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Intersection of Life and Faith

How to Set Your Finances in Order

  • Matt Bell SoundMindInvesting.com
  • 2014 7 Jul
  • COMMENTS
How to Set Your Finances in Order

"In those days Hezekiah became ill and was at the point of death. The prophet Isaiah son of Amoz went to him and said, 'This is what the LORD says: Put your house in order, because you are going to die; you will not recover'" (Isaiah 38:1).

Imagine you've been making all the right financial moves for a long time. You estimated your future needs, diligently set aside a portion of every paycheck, invested the money according to a trustworthy strategy, bought proper insurance for your family, stocked an emergency fund, made sure your paperwork is in order (wills, trusts, living wills, power-of-attorney documents), and everything else. If you've done all that, congratulations—you're in far better shape than most people!

Now imagine today is your last day alive. You never saw it coming, didn't even have a chance to say goodbye to those you love. Sure, you're in a better place. Your spouse, while grieving, has confidence about that as well. But would your spouse know how to carry on in managing the household's finances? Would he or she know how you've been investing, how much insurance you have and what to do with the proceeds, or who to call?

Chances are, a prophet will not appear to let us know when our time is up. But unless the Lord returns first, the odds are approximately 100% that we will all die. So, it would be wise to follow Isaiah's guidance and put our house in order. The sooner the better.

How Well Prepared Are You?

A recent survey of Sound Mind Investing members really brought home the importance of this. We asked, "If your household's primary investment decision-maker died today, how well equipped would the survivor be to make such decisions? Just 7% said, "Very well-equipped." Another 29% said, "Somewhat well-equipped. But the majority said, "Not very well-equipped" or "Not at all well-equipped."

A Very Helpful Resource

The ministry of Compass—Finances God's Way has a great resource that'll help make sure your spouse is well prepared to handle all of your family's finances, not just your investments.

"Set Your House In Order" is a five-week course from ministry Founder Howard Dayton that's one part Bible study and one part highly practical organize-your-finances activities. The Bible study, including weekly scripture memory, reminds us of God's ownership over everything, our roles as stewards of his resources, the importance of wise counselors, and more.

The practical activities include putting together a financial statement, taking an asset inventory, developing cash flow plans for now and after the main breadwinner's death, creating a family history to pass down to future generations, inheritance and other estate planning decisions, stating your funeral and burial wishes, gathering details for your obituary, and more.

One of the most valuable activities is gathering all of your important financial documents in one place (or two, since originals of some of them should be kept in a safe deposit box). This includes information about investments, insurance, bank accounts, wills or trusts, living wills, power-of-attorney documents, deeds, birth and marriage certificates, and more. That will go a long way toward helping your spouse manage his or her finances after you're gone.

The study prompts you to tackle an exhausting list of tasks, but since it's grounded in scripture, bathed in prayer, and focused on the benefits for your loved ones, it quickly becomes clear that the tasks are actually acts of good stewardship and love. That provides all the needed motivation.

While it could be completed on your own, "Set Your House In Order" is designed for a small group setting, which provides helpful accountability. The participants do not need to live in the same city. They can connect via free video conferencing tools such as Skype, which is what I did in taking the study with a friend in Dallas.

A Personal Note

Week one of the study includes a description of a meeting Howard Dayton and his wife, Bev, had with a recent widow. In addition to the grief you'd expect her to be experiencing, the woman was also angry and fearful. Her husband had handled their finances and never discussed the topic with her. She didn't even know if they had savings or debt, where they had bank accounts, or the names of their tax preparer and insurance agent.

As I tried to imagine how my wife, Jude, would feel if I died suddenly, the absolute last emotions I'd want her to experience are anger and fear.

The study prompted me to take several steps, such as increasing our life insurance and putting all of our financial documents in one place. It's also led to more conversations about our finances.

Overall, participating in the study has left me feeling much better about how organized our finances are. If you need some help in this area, I highly recommend the "Set Your House In Order" small group study.

Matt Bell is Associate Editor at Sound Mind Investing. Since its founding by Austin Pryor in 1990, SMI has been providing clear, trustworthy, effective investment guidance to the Christian community. Some 10,000 subscribers look to its flagship publication, the Sound Mind Investing monthly newsletter, for biblical guidance on a range of financial issues and specific investment advice. Matt is also the author of four personal finance books published by NavPress, including Money and Marriage. He speaks at churches, on college campuses, at marriage retreats, and other venues throughout the country. Contact him at mbell@soundmindinvesting.com.

Publication date: July 14, 2014