Fribble Wednesday, December 15, 1999

Advice That's Worth the Price

By Chris Walsh (chrisw@ma.ultranet.com)

Last year I wrote a couple of Fribbles (Financial Teaching Tools and Financial Education, Part II) about helping my kids understand financial matters. This tale is about how I learned something myself, thanks to a good lawyer.

Up until recently, I have always handled our family's financial matters. Budgeting was simple -- my wife, Lynne, and I had agreed when we married that we would ask each other for permission before we bought any item over $100. Eighteen years later, we've upped the number a little, but we still don't buy anything major without the other partner's consent.

But as far as the day-to-day tracking, and investing, and so forth, I took care of all that. I balanced the checkbooks, determined our investment strategy, prepared the tax returns, and so on. I always liked the feeling of control, and Lynne wasn't interested. Anytime I asked for her input, she just told me to do what I thought best.

That is, until we went to see an estate planner. During the interview process, our lawyer (Ellen) opened both our eyes in a couple of ways.

First, Ellen laid it on the line that she was representing two individuals, not a partnership. Legally, Lynne and I needed to protect ourselves both as members of a marriage, but also from each other if we decide to part company. The marriage is fine (certainly as far as I am concerned, anyway), but Ellen would be remiss if she didn't deal with us as individuals.

Second, Ellen really laid into Lynne about her lack of involvement in our financial affairs. It was NOT OK for Lynne to leave it all up to me. And Ellen made it clear to me that I was being remiss for not making sure that Lynne knew our financial details.

(On the other hand, Ellen thought what we were doing with our kids was great. She said in her experience, most parents don't consider teaching financial info to their kids and often have control issues about letting their children handle money.)

Since talking to Ellen, I've been including Lynne in our financial decisions. She's even been paying attention, and making suggestions. I guess Ellen got through. So much so, that Lynne is doing much better than I in our self-directed IRAs... Most importantly, we've both discovered that its a lot more fun to play the finance game as a partnership.

Thanks, Ellen. That's the first advice I ever got from a lawyer that was worth every penny I paid.