You and your spouse are supposed to stick together in sickness and in health, in good times and in bad. Considering those parameters, it would probably behoove you to thoroughly understand each other's finances.

A strong marriage is one of communication and sacrifice. Both spouses must be willing to be flexible and open in all areas of their relationship. Maintaining an open relationship when it comes to financial matters, however, can be a vexing proposition for many couples.

Unfortunately, being secretive and standoffish often leads to ill will and hurt feelings. Countless divorces occur over money issues. To ensure that the right information is shared, consider all the financial records that couples need to access:

Retirement plans: Spend some time together analyzing each other's retirement plans. Look at 401(k) accounts, IRAs, and even Social Security statements. You should have a solid understanding of each other's investment strategies, and know the companies responsible for maintaining the assets.

Legal matters: Every couple should have wills and trust documents in place. If you have neither, make an appointment with a reputable attorney to create them. When the task is completed, store copies in a fireproof safe or a safety deposit box.

Credit cards: In a marriage, it's common to have one person manage the monthly bills. It's a convenient arrangement-just be sure to share credit card statements regularly, and store any pertinent account information in a readily accessible location.

Credit reports: Any type of lending or credit transaction will require use of your credit report. Both you and your spouse should be aware of each other's credit history. If one of you suffers from a low credit score, it can negatively impact your overall financial situation. Find a solution together to remedy the problem.

Life insurance: Maintaining the proper amount of life insurance is critical for your long-term financial plan. If tragedy should strike, stranding a spouse without enough income can be devastating. Meet with a life insurance agent or a financial planner and discuss the proper amount for your needs.

Health insurance: In many couples, one spouse carries the health insurance. If this is the case in your household, both you and your spouse should be aware of who the insurance company is, and how you can contact them in an emergency.

Financial planner: Meeting with a financial planner should involve the presence of both spouses. Even if one member of the household takes the lead on contacting the professional, both should be heavily involved in the big decisions. It can also help to have two different perspectives when it comes to tough financial choices.

An enduring marriage is based on open communication, especially the sharing of key financial information. While one spouse may take the lead on managing the finances, both should understand the big financial picture and have access to all important documents. Sharing this information can be a big part of sharing a happy and successful marriage.

Published on July 10, 2008