Life and Money With Helaine by Helaine Olen

Man Drags His Heels on Giving Wife Access to Finances

Dear Helaine: My husband and I have been married for more than 30 years, and he's always handled our bills and finances. I feel terrible that I've allowed this to go on as long as it has. I have never questioned our finances, except to ensure we aren't in crazy debt (more than $5,000), and we are making our bills.

My husband was diagnosed with cancer last year, and since he's started long-term chemo he's developed an issue with clarity. He's also diabetic, and the chemo is causing his blood sugar to go sky high. Because of all this, he's taken temporary disability from his company, and we're going to lose 40% of his salary. We need to figure out how to cut that from our monthly spending without going into debt or touching our hard-earned savings. (We're big on savings -- most of my salary goes toward it. His salary has always paid our mortgage and living expenses.)

These last few years, I've asked for a list of accounts, where our savings and websites are, the passwords -- everything. He keeps saying he'll write it down, but his handwriting is chicken scratch. I wanted everything typed up and easy to read. This hasn't happened. I seriously don't understand the difficulties he's having doing this, and my frustration level is above and beyond high. Please help me figure this out. -- Fed Up With Financial Ignorance

Dear Fed Up: There are two different issues here. I'll take the easy one first. I doubt you need to cut back on living expenses by 40%. This is the moment you've been saving for. While I wouldn't want you to jeopardize your retirement plans, it sounds like you should have enough money set aside to weather this storm.

That brings me to the bigger issue: You really don't know that, do you? Your husband handles everything. You don't know what your assets are, not really. After 30 years, your husband's used to being in control. It doesn't take a lot of imagination to understand why you are getting pushback from him now. Compounding everything: He's ill. Cancer is a scary diagnosis, and no doubt your extremely reasonable request is not just challenging a longtime setup in the marriage, but triggering all his fears about his disease.

My suggestion: Wait till he is rested. Sit down next to him with a laptop or tablet if you have one, or a notepad if you do not. Tell him you need him to dictate everything to you, so that you have the information in case of an emergency. This way you've removed one obstacle -- that he won't do this on his own.

I'm not saying this is going to be a piece of cake. It's not. But you need to persist and cannot take no for an answer. Not only do you have a right to know all this, his medical situation demands you have access to this information. You might add that tax-filing season is approaching, and it sounds to me like he's going to need assistance with it. If his thinking is muddled enough that he's out of work on disability, he must know he needs help.

(To ask Helaine a question, email her at

(EDITORS: For editorial questions, please contact Sue Roush at