On Veterans Day of this year, it will be ten years since my husband passed away. Sometimes it is hard to believe and it feels like the time has been much shorter. As I've been reflecting on this time with my family, I've begun writing a series of articles on both preparation for widowhood and dealing with the ramifications of that.....soon to come.
Meanwhile though, I've realized that many of the so called traditional financial rules and behaviors for money management for couples has gone out the window-for a variety of reasons, most of them good I am sure. For example, I shared with someone recently that I never actually filed my will for probate because I never needed it.
You see, my husband and I owned everything jointly, with rights of survivorship-with one exception. Joint checking accounts, joint savings accounts. I was the only beneficiary of his life insurance and vice versa. I was the only beneficiary of his 401K (by law with the feds you cannot name a beneficiary other than the spouse without the spouses permission). My husband purchased our home without me, but we lived in Virginia where spousal survivorship was a given. In fact, the only things we did not share jointly and manage jointly were our cars.
This made life more easy for me than I can say. While I did have to send death certificates to the account corporate offices, never was anything frozen and never did I not have access to all funds and everything I owned-I just had to forward the death certificate and remove my husband's name (eventually).
This also made our financial life easy for the many years we were together. We each always knew how much the other made (or in my case often did not make). It was easy to do a quick check on where our finances were as we only had three accounts (checking, savings, investments). And as a wife married to a husband who traveled for his job a fair amount, I was always able to access all of our accounts with no power of attorney or other issues.
This was the only kind of "couples finance" that either of us really knew. Both our parents had always owned things jointly-one joint account for checking and so on. It was the way of the world.
The world it seems, has changed. My daughter and her husband, for example, have separate checking accounts as well as a joint account for paying bills. One partner (in this case him) pays the bills from money they both separately contribute to the pot. And they are not alone, even among married couples. Not only that, but from what I have seen more and more boomer couples are moving to the yours, mine and ours model of finances.
I have to confess, while I feel everyone should do what works for them, I don't really get it. I can surely see exceptions-second marriages with children and inheritances involved would certainly change the equation, I expect. Other than that though, it often seems like a trust issue for me. I mean, I'm the first to admit that we all have spending styles and different priorities. I also understand that some folks come to marriage with debt or other issues. (I came to my second marriage deeply in debt with more bounced checks than I care to think about in order to keep things afloat after my first husband took everything and left, after all).
In my case, both my husband and I had a certain amount budgeted for month that was ours to spend as we wanted, we no questions asked-and believe me, there was more than one time when one of us looked askance at the other as of to say "really, you bought THAT?". How much we allowed for personal spending depended on the times-early on in our marriage my husband changed careers and went back to almost minimum wage. In those days, the extra cash can best be described as what Dave Ramsey would call blow money. But because we had good communication and trust, it always worked for us.
The world is changing, and apparently the financial rules are as well. There are more divorces and "partnerships". People remarry, and second marriages often either minor or adult children from previous marriages. More and more, women are in the work force as much as men.
The bottom line I suppose is that as the rules and lifestyle change, money habits change as well. Personally, given the choice. I would still stick to the "old system". But we are all different, and what works, works.
What about you? Do you have separate accounts? Deal with everything jointly? Or are you perhaps somewhere in the middle.
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