In a recent chat with some lady friends, I was surprised to learn that the married 20 and 30-somethings all felt that if they died first, their husbands would be left completely incapable of handling bills, kids, even changing the sheets. The seemingly retro commercial trope of that oafish, inept husband seemed, suddenly, more true to present-day reality than I like to think.
Initially, we theorized about what we’d really want our partners to do if we died unexpectedly: mourn and wallow, never to love again, or move on and find someone else? But the women I spoke with quickly realized that sheer everyday logistics would necessitate their dudes partnering up again immediately.
Research bears this out. Men remarry more quickly and more often than women. A recent Pew survey found that two-thirds of divorced or widowed men were fine with remarrying, but fewer than half of women would consider it. In a Time article on the subject, Belinda Luscombe writes:
There are lots of possible reasons for the gender discrepancy. Women tend to live longer, so they may outlast all their potential suitors. Or, since women now have more economic freedom than they did 50 years ago, they may feel less need for a partner. And while women still bear the bulk of the home care duties, once liberated, they may feel disinclined to enter into another legally binding agreement to look after somebody else.
One woman said that lately concerns about what would happen if she or her husband died had come up a lot lately, seemingly at random, but more likely because they are parents of a 1-year old (something that tends to specifically dredge up fears about stability and preparedness).
“We were talking last night about how he would need to find someone immediately to take care of his shit,” she wrote. “He was saying he would move into a hotel so other people would take care of everything, but I said he couldn’t afford that, and I didn’t want our son living in a motel. I asked him to be honest as to how often he would change his sheets if he lived alone and he said, definitively, ‘never.’ ”
Certainly he would need to remarry, but how soon? One woman suggested three years as the appropriate wait time, but the first replied, “I’m afraid of what would happen in three years. He needs someone in, like, three months. He doesn’t know how to pay the credit card bill.” She went on to explain that before the birth of their child, she’d made a folder with all their financial info and passwords in case something happened to her. “I’m 100% positive he wouldn’t be able to locate that now,” she said.
A recent survey by NerdWallet of 2000 married adults found that women do get the short end of the stick when a male spouse dies. About half were concerned about their ability to pay the bills in the event their spouse died, compared to only 37 percent of men who shared those concerns; however, although my female friends seemed very concerned that their husbands couldn’t find the info that would help them handle getting the bills paid, the survey found that they should probably have been more fearful for themselves:
Women also were less likely to know the terms of their spouse’s life insurance policy (57% versus 69% of men) and more likely to be unable to find family financial documents in an emergency (32% versus 21% of men).
It starts to seem even less fair, in light of all this, that women live longer and men earn more. Making things worse, survey respondents with children were somehow even less likely to know life insurance policy terms or to be able to access financial documents like bank accounts, investments, retirement accounts. And this part also seems pretty dire:
Among all the individuals we surveyed — with or without life insurance — only 55% of those with children know the final wishes of their spouse, such as burial preferences, compared with 73% of those without children.
While I feel for my friends whose husbands don’t seem to know how to even pay the phone bill, I am more saddened that their concern is misdirected.
Nonetheless, this is a great opportunity to get things sorted. Let’s all do it. Tonight, ask your spouse, point blank, out of nowhere, if he would like to be cremated or not. And then demand that he triple his life insurance policy for you. And then give you the login for it. And then make a list of all your bills, logins, passwords and put it in a fireproof box.
Don’t even make this fun by throwing in some wine and snacks or whatever. Just get it done.
And whatever you do, don’t do that thing where you forget to update your life insurance policy beneficiary with your husband on it, and then die, and all the money goes to the ex-husband you forgot to take off the policy instead of the partner you leave behind. Seriously! Do not!
Image via Fox Searchlight