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Make That Scary but Essential Money List

If you haven't created 'The List' — spelling out financial information for your loved one — it's time you did

By Richard Eisenberg

A few weeks ago, I did something that freaked out my wife but may have been one of the most useful things I’ve ever done for her.

I created a four-page list of everything she should know about our finances — just in case. She thought I was about to off myself.

To the contrary, I hope to have a good long life. But the truth is: Who knows what tomorrow may bring?

Like 89 percent of couples, according to a study by Hartford Financial and the MIT AgeLab, my wife and I don’t divide up the tasks associated with our finances. I’m the one in charge of things like getting our tax returns filed, choosing our investments, buying insurance and applying for loans. Liz and I do keep separate bank accounts and credit cards, however, and have since we were married 27 years ago.

It isn’t that Liz couldn’t handle these financial tasks; she surely could. She just has no interest, and that’s fine by me.

As I was filing our new homeowner's insurance policy, it made me realize that Liz really needs to know the basics of our financial lives so that, if and when a day comes that she needs to manage the finances, she’ll be ready. And if you (or your significant other) haven’t created “The List,” I hope you will soon.(As I write this post, I’m realizing that The List I prepared for Liz has some gaps, which I promise to fill in ASAP. I have to tell Liz how to log in to my online banking and investment accounts, in case she ever has to do that. And okay, okay, I should also give The List to my sister in case, God forbid, Liz and I perish simultaneously.)

Here’s what’s on The List, and why:

All our immediate family’s phone numbers, addresses, and email addresses. All right, this probably isn't absolutely essential, but I figured it couldn’t hurt to have them all in one place.

Our closest relatives’ phone numbers and addresses. Sure, she probably has them in one place or another, but now they’re all together, in case she needs to reach everyone in a hurry.

A record of what’s in which basket. Our super-duper filing system consists of two wicker baskets, the first of which has The List itself. (I know, I should get a fire- and burglar-resistant safe for our wills and trusts and a locked filing cabinet for our insurance policies, bank statements, investment statements, car loan agreement and tax returns, as financial adviser Ric Edelman recommends. One day.)I noted on The List that the first basket has our life insurance, disability insurance, homeowners insurance and car insurance policies as well as our wills and trusts and the financial plan we had done a few years back to help us forge a path to pay for our sons’ colleges and our retirement.

The second basket has our investment bank, credit card and mortgage statements plus our tax returns and accompanying documents such as our bank, brokerage, and mutual fund statements and receipts for our charitable contributions (in case the IRS ever asks).


Names, phone numbers and addresses of our financial advisers and other professionals. This way, she’ll easily know how to get in touch with our accountant, financial planner, estate planning lawyer, life and disability insurance agent, real estate lawyer and our physicians.

Our mortgage and homeowner’s insurance information. I included the name and phone number of the mortgage lender as well as the loan number, plus the name of our homeowner’s company. Note to self: Add the homeowner’s phone number and policy number.

Our cars and auto insurer: Liz doesn’t care much about cars — she calls our SUV a minivan. So I figured I should write the model numbers down in case she ever needs to sell them as well as the name of our auto insurer. What I have to do next is add the name and phone number of the financing company and the loan number for the car we’re still paying off, plus contact information for the auto insurer.

Information about our life, disability and health insurance. Here, I’ve noted the insurance company names and phone numbers, the policy numbers, and the amount of the coverage for both Liz and me.

Our immediate family’s banks and credit card issuers. I listed each type of bank account (checking, CD, IRA) for each bank we use. I didn't want to write down the actual account numbers, just in case someone got their hands on either this printed list or the original document I created in my computer.

Investments. I broke these down by owner. So there’s a list of Liz’s 401(k) investments and her IRAs, my investments and IRAs, the mutual funds we own jointly, and the stocks our sons own. The account numbers are on the statements in the envelopes with our tax returns.

Did Liz read through The List after I showed it to her? Nope. I didn’t think she would. But one day, if she needs to, I know she will.

Photograph of Richard Eisenberg
Richard Eisenberg is the former Senior Web Editor of the Money & Security and Work & Purpose channels of Next Avenue and former Managing Editor for the site. He is the author of "How to Avoid a Mid-Life Financial Crisis" and has been a personal finance editor at Money, Yahoo, Good Housekeeping, and CBS MoneyWatch. Read More
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