Getting It Together

Times Staff Writer

Spouses who fail to learn the details of their families' financial situation can be vulnerable to fraud, mismanagement and costly confusion in the event of death or divorce. Financial planners and other money experts offer these suggestions:

Be patient. No one is born knowing how to handle money, and some take longer to learn than others. Fear, intimidation and a reluctance to contemplate life alone can interfere with a partner's ability to understand, and he or she may need to ask the same question several times before comprehending the answer.

Encourage learning. Many financially timid people are afraid of making mistakes or are convinced that money management is too difficult. The best way to overcome these obstacles is through building knowledge and confidence, says Victoria F. Collins, a certified financial planner in Irvine. Collins advises financially reluctant clients to read newspaper business sections, join investment clubs, attend financial seminars and work with advisors.

Find a money mentor. A financially savvy friend or a financial professional such as an accountant, lawyer, financial planner or money manager might turn out to be a better teacher. The financially reluctant partner may feel more free to ask questions and to persist in asking until he or she gets understandable answers. The mentor could also be there to answer questions should the financially savvy spouse die.

Simplify your financial life. Consider consolidating bank and brokerage accounts, especially if you are older or facing a serious illness. Determine whether to sell potentially troublesome assets such as rental property that might be difficult to maintain or a collection that could prove hard to sell. Because these decisions can have far-reaching tax and estate-planning repercussions, it makes sense to consult professionals in these areas.

Write it down. There are several organizers on the market that, if properly used, can help your spouse or other family members find important documents and keep track of financial information. Nolo.com offers Personal RecordKeeper, a software program, and Active Insights ([800] 222-9125, or http://www.active-insights.com) offers an organizer called the Beneficiary Book.

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