Help, I know Nothing About Our Finances

My husband always took care of our finances.  Recently I learned from our accountant that our tax returns were not filled correctly.  My husband has the beginning stages of dementia and his memory is declining along with his organizational skills.  He never shared with me the bookkeeping, our stocks and bonds, or any other financial information.  I don’t know where to begin or how to take over.

This is a cry I often hear.  Therefore, Alex Vassey, my CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professional, and I would like to share some good information.

There are “preventative measures” and there are “after the fact measures”.  We believe it’s always best to take preventative steps to avoid problems before they occur.  If your husband is in the beginning stages of Alzheimer’s disease, he is still quite aware, can think and function on a meaningful level.  This is the time to encourage him to share information with you, even if you haven’t shown an interest in financial matters before.

The things he should share include: the location of all bank statements; passwords for all financial accounts, (if they are kept on line); and your financial durable power of attorney. If you don’t have a financial durable power of attorney yet, now is an important time to name one.  It could be you or an adult child who has an interest in financial matters and who acts in your best interest.  From this point forward your husband and the chosen financial power of attorney should have access to all statements. 

If your husband enjoyed watching the market and making decisions as when to sell or buy stocks, he may not have a financial planner or adviser.  Under the circumstances now is a good time to find a good financial adviser your husband and financial power of attorney feel comfortable with and whose judgement is sound.

Finally, this is a good time to review beneficiaries.  So many people forget to update their decisions. 

There are times you’ve waited too long, and the person in charge of the family finances is no longer able to make decisions or has died.  There are still steps that can be taken.  If possible, gather bank statements and locate bank and custodial information and take them to your family financial adviser.  If you don’t know where these statements are located, have your accountant or financial adviser review last year’s 1099 forms.  He will have good advice on where and how to locate financial statement as well as suggestions for further steps you should take.

One last piece of advice, make no significant changes until you have a complete understanding of your financial situation. It is a shame when we don’t take an interest in our financial affairs until we are forced into it. Be proactive. Take “preventative measures” rather than being faced with “after the fact measures”.