Several years ago, my husband and I visited an old friend who had not been well. We were shocked to see that his health had deteriorated quite quickly with cancer, heart disease, and early onset Alzheimer’s – all at the age of 60.
Our visit prompted lots of personal reflection for my husband and me, as well as a number of conversations over a glass of wine. The mantra went like this, “What would you do if…?”
We identified one trouble spot that can surface in any relationship. It can be between husband and wife, between siblings, between parent and child.
The truth is that one person tends to know more about the day to day running of the household than the other. One person is always ahead of the other when it comes to that kind of information.
For instance, I knew all about my mother’s banking, her taxes and her bill payments because I was geographically closer to her than my brother was. If I had suddenly been struck ill, he would have had to scramble to put the pieces together. Where did she bank? Who was her lawyer? Where was the safety deposit key?
I knew the answers. And without intending to, the information became a secret.
Who Controls the Information in Your House?
In my current situation, the household bills fall under my control. My husband and I are in a second marriage. When he moved into my home, I continued the role of paying the basic monthly bills.
We always say that we have no secrets. Both of us are very forthcoming with our respective financial contributions to the household. But when we played “What if…?” we realized that as open as we both are, over time, systems have been put in place that are only known to me.
Do You Know the Important Passwords?
My husband does not know which of the household bills are paid automatically. If he needed to go online and change some information in one of our customer profiles, he would need to know all of the passwords. When we started to make a list, there were about 20 passwords he would need for everything from the hydro (power) account to my Facebook page.
When you think about it, that’s a lot to take for granted. In the “old days” the hard copies of bills came in the mail and there was a paper trail of the payments in the check book ledger. So, in my example with my brother and mother, he could have conceivably followed the trail with bank statements and hard copies of monthly bills.
But many of us have traded in our paper systems for online paperless systems. And someone needs to know how to access those unintended secrets, ensuring the bills get paid. In this case, simply knowing how to get into my email to actually see the online statements would be a first step!
Have You Written a Will?
And it’s not just financial topics. I have a jewelry box and over time I have received jewelry from my mother and my mother-in-law. My husband does not really know which set of pearls should go to my sons or which of his mother’s rings should stay with his sons.
I have my mother’s ring that my father gave her on their twenty-fifth wedding anniversary. In her will she left the ring to me with the added direction that it would go to my only niece when I died. I asked my husband which ring was the ring in question. He just stared at me with an open mouth! He had no idea. The info had become a secret.
I have other rings, pearls, earrings, costume jewelry – we are not talking about large financial values but that is not the point. The real value is the story attached to each piece. The history of each piece would be lost with me.
Information Is Power
On a lighter note, my husband does not know where I buy the cat food or where the cat’s vaccination certificate is kept. I tested him and he failed miserably. He thought I bought her food at the vet. I did – about five years ago! Now I just buy it at the grocery store.
And one more proof that one person in the family is the holder of key information. I know when our grandchildren’s birthdays are. My husband knows the date when I say, “We’re going to Emmett’s birthday party on Sunday!”
So, your action plan is to buy a small notebook and write down all of the information you know that needs to come out of the vault. Consider such topics as finance, household, pets, kids and grandkids, parents, legal – and don’t forget noting the password for the Netflix account!
I will continue to do the same. I am also working on a template that would be useful for this task, including a photo journal of some of the family possessions that should be tracked.
What information is in your personal vault? What secrets are you holding onto that should be shared? Do you have tips to pass on about sharing this information? Please add to the conversation.