By Jessica Lanning, JD CFP


I was sharing in another blog post about my friend’s question about what financial things she should have separate from her spouse.  

When she asked me this question, what came to mind was all the things that I’m surprised that couples — who have been partners for ten years or more with the intention of death parting them – don’t talk about.  At least not regularly.

Yes, you should have your checking account, but what I want you to know is what your spouse wants to do when the kids leave the house or when you both quit working for paychecks.  How well do you know this person today?

Even single people need to contemplate many of these questions and get them communicated to a sibling, family member, or dear friend. If nothing else, journaling works.

Here are somewhat surprising questions that get answered with “Gosh, I don’t know” entirely too often when I ask.


Where do the online account passwords live?

Not kidding.  I’m shocked at how often one spouse just hasn’t gotten around to sharing this information with the other.  If one partner dies, the other person could easily be without means to access online accounts easily and quickly.  Ask this question often. The answer frequently changes.


When do you want to stop working for a paycheck?

Most people will default to “as soon as I can,” “when my Social Security kicks in, I guess,” or “tomorrow?”  Some will just say 65, drawing upon their parents’ generation.

This is a trick question.  What is worth contemplating are these questions:  

  • Do I want to “die in the saddle” and work as long as I can?  If so, why?  What need/desire is that serving?
  • What am I wanting to do when I stop working that I could be doing right now?
  • How much does work and/or receiving a paycheck define me?


We change and grow as human beings.  Who we are, how we feel, what we want to do with our lives at 40 is different than at 50 or 60.  You might be surprised by what comes out of your partner’s mouth when you remember to ask.


What do you want to do when the kids are out of the house?

This is a fascinating one.  Frequently, when we are mid-career, our idea of what we’ll do when we’re no longer working is quite different than when we are on the eve of leaving a paycheck for good.

Couples frequently have to reacquaint themselves with each other when the kids leave the house.  They wonder who they’ve been living with all these years.  What do they have in common now besides the children?  How do we want to spend our time together and apart?


What has been your message to the kids about going to and paying for college?

This is a favorite of late.  I’m surprised to see spouses look at each other and have a sense of what the other will say, but they never take the time to get on the same page and communicate that to the kids. This is not fatal to the college planning and college funding process, but that ideally would have been handled before the kid entered high school.


What were this person’s wishes at their death?

I’m not talking about estate planning here.  I’m talking about:  Did they want pain medication to make them comfortable?  What happens to the body at death?  What type of celebration did they want?  

I’m always amazed at how many times I hear, “I don’t know. We didn’t get around to talking about it.” 

This applies to parents, spouses, family members, or anyone else who you are close to for whom you might have to plan a post-death ceremony of some sort.

I get that life gets busy with careers to manage, kids to raise, vacations to take, parents who are aging, and this list goes on. In the quieter moments over a glass of wine or on a beach vacation, there’s a moment to learn more about someone, even someone you thought you knew inside and out.

If you want to facilitate these questions with a neutral third party, I do this all the time in my office.  Please feel free to reach out.




Jessica LanningAbout the Author:

Jessica Lanning JD, CFP® brings focus and perspective to your individual financial needs to identify your opportunities for investment and wealth. Regardless of what you’ve done before or what “mistakes” you think you’ve made, Jessica can help get you back on track quickly and safely. As a former practicing lawyer, she brings a comprehensive approach to legal, tax, and financial challenges so that her clients can enjoy peace of mind. A huge proponent of conscious decision-making, Jessica makes sure her clients are educated and informed so that they make sound decisions with clarity and confidence. 


Lanning Financial Inc. is a registered investment adviser. The information presented is for educational purposes only and does not intend to make an offer or solicitation for the sale or purchase of any specific securities, investments, or investment strategies. Investments involve risk and unless otherwise stated, are not guaranteed. Be sure to first consult with a qualified financial adviser and/or tax professional before implementing any strategy discussed herein. Past performance is not indicative of future performance.


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