Ask ten different people what’s the first thing you should do if you are contemplating a divorce and you will get ten different answers. But ask a CDFA™ (Certified Divorce Financial Analyst) what the first thing is you should do, and they should say, take an asset inventory.
What is an Asset Inventory?
An ‘inventory’ is a complete list of items that you currently have on hand. In terms of a divorce, it’s a list of all your assets like real estate, cars and financial accounts. Completing this list is a necessary step to take in the very beginning of the divorce process so that you know what both you and your spouse ‘own’. In Massachusetts, just about everything you own, individually or jointly, is considered a marital asset, no matter how it is titled or how it was acquired. This means that even money or property that was brought into the marriage is on the table in Massachusetts.
If marriage is about love, then divorce is about money. One of the goals in a divorce is to divide the marital assets – money – in such a way that is fair and equitable to both spouses. If you don’t know what you have, how can you make decisions on how to split it?
Many of my clients admit to me that they are not involved in the finances and have no idea how much money there is or even what kind of accounts they have. So, the first thing I say to them is, let’s put together a list so you know. The more you know, the more you feel in control of the process. Fear of the unknown is prevalent in divorce. Women especially fear they will end up with no money, so the more knowledge and control one has, the less the fear.
Control can play a major role in the divorce process. A spouse who has maintained control of the finances during the marriage, typically continues to maintain control during the divorce. They can use this power and control to make the other person feel like they have no rights to the money. My job as a CDFA™ is to level the playing field and make sure that the lesser-informed spouse has the same knowledge as the other spouse, so they can make informed decisions about the money.
How To Prepare a List of Your Assets
Preparing an asset inventory even before you ask your spouse for a divorce can help to alleviate the fear and put you in a place of power when it comes to negotiating settlement proposals with the help of your attorney and CDFA™.
Marital assets consist of everything you own including real property, cash accounts, brokerage accounts, mutual funds, pensions and retirement accounts. There are some lesser known assets that people often overlook and forget about – like frequent flyer points, safe deposit box contents, health savings accounts (HSA), cash values of whole life insurance policies, US Savings Bonds, collections (wine, art, coins, stamps) and interests in trusts (revocable and irrevocable).
Take the First Step:
- Go on line and download the most recent statements for all joint checking/savings accounts
- Download most recent quarterly statements for brokerage accounts – stocks and mutual funds
- If you have access to your spouse’s retirement account statements, copy them and note what type of account it is – 401(k), 403(b), IRA, Roth IRA, SEP IRA, SIMPLE IRA, 457 Plan, Annuity, etc.
- List all real estate, including timeshares, and corresponding mortgages
- Pull a free credit report (annualcreditreport.com) to account for all mortgages and loans
- Look at pay stubs for employer sponsored plans like 401(k)’s, stock option plans (ESOP and ESPP) and HSAs or FSAs
- Gather three years of your personal federal tax returns, including any corporate and partnership returns, if your spouse owns a business
- Locate life insurance policies, wills and other estate planning documents
- Gather anything else that seems relevant to your finances and write it down on your list.
You may not be able to find everything at first, but at least you have a starting point. If you are working with a CDFA™, providing them with this list will help your CDFA™ ask the right questions to find other accounts and she may even uncover some hidden assets.
While we like to trust our spouse, there’s a saying ‘trust, but verify’. This is especially true in a divorce. Preparing an asset inventory as early as possible in the divorce process will go a long way to not only documenting your assets, but by also providing you with peace of mind and a sense of control.
be informed, be empowered, take control.
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Every divorce is unique and laws and practices vary from state to state. Be sure to consult with your attorney, financial professional, accountant and other professionals in your state to understand what applies to you and what is best for you and your family. Taking information out of context generally has negative consequences. This article is not meant to provide legal or financial advice.