Married couples take different approaches to managing their finances. How you and your spouse tackle saving, investing and other key financial tasks will have a significant impact on your bottom line. For high net worth individuals, it’s particularly important to have a clear roadmap where money is concerned. Whether you’re a newlywed or approaching a milestone anniversary, talk together about whether you may have stumbled into any of these wealth-management mistakes. Whether your funds are mostly earned or include money you inherited, your responsibility to yourself and future generations (and the causes you care about) is to protect and grow your asset base.
Mistake #1: Automatically Mingling Your Money
While some couples may be comfortable merging all their funds, that can be problematic when the assets you’re talking about are in the six-figure range or higher. Having a joint checking account to pay your bills and other everyday expenses is often useful, but that tactic can backfire when it comes to your investments. This is especially true if it requires one spouse to sacrifice his or her investing style for the sake of the other.
For example, if you're a value investor, but your significant other prefers to go the buy-and-hold route, this can lead to clashes over how to direct your portfolio. Not only that, but it could put one spouse in the position of having to take on more risk than he or she is comfortable with. Research from robo-advisor Betterment shows that women in general are more cautious investors than their male counterparts. For example, men are six times more likely to make major shifts in their asset allocation, swinging from 100% stock investments to 100% bonds.
While a more aggressive approach can yield higher returns, it can also shrink your portfolio if the gambles you’re taking with your investments don’t pay off. When you and your spouse aren’t 100% on the same page about how you want to invest, keeping your accounts separate may be the best move financially and for your relationship in general. (For more, see Managing Money as a Couple.)
Mistake #2: Insufficient Estate Planning
Estate planning often gets glossed over, especially when couples are younger, but wealthy married couples dodge it at their peril. The sooner you start mapping out your estate plan the better, especially if there are children in the picture.
Some of the things you should focus on include:
- Guardianship decisions for minor children
- Drafting a will
- Decisions related to end-of-life medical care
- College planning
- Life insurance, disability insurance and long-term care insurance
- Distribution of joint and marital assets in the event of one spouse’s death
- Distribution of joint and marital assets if both of you were to die
From a wealth management perspective, the last three items are perhaps the most important issues to cover when developing an estate plan. For instance, if your spouse were to become permanently disabled and require long-term care, a long-term care insurance policy would allow you to avoid having to use your assets to cover the associated medical expenses. Disability insurance is another issue for whichever partners are employed.
If you or your spouse were to die suddenly, life insurance could be used to cover burial expenses or pay off any debts owed by the estate. Establishing a trust would allow assets to be passed on to your beneficiaries without having to go through probate, and it could potentially reduce the amount of estate tax they’re expected to pay. Without these protections in place, you’re leaving the door open for creditors and the government to take a larger bite out of your wealth after you’re gone. For detailed information on this topic, see Investopedia's Estate Planning Basics tutorial.
Mistake #3: Choosing the Wrong Tax Strategy
Filing taxes is never pleasant, and for married couples who earn a higher income there can be no room for error. While filing a joint return may seem like the obvious option, it can actually cost you money if filing separate returns makes more sense. (For more, see:Happily Married? File Taxes Separately!)
For example, if you and your spouse both earn a six-figure salary and you’re in a comparable income range, filing separately may allow you to avoid being pushed into a higher tax bracket. There is a downside, however, as your ability to claim certain tax credits and deductions is eliminated when you file separate returns. Running the numbers both ways can tell you which path will yield the most financial benefit overall. Charitable giving and gift taxes are two other topics that require careful study, depending on your situation.
The Bottom Line
Growing your wealth is easier when you have two incomes – or trust funds – to work with and you share the same financial goals. But even very affluent married couples will encounter obstacles along the way. If you’ve been making any of these mistakes in managing your joint or individual assets, coming up with a plan to reshape your wealth management strategy should be your top priority. The help of a financial advisor or tax attorney may enable you to make better plans, but the global issues are for you to decide as a couple. The sooner you do, the better your chances of living happily ever after with wealth to cushion your life and pass on as a legacy.