Divorce? Death of a spouse? Financial Advisor Marie Moore gives straight talk to women about planning.

It’s amazing to me how two people can live in the same house and not have the slightest idea of what assets they own or the financial state of their union. Worse yet, they don’t have a handle on debt. Unfortunately, women of an older generation tend to defer financial decisions to their husbands, leaving the future quality of their life vulnerable to economic and tax conditions.

Please understand that you can be happily married and still pay attention to your assets and how your estate is set up. If your spouse is reluctant to have the “money matters talk,” I suggest finding a financial advisor that has a goal to truly help you. My personal philosophy is to try to help you in terms of your relationship with money. It’s a learning experience that will take time and numerous conversations.

These conversations are an integral part of a marriage. They’re about what kind of vehicles you drive, what kind of home or homes you own, and whether you fly first class or coach. They’re about the clothing you wear and where your children will to go to school.

You don’t want to have the problem of suddenly realizing, “Oh, my gosh! I can’t afford private school for my child and we can’t afford to live in a neighborhood where I think the school system is good. Now, we’re going to be in debt up to our eyebrows, trying to take care of these things.” I’ve heard that heartfelt fear many times.

This is why the “money matters talk” is vital. I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to discuss your finances early and often during a marriage. This is a view that the Moore Group at Morgan Stanley shares with all of our clients.

Start the “Money Matters Talk” with Financial Planning
Waiting to start the “money matters talk” after 20 to 30 years of marriage can create tension. Men can get defensive. Sometimes they will feel that their stewardship or knowledge is being criticized.

I introduce financial planning and estate planning into my clients’ lives by saying, “Look, it’s important that you both know everything and that you both know about all assets and where they’re located, and that you each understand where you want the assets to go when one of you has passed.”

For example, I have set aside certain assets for my grandchildren. Not for my son. Not for my husband. My husband and I discussed the future and we agreed to carve out those assets for our grandchildren.

Maybe your spouse doesn’t know what you would like to do. These are conversations that women often need to initiate. 

Be a Part of Estate Planning
Women need to learn about the investment vehicles that are available as well as the decisions they will need to make to protect their assets in the event that their spouse dies. Otherwise, you might find that not only have you lost the love of your life, but you might actually lose the assets as well.

For example, a terminally ill client called me for financial advice. His wife was not involved in their financial decisions. Fortunately for her, I was able to advise him about the benefits of taking stock losses before he passed away. It prevented a significant amount of the estate that his wife inherited from being drained by tax liabilities.

Can You Survive A Divorce After Retirement?
A growing number of my older clients are getting divorced after long marriages. I’ve had clients divorce shortly after celebrating their 50th anniversary! I believe it’s because they grew apart during their child-rearing years and didn’t realize they no longer had anything in common. He was always at work. She was at home taking care of the children, working part time, or doing community service.

In a divorce, when the woman has not been involved in the assets, she has no idea where she stands financially. It adds an additional level of angst to her anger. Trying to divide assets in divorce proceedings can be daunting, especially in states where there’s no alimony. There are serious financial consequences for women who reside in states where alimony only lasts for two or three years.

If you are 65 to 70 years of age and were never employed full time, Social Security benefits are reduced. You might only receive $800 a month in benefits. Then what do you do? You don’t have children, so you’re not going to get child support as an older person.

I think it’s critical for older women to be aware of their finances and who has been earning what. If you don’t work, the conversation about setting up a spousal retirement account needs to start early.

It’s Never Too Late to start the “Money Matters Talk”
Ideally, the “money matters talk” should start in childhood. In other countries, the discussion is a regular dinner table topic. But here, there’s apprehension about bringing up money.

I think if you truly love somebody and want the relationship to be a success, the “money matters talk” has to start early and remain an ongoing conversation.