It's easy to bypass certain difficult topics by simply not making time for those conversations. But the truth is, there are some discussions every couple needs to be having because change never comes easy, nor does it always come pre-announced.
1. Where is everything?
Chances are, one or both of you can't answer that question about the important paperwork of your life. In most relationships, one partner is the bill-payer and records-keeper; the other partner is in the dark -- and therein lies the problem. But both of you need to know where all your financial records are kept. This includes bank account numbers, stocks, car titles, insurance policies, mortgage papers, last year's tax return, and passwords for all online accounts. It's a good idea to include in this pile the names of any financial advisors or attorneys involved in will and trust planning, etc. The goal is to put it all in one place.
It may require a bit of initial hunting and gathering to assemble it all, but once you do, annual updates -- yes, you should do that as well -- will be easy.
2. Is "everything" enough?
A New York Life Insurance Company study of widows and widowers found that 40 percent of widows reported negative changes to their lifestyle in the year after the loss of a spouse. The point of this conversation with your partner is to determine how to maintain the family's standard of living if one of you were gone from the picture. This includes a plan for replacing missed income. Will the survivor be able to afford to keep the family house or have to move? What will the loss mean for the kids' college fund? Will your loved ones be able to afford the life you want them to have without you there to help provide it?
3. Can Mom (or Dad) move in?
As our parents age, they likely will need more help. And in most families, one adult child generally bubbles to the surface and becomes the primary caregiver when this happens. Is that going to be you or your spouse? Are you both up for the challenges and strains this may bring? Have that conversation now: Are you open to the idea of your mother-in-law moving in? Are you ready to double up the kids so that Dad can have his own room? What adjustments are you both willing to make to your own lives to care for an aging relative? A talk now can preclude an unpleasant surprise later.
4. We all die. How do you want to do it?
How you want your end-of-life care handled is the brick wall of conversations; it tends to stop us in our tracks. Discussing death makes nobody comfortable, and as a result, we avoid the discussion entirely. We know a California woman who says she wants to retire to a place where physician-assisted suicide is legal. While she's just in her mid-50s and has no pressing health issues, it's a conversation she and her husband recently had. But for years, she said, every time she brought it up as a factor to consider when they talked about where to live when they retired, he shut down. The recent loss of an elderly relative for whom they were providing care finally changed his mind. They are now keeping an eye on real estate in Oregon.
5. Like a good scout, be prepared with an advanced medical directive.
Be as specific as possible in your advanced medical directive -- and discuss your choices with your spouse who will presumably be left in charge of making sure that your wishes are followed. An advanced medical directive is a written document and everyone should have a clear understanding of what it contains. You can download the form that will be recognized by your state here.
Can you think of any other conversations to add to this list?