Instructions for spouse upon death

I would venture to say that subscribers to this forum tend to have (1) more complicated personal financial systems than most folks and (2) generous spouses who support our shenanigans but would be totally lost on how to handle it all should we pass away.

In the unlikely event that I die, I expect my spouse to want to close all of the extraneous accounts and just keep the few practical ones. I’m looking for ideas on how to help them handle this as easily as possible, ideally without abandoning already-earned rewards.

Do you all have something in place? Any thoughts on the topic?


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A dead man’s switch. In the event that you die, all of your accounts implode.


If they’re going to be “totally lost”, the important things are the big picture - your survivors need to know where the money is, so that it can be claimed. There really isnt much “how”, besides contacting each bank. The details are going to be very unimportant at the time and likely ignored anyways, and you’ll have only wasted your time trying to leave instructions on how to best utilize each account to “wind it down”. Maybe a specific mention of the value, rules, and restrictions of an particularly valuable rewards balance, like a million mile airline account or whatever. But for most of it, merely getting the cash back in one place is going to cause them enough grief.


Uh, you can’t take it with you?


I have a file that I keep updated for my husband. It lists all of the accounts, credit cards, utility bills, etc. It’s purpose isn’t just for in the “event of my death”, but can also serve if I should become incapacitated and he has to take over the finances. I do recommend which couple of credit cards to keep, as I know he wouldn’t be interested in juggling for maximum rewards as I’ve been (and I’ve even been rethinking the time/rewards ratio of that myself lately).

I’ve been simplifying investments, transitioning from individual securities to ETFs. It’ll be easier at tax time, plus he could just keep plowing surplus money into the ETFs without having to do any arduous research.

This month, the brokerage option in his 401k is being transferred to a different brokerage firm (with the Roth portion split into a different account), but the rest of the 401k is remaining with the original provider. While I’m happy about the change to the new brokerage firm, it adds more complexity to the mix, turning his 401k into a split among 3 different accounts between 2 firms. Our taxable accounts are split among 2 other brokerage firms. Time will tell, but it does beg the question of whether we’d want to continue maintaining accounts at 3 to 4 different brokerage firms in perpetuity.

I also have a letter of instruction for our 2 kids, just in case my husband and I were to get hit by a Mack truck.

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I know my husband would not go to the same lengths I go to to make the most of our money due to lack of interest. But on the other hand, I still keep him well informed of what I do, even if I spare some details.

That said, I don’t intend on micro-managing what he’d do after I died. First because I trust him to mostly not screw up. And with my life insurance policies, there’d be a little bit of leeway not to optimize his finances. So he’d probably go to a much simpler setup like: one single cashback credit card like Citi Double Cash), one single online savings bank (like Discover, Citi, or Capitol One), and one bank with local branch for checking.

Ultimately, our shared password manager is about the extent of my instructions to him. I have notes for each bank about type of accounts, routing numbers, account numbers, etc to go along with the randomly-generated passwords. He already can check almost all our accounts in Personal Capital. So it’d be easy to go about the ones in my name only and talk to these banks about my accounts.

My main concern has always been however what happens if we BOTH meet a very sudden death. Our kids are not old enough to be trusted with all our information. So our current solution centers around using a safety deposit box at a local bank to which our executor (and his backup) would have access to after we died. The idea of an electronic dead-man switch is somewhat appealing but in practice I have not found anything I could trust to cover all our bases.

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I have separate sets of instructions, depending on if that truck is a Mack or a Peterbuilt.


Isnt your death pretty much a dead-man switch? It could be outright fraudulent to continue using some of your accounts after your death. It’s not like your kids could continue churning your credit card rewards by continually opening new CDs in your name…

So no matter how complex your financial web, the act of dying will alone simplify things significantly. They pretty much just needs to be able to find the orphaned balances, and that pretty much only requires knowing bank names.

By far the biggest thing you can do to proactively plan for this is to have beneficiaries properly designated on your accounts. That alone will make settling your affairs 100x easier, even if you provide them nothing more than a list of banks where you have accounts.


My spouse would be totally lost. So it’s best he go first!! :wink:

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