The Talk: A Financial Road Map after Loss

So teach us to consider our mortality,
so that we might live wisely. –Psalm 90:12 (NET)

When my father-in-law was about to pass away nearly eighteen years ago, he tried anxiously to explain his finances and how to access the files that would help my husband help his mother, but cancer had this special man and veteran in such a grip, that he couldn’t communicate well. Untangling the finances and getting things set up for his mother fell to my husband.

As the one with more of a financial bent in our family, my husband found this experience and others have prompted him to prepare for and have The Talk with me every year or so—a talk about the state of our finances. We don’t anticipate the sudden loss or incapacity of either of us, but he wants to help me and our children be prepared for such an event.

If something happens to you, who needs to know about your affairs? A spouse? A sibling? Someone in your church family?

Here are the elements my husband and I talk about:

  • Giving: A list of our regular giving and financial pledges to honor.
  • Assets, Investments and Bank Accounts: An explanation of a spread sheet of retirement investments and other money—which accounts are in my name, which are in his name, which are jointly held; which can be accessed without a penalty at any time, which ought to be held until retirement, if possible; a recommended plan to immediately access some financial resources before a will might be probated.
  • Family Expenses: How much and how to continue what we had been contributing to our children’s college education, should he die when our children were younger.
  • Insurance: Insurance policies for home, car and life and whom to contact should we need to file a claim.
  • Bills and Debt: A list of regular bills, which are on auto-pay and which must be paid monthly. An up-to-date estimated home value how much is owed on it. Other debt, if any.
  • Access: Where and how to access all the passwords for accounts.
  • Advisors: Trusted friends or family willing to give good financial guidance and help understanding the finances.
  • Wills: The location of our up-to-date wills, which included the naming of guardians, when our children were minors.
  • Road Map: Recommendations regarding how to manage resources in the years ahead in the event of an early death, including when to take Social Security.

Now that our children are grown, they will be my advisors if I need them. So every now and then my husband has The Talk with them, making sure they completely understand our financial circumstances if one or both of us dies or is incapacitated.

In your family—who has the major responsibility over the finances? What other assets, work benefits or financial responsibilities do you have? Consider having a talk yearly with your spouse, relative or another trusted party to make sure you both understand your finances and are storing records in an accessible place.

We are not wealthy by U.S. standards, and our security is not in our resources, but talks like these help me think wisely about the future, should the unexpected happen.

Beth Barron and her husband have worked cross-culturally for decades, first in the Middle East and now in the U.S. She teaches English to refugees and uses her writing skills to advocate for them. Beth enjoys writing, biking, vegetable gardening and connecting heart to heart with other women. She is involved in her church's External Focus ministry. She and her husband have three adult children, two daughters-in-love and three grandsons. Beth graduated from Rice University in Houston, attended Dallas Theological Seminary and is committed to life-long learning.