Wife must ask money questions or risk being an ignorant widow

The Ticker

March 05, 1997|By Julius Westheimer

"My husband never told me!"

Too often I hear those discouraging words when women alone -- most of them widowed -- describe, frequently in tears, a household where husbands refused to share family financial information.

Experience teaches that it's hard enough to make intelligent financial decisions when you have the facts. It's even riskier when you're flying blind.

Many men seem to feel they have some inherent right to tend family money by themselves, but the secretive policy is a huge mistake for several reasons.

First, and most important, husbands who fail to communicate financial information run the risk that their wives, if left alone, can become frustrated, frightened and puzzled.

They're puzzled about what to do next, what not to do, whom to see, what to buy, what to sell, what taxes to pay, where to get reliable help. And some widows can be victimized by unscrupulous tigers in the financial jungle.

I often hear utterances like, "I really don't know what stocks we own." "Do I owe estate taxes from my checkbook?" "How much money will I get to live on?"

Second, I find women to be better stock-pickers than men. They buy stocks of established companies they know as consumers, such as Campbell Soup, Coca-Cola, Disney, Gillette, McDonald's, Procter & Gamble. Men often get burned with high-tech issues they know nothing about.

My suggestion: While both partners are in good health and good humor, the neglected spouse should ask these questions:

Where are our stocks?

When can I meet our broker?

When can you and I review our portfolio together?

Do you owe money?

How much and to whom?

Where is your safe deposit box, and the keys to it?

More sensitive questions:

When did you last update your will?

What does your will provide for me?

How much money will I have to live on?

When can I meet the lawyer or bank trust officer who sends me money? Is it in trust or do I get it outright?

Statistics show that men die five to 10 years sooner than women, and we're not living in an Alice in Wonderland utopia where people alone always stay afloat.

Pub Date: 3/05/97

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