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How to Widow-Proof (or Widower-Proof) Your Portfolio

Plenty of people who pass away or become debilitated leave their spouses with overly complicated financial plans, too little information, and no clear instructions about where to turn for help. Below are some of the key ways to make sure that doesn’t happen to your family.

1) Start the Conversation. Even if your spouse is happily hands-off, it’s important that he or she is looped in on the basics of your financial plan, including how much you have, your chief financial assets, and what type of withdrawal rate your portfolio can safely support. Alternatively, or in addition to having a money conversation with your spouse, share at least the basic information about your finances with your most financially literate (and trustworthy) child.

2) Simplify. Assuming a financial plan includes a well-thought-out asset allocation and reasonable intra-asset-class diversification, less may be more in terms of the number of individual holdings. That’s particularly true if you’re concerned about your spouse’s ability to manage the portfolio on his or her own. Of course, multiple accounts with multiple providers may be inevitable in some households, but collapsing your overall number of accounts (and the holdings within them) could be a good starting point on the road to portfolio simplification.

3) Shape Up (and Share) Your Record-Keeping System. Organizing files in broad, easy-to-understand categories (for example “Investments,” “Insurance,” and so on) is a good starting point, with subfiles for each account. Another good idea is to create a master directory, which can be either electronic or paper. It should contain financial assets such as bank, fund, and brokerage accounts; company-retirement plan and pension fund details; real estate holdings, and business interests. Alongside or beneath each account name, include account numbers, URLs, passwords, key contacts, and phone numbers. Include similar details for debts you owe and insurance policies. Having such a document can be a good way to provide your spouse with a 3,000-foot view of your household’s finances; just be sure to tell him/her where to find this document and keep it password-protected or under lock and key.

4) Put It on Autopilot. Automate as much of your bill payments as possible if a time comes where you cannot easily do it yourself. A common theme with an unexpected illness or death of a spouse is a panic on how the bills are going to be paid. Carefully setting up an automated method of paying your bills will help smooth out any unexpected bumps in life. The last thing you or your spouse should be worrying about is paying bills in a stressful time.

5) Help Identify a Suitable Advisor. Many individuals with spouses who are disengaged financially take comfort in knowing that their spouse will be able to turn to an advisor after they’re gone. If you think your spouse will eventually need to turn to an advisor, it doesn’t hurt to begin the search for a qualified advisor while you’re still around to help with the screening. It is recommended to establish a relationship while both of you are alive and healthy to build a trusted relationship early.

This is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal, tax, or financial planning advice. Please consult a legal, tax, and/or financial professional for advice specific to your individual circumstances. Asset allocation and diversification are methods used to help manage risk. They do not ensure a profit or protect against a loss.

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