1. Have an estate plan. When you establish a relationship with an estate planner, she or he can prepare the family by marshaling an inventory of assets, accounts, and access information within an estate plan and keeping it up to date.
2. Hire a fiduciary-based financial advisor. Rather than putting all your investable cash assets with a non-fiduciary brokerage like Salomon Smith Barney, consider placing with a Registered Investment Advisor (or RIA for short) who is a fiduciary and will also help and track inventory data. The Financial Planner and the Estate Planner can work together (along with other professionals like insurance agents and CPAs) to create a net of safety around the family.
3. Ensure both spouses understand and can manage daily finances. This can be very difficult if one spouse has a hands off approach to money and financial management. If that’s the case, a course like Bari Tessler’s “Art of Money” course can really enliven both spouse’s relationship with money and with each other. Her work helps heal money scars that keep us from taking full responsibility for our own financial well-being and to learn to “do money” in a fun and exciting way. Don’t ignore when a spouse is resistant to understanding money. That’s an opportunity for massive growth and empowerment. Encourage, coax, and support.
4. Buy a password management program or a membership in a password management website like LastPass or Password Genie. Let a computer system help support both spouses (and successors) have easy access to online accounts. Make sure your estate planning documents provide your agents and trustees powers to access and manage digitally based assets.
5. Whenever possible, use diagrams and flowcharts to illustrate your estate and financial planning. Usually, a financial advisor and an estate planner can provide that.
6. Develop a filing system for important documents. Scan important financial, insurance, and tax documents to a USB for emergencies. Update files annually, preferably at tax time.
The key is sharing labor and preparation. Very few things help cure the larger ills that happen when the family CFO dies or is incapacitated. When a couple shares the responsibilities for money in the family, they can use it to grow together and become stronger. When one person is doing the financial work, the imbalance can become impenetrable over time.