth clients as well as company plans."
The two women leading the group looked at me flippantly and I'll never forget what one of them said.
"Oh, I don't know anything about that kind of stuff, my husband handles everything regarding our money."
Everything? Really? You can imagine the puzzled look on my face because all I could hear in my head was, "What if something happens to your husband? What would you do?"
I totally understand that some women don't get excited about finances like I do, but girlfriend, you owe it to yourself and your kids (if you have kids) to at least be involved so you're not completely in the dark about your financial situation.
If something happened to your spouse today, can you confidently take over the finances?
Here's Why You Need to Support Yourself Financially
Fast forward 25 years and she talked about how she had gone through a very abusive divorce with this man, who took everything. She had no access to their online banking and by the time the divorce was in process, he wiped out everything.
This can also be considered financial abuse and she is starting over at 53. I'm excited for her and her new beginning, because she deserves so much better and she has the right people around her for support. Yet, I have no doubt she's nervous and scared at the same time. The biggest question I know she's asking herself is "Can I financially support myself and the my kids?" and "Is it even possible to go back to the career I left 25 years ago?"
No woman goes into marriage thinking she's going to be divorced someday. Yet, the statistics are nearly half of all marriages in the United States end in divorce or separaration. That's the reality.
For women who have been dependent on her spouse's income for support, for example, the stay-at-home mom who gave up her career or the woman who worked only part-time just to get out of the house, they have an even more challenging time trying to get back on track.
So, I want to ask you:
If something happened to your spouse today or if you suddenly found yourself on the other side of a divorce situation, can you financially support yourself?
These are very real stories and and I know we like to think, "It'll never happen to me." However, the statistics for women ages 40-79 is that 2/3rds of us will experience either a divorce, become a widow or unexpected job loss. I don't want see you in a financial scramble. If you're married, this is why it's essential for you to use your voice in your finances, to get your power back.
What's next for you?
If any of these scenarios we talked about sound familiar, here are your action steps to take:
1. Talk with your spouse today and review where all your important docs are.
2. Talk with your spouse and have a meeting where the two of you start reviewing the basics of your finances so you have a better understanding of what's going on.
3. Consider starting a side hustle. It's a great way to earn extra income and gain the skills necessary that can lead to a a full-time income and self-sufficiency.
Until next time...
Patty Gale is a Financial Therapist and the Founder of Fear.less Girl Financial. She believes money stories are not taboo and is passionate about changing the narrative and removing the stigma.