The basic idea is that you want to get everything down in one place. If you’re comfortable with computer spreadsheet programs, they help tremendously here. Even if you’re not, you can still get the job done if your affairs are simple. Just write it down on a piece of paper.
If your spouse has the information and won’t give it to you, print a copy of The Discovery Money Pit and share it with him or her. Ask, “Is this what I’m going to need to do?”
What you own and what you owe will probably fall into one of these categories:
- Real property (that’s dirt and stuff attached to dirt). This includes your house, any second home(s), raw land, and commercial property. As you gather information on real property, there are several pieces ofinformation you’ll want to make sure you get.
- Vehicles. This includes your cars, of course. It also includes any boats, trailers, tractors, RV’s, etc.
- Bank accounts. This includes checking accounts and savings accounts.
- Financial assets. This includes retirement plans and IRA’s. It also includes stocks, bonds, brokerage accounts, and any other interests in businesses. If either of you has a family business, you may need to get some help to place an accurate value on the business. This category also includes the cash value on any life insurance.
- Your household goods. This includes furniture, clothing, dishes, china, silver, crystal, jewelry, collectibles, books, art work, electronics, tools, guns, and anything else of value that doesn’t fall into one of the other categories.
- Miscellaneous assets. It’s easy to overlook these. Things like frequent flyer miles, interests in businesses, claims one of you may have for damage or injury, tax refunds you expect to receive, patents and copyrights, country club or other club memberships, and timeshare credits.
- Your debt. These go in as negatives, not positives. For each debt, you need to know not only the balance owed but also who is contractually liable to pay it. You cannot assume that if your name isn’t on the card, you’re not liable. Call the credit card company or loan company and ask “Who is contractually liable to pay this debt?” They’ll usually be able to tell you quickly. You also may need to think about the possibility of bankruptcy.
As you build the sheet, include a column out to the side to tell who owns the asset or debt now. You’ll also want to include a column for yourself and one for your spouse. As you agree on who will get specific assets, they can go in the correct column. Then you can add the results up to see how each of you is doing in relation to the other.