Marriage and Finances: Understanding Financial Risk
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Protecting your plan means preparing for the unexpected — together.

If you and your spouse are like most married couples, your financial planning and saving is probably aimed at happy goals like retirement, college for your kids or buying a home. When the topic of managing risk comes up, it's likely to be in the context of choosing which investments might be the right vehicles for meeting those goals.

But portfolio losses are just one threat that couples need to guard against, says Missy Epperson, Area Wealth Executive at Regions Private Wealth Management: "It's equally important to think about and plan for how you'll handle other kinds of unanticipated life events."

This can require asking some tough questions: What would happen if one or both of you lost your jobs, became disabled or died? How would you cope if you became responsible for the care or financial support of a family member? If your marriage ended, would you both emerge financially intact?

And while these are emotional and often unpleasant questions, talking them through can help you build a stronger, more resilient financial plan, Epperson says.

Funding the Unexpected

"You can't avoid unexpected events, but you can mitigate their impact," Epperson explains. Having emergency savings to cover three to six months of living expenses is a start, but couples need to think bigger, she notes. "If you haven't saved sufficient resources to weather something like a lengthy health crisis or the death of a spouse—and some people might never feel comfortable that they have enough—then disability, long-term-care and life insurance policies can help cover that risk for you," says Epperson.

Scott and Bethany Palmer, co-authors of The 5 Money Personalities—Speaking the Same Love & Money Language, saw that play out when a friend was paralyzed in a car accident at age 35. "Fortunately, he had insurance," Scott Palmer says. "People think long-term-care insurance is just for a nursing home, but some policies kick in to cover you if you lose two activities of daily living, such as feeding and dressing yourself, and you can use them for care in your home."

Work with your Wealth Advisor to identify areas of exposure that you may not have considered. Serving on a board, running a home-based business or renting out your vacation home all present risk exposure, and all are reasons you might wish to revisit your insurance needs with your Wealth Advisor.

Tackling Transitions

Business owners and couples with complex estate plans are particularly vulnerable to gaps in exposure. Without proper guidance, for instance, the illness or death of an entrepreneur can send a company—along with his or her family's financial well-being—into free fall. A thoughtfully crafted, well-documented succession plan, however, could help safeguard the futures of both the business you've worked for years to build, and your surviving family members.

"Your succession plan may involve a buy-sell agreement with a business partner or a plan to transfer equity to family members working in the company," says Epperson, who helps business owners navigate thorny succession and wealth-planning issues. Ask yourself: If something were to happen to you, could your spouse count on a guaranteed income stream from your business?

In a similar vein, Wealth Advisors can help couples figure out how to ensure that children from a previous marriage will be provided for or that family money will be safeguarded. "If there is significant wealth on one side, we recommend family documents, such as a trust or a prenuptial agreement," Epperson says.

Being Transparent

Understanding one another's financial situations and intentions, including debts and obligations, is also important. For example, your spouse may be planning to cover college tuition for children from a previous marriage, or you may intend to support an aging parent financially. "The biggest risk we see with couples starting new lives together is a lack of transparency about personal finances," Epperson says.

Jacqueline Newman, a matrimonial lawyer with Berkman Bottger Newman & Rodd, urges couples not to shy away from raising such concerns. In fact, both the legal documents and the discussion that goes into forging them can actually strengthen a union. "I've worked with clients who had really heated conversations during the process but who told me afterward, 'I think our marriage will be stronger having gone through this,'" Newman says.

Ultimately, that's what financial planning as a couple is all about, she notes: "You're investing the time to think through these issues and take steps to reduce risk on behalf of your family."

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This information is general in nature and is provided for educational purposes only. Information provided and statements made by employees of Regions should not be relied on or interpreted as accounting, financial planning, investment, legal, or tax advice. Regions encourages you to consult a professional for advice applicable to your specific situation. Information provided and statements made by individuals who are not employees of Regions are the views, opinions, or positions of the individual who made the statement and do not necessarily reflect the policies, views, opinions, and positions of Regions. Regions makes no representations as to the accuracy, completeness, timeliness, suitability, or validity of any information presented.