Older couples tend to commingle their finances. Among baby boomers, having only joint accounts is the norm. Millennial and Gen Z couples, however, are more likely to keep their money separate.
When couples do have joint accounts and property, it is not uncommon for one spouse to handle all financial matters. Fewer than one in four couples report that both spouses have an equal role in managing household finances.
When one spouse is the “money person” in the relationship, it can create issues in both life and death. To avoid unnecessary stress, couples need to ensure that they are on the same page. For day-to-day finances, this can mean regular check-ins about charges, expenditures, and budgeting. With regard to estate planning, couples should keep each other informed about the location of important documents such as the following:
- Estate planning documents
- Life insurance paperwork
- Loan documents
- Financial account information (e.g., savings, retirement, and investment accounts)
- Usernames, passwords, and other information for accessing digital accounts and assets
This might be more difficult in community property states—where spouses are considered joint owners of most accounts, property, and debts acquired during marriage—barring a marital or property agreement stating the contrary. In states that follow common law, spouses are allowed to own property individually and are not considered jointly responsible for accounts and property except for those listed under both spouses’ names. But even in community property states, accounts and property that predate the marriage and those that are inherited are usually considered separate property.
Keeping finances secret—and separate—although it may be legal under state law, can still raise estate planning issues between couples that deserve discussion. A spouse with separate accounts and property might have separate accompanying estate planning documents. If so, the other spouse should at least be in the know about them to facilitate estate administration.