My Husband Almost Died, And I Realized I Knew Nothing About Our Household Finances

by Colleen Dilthey Thomas
Originally Published: 
Sick young african woman feeling cold covered with blanket sit on sofa, ill black girl shivering freezing warming at home wrapped with plaid, no central heating problem, fever temperature flu concept

On a sunny fall afternoon, my husband was shot in a road-rage incident. By the grace of God, he survived. As did our four children who were in the car, but thankfully not harmed. The entire ordeal was petrifying and surreal. That’s the stuff that you see on the news, but you never think it’ll happen to you. I certainly didn’t. And I had no idea how woefully unprepared I was for a tragedy until it struck.

In the days following the shooting, I had to deal with insurance companies, police reports and news reporters. My husband was released from the hospital the same day and headed out on a business trip shortly thereafter. Though incredibly shaken and physically injured, psychologically he was fine. He had confidence in the judicial system and that these newfound felons wouldn’t make their cash-only bonds and life would be fine with them in jail. I was traumatized and panicked. But it wasn’t just the shooting. It was the realization that I had no idea how to run my family without him.

We’d been married 13 years and had four children when he was shot. When we bought our homes and our cars, I was along for the ride. I signed where I needed to sign and that was the end. Never once did I ask what bank we were financing through or what the payment was. My husband took care of all of that. I didn’t need to be bothered. There were IRAs and investment accounts, credit cards and tuition funds. I had no idea how much was in any of them-or who to call to find out. My ignorance to our personal matters was just as terrifying as the shooting.

I lay in bed at night thinking, “What the fuck would I have done had something really happened to him?” He could have died that day. He had bullet holes in his side. This was real. I could have been left alone with four kids and not a clue how to live. He paid for everything. He owned everything. I didn’t even have his email password. He is a self-employed businessman. There is no employer to call to get a final paycheck from or an HR department to contact for an insurance payout. What would happen to his companies? What was my responsibility there? Did I own them? Would I sell them? What were they worth? It was so overwhelming.

He’d mentioned life insurance, but how much was there? Would it pay off the mortgage? What was the payoff on our mortgage? Could I still afford tuition? What did it cost to insure my family? I was positively lost. And I felt so incredibly stupid. How had I allowed myself to be so clueless?


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My husband is not some kind of misogynist pig who thinks a woman’s only place is barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen. He’s just the kind of guy who takes care of stuff. I have my responsibilities to our family and he has his. If I died, he’d probably struggle with teacher’s names and lunch calendars. He doesn’t know my laundry system or where I keep the kids’ medical records and birth certificates. But, that stuff is a hell of lot easier to find than figuring out your taxes when you have no paperwork. Everything is digital, stored in his Mac. And I had no password. That’s scary stuff.

Our life had to change. He needed to shift his mindset. Rather than have our entire financial life on autopilot with monthly bill drafts, I wanted to know what was happening. I needed to have a grip on what was coming in and what was going out. Up until that point, he gave me money when I asked. We didn’t just make purchases from a shared checking account where I was watching balances. We have joint accounts, but even when I was working, we just managed our own money. To be honest, I like it that way and we still do it, but now I have a better idea of what it cost to keep things going.

I don’t blame him completely. I am culpable in this situation. I never asked. The lights were on and the water was flowing, so I knew there was enough. I just had no idea how much that actually was. Ignorance is bliss. I didn’t have to worry about it, so I didn’t. He never asked me to. We were both morons. He didn’t have any of my passwords, either. Not that I had anything to worry about aside from the quarterly trash bill and my Target card. But still, he should have had access to that kind of stuff.

We are still in the process of getting our shit together. I have the mortgage info and my car payment date. He knows how to get into the AT&T website to pay the cable bill and I’ve made a list of the kids’ doctors and the medications they take. We still need a will. We have no advanced medical directives or designated family for our children to go to if we die. I swear I don’t want a wake or funeral and positively none of those church hymns to be played that make people cry. But it’s not written down anywhere. We have a lot left to take care of.

No one should allow themselves to be in a position of panic when something goes wrong. There should be no secrets among couples in terms of finances. Both parties should be privy to the others’ passwords and accounts in case, God forbid, something does happen. He would never want me to be in the dark if he were gone. He’d want me to be able to live comfortably and take care of our kids. We just never took the time to discuss it. Nothing was going to happen, we thought. We could do it later. It just took a terrifying little nudge to make sure that it happened.

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