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Victoria, TX 77901

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The Instruction Manual For Life

Early in my career I was working with a husband and wife. "William" was nearing retirement and he and "Jill" were trying to make some critical decisions. When would they retire? Where would they live? Was their estate plan in order? Did they have enough money to retire?

These questions are quite typical - but they were just the tip of the iceberg.

It was obvious that William was the "financially dominant" partner. He handled all of the bills, made the investments, coordinated the insurance, etc. Jill was not ignorant or incapable; however, one could tell financial issues were not her strong suit. As such, she had always left those matters to Bill. So far that plan had worked just fine and the couple assumed things would continue to work without a hitch.

Then I received a distraught phone call from Jill. William was in a car accident and died upon impact.

As anyone in this situation, Jill's world spun out of control. Not only was she mourning the loss of her spouse, she was now forced to quickly make a variety of logic-based financial decisions at a time of extreme pressure and emotion.

The couple reminded me much of my parents, as well as me and my wife. In most relationships there is a financially dominant partner. I started thinking about what would happen to my mother if my father passed away. Although a very bright woman, she had very little to do with the overall financial planning in their house.

The same was true of my situation. Every time I tried to get Carol involved in our financial planning she would reply "No, no, no.that is why I married you." Somehow I don't remember "To love, honor, and be the financial spouse" being in our wedding vows.

From that moment forward it was obvious we needed to do something to help our clients deal with this situation.

The goal then was to produce an outline, an organizer, a file or something of this nature to help people make rational decisions in a time of crisis. Hence, The Instruction Manual For Life was born.

Although everyone's Instruction Manual For Life should be customized, there are certain commonalities we all need. Who is your professional team and how do we get a hold of them? Who is your lawyer, accountant, insurance agent, investment manager, minister, executor, etc? Some of our clients list their doctors, medications and even contact information for the veterinarian.

Where are your assets and important documents? Where is your safe deposit box, wills, insurance policies, bank and brokerage statements, trust documents, real estate titles, car titles, jewelry, fire arms, birth certificates, death certificates and funeral instructions?

How do you access your online accounts? What are your account names and passwords? Knowing how to navigate your virtual world is just as important as traditional bank or brokerage accounts.

When you start thinking about it, you realize that in a moment of panic there is quite a bit of information that may need to be readily accessed in an orderly and logical manner. You want to leave an easy to follow road map to make decisions in your absence.

Obviously, a husband and wife both need to know where their manual is kept. However, consider who else might need to know where this info is kept if both are in an accident at the same time.

Although my wife says financial planning is my job, she knows we have a manual and where it is located. Carol also knows who to call if I do something stupid and kill myself or become incapacitated.

I usually update my instruction manual about once a year or as circumstances require.

Addressing these matters now removes stress and indecision from your loved ones. Furthermore, it lessens the chances of your heirs becoming victims in a variety of scenarios.

For a full checklist on the Instruction Manual For Life, visit SatherFinancial.com and click on "Financial Planning Documents."

Dave Sather is a Victoria certified financial planner and owner of Sather Financial Group. His column, Money Matters, publishes every other week.

Originally published October 14 2014, Victoria Advocate