Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Works For Me Wednesday - What Your Spouse Needs to Know

Rock's in My Dryer is hosting the first of 2008's "Works for me Wednesday". My "Works for Me Wednesday", is our family's "Standard Operating Procedures" (S.O.P.) document.

This is a document that details all the information my dh or I would need to know about, in regards to what the other person takes care of on a daily/weekly or monthly basis, should we be unable to take care of it ourselves.

This week I’m only going to be focusing on my dh’s S.O.P. and what all it covers. We've both just finished updating our documents, so this is a topic I've been thinking about lately.

Most of us are good at what we do all the time. If you start a new job it takes awhile to get used to it, but hopefully before too long, you are an “expert” at your particular job. You don't know everything all at once, but if a problem arises, you at least know someone you can ask or know where to find the information - perhaps in a company procedural manual.

It’s usually hard during the first few months of becoming a new mom (at least for me it was!), but pretty soon you are an “expert”. You can stir the soup with one hand, hold the baby with the other, while you have the telephone tucked under your chin and are talking on the phone with a friend.

Maybe you’ve been a wife for only 6 months and you are still getting used to your new role – and figuring out who does what. Or maybe you have been married for 15 years and you and your dh have it all figured out.

In a two-parent family, especially with children – no one person can (or should) do everything on their own. It doesn’t matter who does what in your home – there are areas of “expertise” in each family. While we may know what our spouse does overall (he goes to work, takes care of our cars and our computers and our finances, and I take care of the kids, homeschool, do all the cleaning, shopping and take of “personal” family business), do we really know the “nitty gritty” details of it all?

So the question is, for the areas in your household that you are not directly responsible for (whether it’s finances, car maintenance or the like), do you know what your spouse does? Do you know where all the important papers are located? Do you know how to turn off the water if a pipe breaks? Do you know how to re-light the pilot light in the furnace? Do you know where all your money is invested? Is your gas bill on a budget billing system? Is your telephone bill automatically deducted from your bank account or auto billed to your credit card? These are some things I do not know the answer to - so I'm thinking maybe there are others out there like me.

None of us likes to imagine what life would be like without the daily help of our spouse. It feels pretty good to be able to take care of our “domain”, while someone else is handling the rest of the “domain”. But what if your spouse was to become disabled, or hospitalized, or worse, what if he died?

We do know that not only would it be a time of grief, but chaos and hardship. Even though you may now be spending half your day at the hospital or find yourself in mourning, the kids still need to be fed, bills need to be paid, people need to be contacted, the house needs some attention and a lot of decisions need to be made in a relatively short time. All of a sudden everything is left up to you.

In the past year or so, my dh and I have written up what we affectionately refer to as “Standard Operating Procedures” (S.O.P.) for each other. These documents detail the areas we “govern”, our areas of the household that we manage, in case one of us dies or is long term hospitalized…or in the tragic case of both of us dying or being injured at the same time – information that will be helpful to whomever is taking care of our children and our “estate”. Information that is all in one place and easily accessible.

These documents are not in order to “control” what the surviving or healthy spouse does, but rather they were prepared out of concern for one another. That our spouse won’t have the extra burden of trying to figure out a “new” job, during a hard time. If I wanted to blow all the insurance money on a hot new car, or just begin a new life in a hot, new country (I’m tired of winter already!) – it would be up to me 

Even with the S.O.P. - I’m not suggesting that you be totally ignorant of your family’s finances and such - perhaps you are in charge of the finances/bill paying (if so you’ll want to include this in your own S.O.P.). Even though my dh handles that realm, we often talk about our finances, review our financial situation quarterly, and the information is there for me to check out any time I want. As well, we are both involved in any major family purchases and decisions. Finances is one important area that you do need to always be aware of what is going on in your house, even if you are not actively involved in managing that area.

We keep our S.O.P.s in a file, and a copy of it was given to a trusted, close relative.

Your document does not need to look like mine at all and shouldn't - since every family situation is unique. All you want to be sure is that the main areas of things your spouse does for you and your household, is explained, and that the location of certain documents is recorded. And it’s a good idea to review this information yearly (week of Jan 1 works for us so we don’t forget), as duties and life changes. Recently we did find some obsolete beneficiary information on some of our IRA accounts. And remember, even if you handle all things jointly – there could be an emergency situation where both you and your spouse are not able to pass along this information verbally to the caregivers of your children or to your older children that are out of the house.

For an idea of things you may want to have covered (regardless of whether you or your spouse takes care of the following) – I’ve included a brief summary of our document.

This document doesn’t always include full details, as there are file folders on some of the sections providing additional information.

Family Personal Information - The first page of our document details the full names of each family member, Social Security Number, birthdate and citizenship information. Also our parent’s names, addresses and phone numbers, our siblings full names and my dh’s employer name, address and contact people.

Family Doctors - The name/address/phone number (for children and parents)

Pastors - The Name/address/phone number of past and present pastors who have been involved in our lives and that we might need to contact in case of an emergency.

Insurance - Life / Health / Disability / Home & Auto - Details what insurance companies we have insurance with and brief summaries of the policy as well as whom the beneficiaries are, premiums and rep name/phone number.

Utilities - Name of utility company and how we typically pay for it (ie. Auto billing each month and what account it comes out of, budget billing or credit card).

Financial Record Keeping - Where and how our personal finance records are organized and filed away and where archival records can be found. Lists the software program where all our financial information is kept and where our financial spreadsheets can be found on the computer.

Information about our safe deposit box – where the keys are kept and the bank location…and an appendix is included detailing what is stored in the safe deposit box…and passwords for online accounts.

Charities - Information on charities that we give to monthly and annually and where the file folder with details is located.

Financial Assets and Liabilities - There is an attached printout of Account Balances that list all current assets and liabilities and their values. Included is information on bank accounts, investments, retirement and education accounts and other assets. Details include recommendations of what I should do should my dh die (ie. Dh’s 401k)

Last Will and Testament - This area we are still working on – but once it is formalized, we will include where the location of the will is, who has a copy of it, and any special instructions.

Miscellaneous Information - This includes helpful information on hiring a lawyer, contacting Social Security regarding benefits, what to do with insurance proceeds, and resources (books, online forums) for finding answers to the stuff I will be dealing with.


Included in the appendix are checklists such as:

Annual Home Maintenance schedule - Details when things should be done such as replace furnace filter, test smoke alarms, clean-out gutters, vacuum fridge coils, test water heater relief valve etc.

Computer Maintenance Plan - This is set up by month and in checklist form – information on how to run the Microsoft windows update, update database and run Spybot, clear recycle bin, check that virus program is up to date, etc.

Auto Maintenance Plan for each of our cars - This is set up by month and yearly, every 2 years, every 3 yrs …and in checklist form – includes things like checking that the spare tire is inflated, check fluid levels, brake fluid replace

Having this document makes me feel more secure, should I end up running the whole household alone. And of course some of these things will fall by the wayside at first, b/c if my dh died I don’t think my first or even fifty-first item of concern would be whether or not the fridge coils need to be cleaned! But at some point life will need to get back to “new normal” and the mundane things will need to be taken care of.

If you are a single parent and already do all this yourself – it still would be helpful to have a similar document in case you are hospitalized or die and someone else needs to take care of your “estate” and or children.


Playful Professional said...

Wow I've never really thought about this. I wrote a manual for the job I just left, but I guess I should start a how-to manual for my life as well. Good advice on something to add to my new year to-do list.

Amanda said...

This is something I've been working on kindof as well... thank you for the guide line!! I never thought about this until my daughter who is only 4 1/2 months old almost died of a heart problem. Her heart medicine is extremely important. She needs it every 8 hours or could end up in the ICU w/a heart rate of 280. So, this life manual has such a high importance. The what if's are always so scary!

Phyllis Sommer said...

this is a fabulous post. i have long thought this was a good idea but it felt a little overwhelming. this breaks it down simply. thanks!

Hadias said...

This is a great post. A SOP is a valuable tool to have in time of family emergency.

Ornery's Wife said...

Great advice. I know that Ornery would be in a pickle if anything happened to his right-hand woman, so I should be making a list like this for him should anything happen to me.
Thanks for sharing!

Jendeis said...

Wonderful post! I've thought about doing this before, but your post gives me the motivation to actually do it.

SAHMmy Says said...

Great idea! My husband leaves all household operations to me--if he could name just one of our banks I'd fall off my chair! Most of my cheat sheets are in shorthand that only I can understand. Will make an easy to follow copy for my sweetheart. Hopefully he'll never need it!

Steph Garvey said...

I feel like I have overlooked the obvious here. Your post makes so much sense! Thank you for sharing, especially the details here and there! This is on my to do list now!

The Correspondent said...

This is a fantastic idea!

Even though I handle the run-of-the-mill bookkeeping around Barchester, Mr. Knightley keeps up with all of the heavyweight financial issues -- life insurance, 401(k), retirement account, investments, etc. This time last year, he sent me an email from the office, outlining all of the companies/policies/monies/etc. we have, in case he should precede me to glory. I really like your idea of expanding it to all other aspects of life. I think I'll make this project one of my 2008 goals/resolutions.

Froggi Donna said...

This is also important for us single folks. If you're my age group, would your kids/siblings have any idea where to find the necessary paperwork needed to handle your estate? If you're a youngster, would your parents have a clue? Got kids and single...even more to think about.

Fire safes come in several sizes and are reasonably priced so you don't even need a safety deposit box anymore.

Be sure to check out the Five Wishes while doing your paperwork...could be the best $5 you'll ever spend.