How to Organize Your Bill Paying and Financial Accounts
I do not make New Year’s resolutions – if I get a good idea in September, I’ll implement it right then and there. No need to wait until the calendar says I can.
That said, there’s been something weighing on my mind for a while now that’s prompted me to begin a regular, non-New Year’s resolution: My entire family’s financial and estate financial planning is living in my head – and nowhere else.
While my husband takes care of home maintenance and other household tasks, the financial stuff has always been my area of expertise, and that’s always worked well for us. So what’s the issue?
If either of us were to be injured or otherwise incapacitated, the entire system would fall apart!
I may know how to balance a checkbook and file our taxes, but when it comes to operating the generator or starting a fire in our wood-burning stove, I’m pretty much helpless. Likewise, my husband would have a difficult time paying the household bills on time or locating contacts for our insurance policies.
So, this is the year I’m going to organize our lives, and I wanted to bring you along for the journey. While I handle the finances in my marriage, many women leave money matters up to their husbands – and are left struggling to make sense of it all after their husband passes away.
This is a common problem. Women on average have a life expectancy that is nearly five years longer than that of men. If the details of your financial situation are living in your husband’s head, then now is a good time to get them down on paper – no matter how old you are.
And that goes for single women, too. Your loved ones need to know where this information is if they have to help you.
I knew I’d need a little help getting started, so I’m turning to a book with a somewhat morbid title: “In Case You Get Hit by a Bus: How to Organize Your Life Now for When You’re Not Around Later,” by Abby Schneiderman and Adam Seifer (founders of Everplans*) with Gene Newman. I’ve found this book to be invaluable as I consider the steps I need to take to make sure I don’t leave behind a mess when I’m gone.
Get Started with Bill Paying and Financial Accounts
I’ll be starting with what I consider the most important item – bill paying and financial accounts and how to access them. After all, one of the most stressful parts of losing a spouse is making sure bills get paid on time and accounts don’t get lost. it doesn’t do any good to write important information down if others don’t know how to find it or what to do with it in your absence.
So many of my clients are facing the same situation my family is in: one spouse takes care of the bills while the other handles other parts of their lives. I have several clients I meet with without any involvement from their partner at all. In the case of a death or divorce, the surviving spouse is left without a clue, unable to access their money for weeks or even months.
Create a List of All Your Assets
The first step to organizing your assets is to take stock of what you’ve got and where it is. Most people have liquid assets, or funds that are easily accessible. This might include your checking and savings accounts at your local banks or any cash you keep on hand.
Then you have your reserve assets, the ones that would take some time and effort to retrieve (e.g., retirement accounts, real estate, life insurance policies). They’re still a part of your net worth, but you’re probably not going to be spending that money anytime soon.
Create a list of everything you own – liquid, reserve and everything in between. You can do this digitally, like in an Excel spreadsheet. If you’re more comfortable with a pen and paper, grab a legal pad.
You don’t need to include all the sensitive details like account numbers and passwords – yet. Just begin by listing the amount and where it’s kept. Remember, the goal is to make sure your family knows where to look when you’re not there to point them in the right direction.
Information to consider including in your list:
- The money amount
- Where the money is located
- A personal contact (that works at the relevant institution, like your regular banker)
- Where you’ve stored any relevant paperwork
- This could be online, in a safe, or with another person
Don’t Forget the Paperwork
Speaking of important paperwork, you probably also have some assets that aren’t in dollar form, but also have some value. This could include the deed to your home or titles to any vehicles you own.
When creating your list of assets, make sure to include these items:
- The deed to your home
- The title to your vehicle(s)
- Court orders
- Certificates of authenticity
- Certificates of ownership for any valuable family heirlooms or other big-ticket items
It’s okay if you don’t know the exact value of these items, because they tend to fluctuate over time rather than maintaining a set price. The important thing is to list where your loved ones can find all the important documentation attached to each of the items.
Consider the Benefits
You may also qualify for revenue streams that your loved ones could benefit from in the event of your passing, like a pension, Social Security, disability insurance, unemployment benefits, longevity insurance or child support.
If you’re receiving or plan on collecting money from one or more of these benefits programs, you’ll want to provide some relevant details.
Be sure to include:
- Details or relevant paperwork
- How and where you get paid
- A contact familiar with your account
- Any online details they may need
If you are a veteran or active military member, you may also be due a military burial upon your passing. To help your loved ones cover burial costs and collect any other survivor benefits, make sure you include discharge papers or any other relevant military paperwork in your assets list.
Join Together with Joint Bank Accounts
After you’ve got your list of assets put together, the next step is to ensure you and your spouse are both listed on your bank accounts.
When only one of you is listed as an account holder, you risk having the account frozen upon your death, which could leave your spouse unable to access any of that money and create unnecessary complications with bill-paying after you’re gone.
You may have heard that safe deposit boxes are a secure spot for all your important stuff. If your house burns down, you’ve still got your safe deposit box, right?
The reality is that safe deposit boxes aren’t protected by any federal laws – if your items are stolen or misplaced by the bank, you have no recourse for compensation.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t use a safe deposit box – they can be a great spot to keep your heirlooms, insurance policies or even things you want your family to inherit after you’re gone. However, they may not be the right place to store things you think you’ll need access to quickly in case of an emergency, like an Advanced Directive or Power of Attorney.
Most importantly, you’ll want to grant a close loved one or other trusted confidant access to your safe deposit box. Otherwise, they’ll need a court order to gain access after your passing, which can be a lengthy and cost-heavy process. Your bank should be able to assist you in naming a designated trustee or authorized user.
Grow with Gasber
Need some guidance in your financial journey? Gasber Financial Advisors, Inc. is here to help. With nearly three decades of experience in financial planning, our firm has the knowledge and expertise to set your family up for long-term success.
*Everplans is an easy-to-access, secure digital archive where you can store everything described above throughout your life. At Gasber Financial we believe so strongly in organizing that we provide all clients with access to their own Everplan account. Find out more at www.everplans.com.
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