How To Avoid Being Locked Out Of Your Spouse's Accounts
The other day, I was trying to ask a question about my gas bill for the house I share with my husband. Just a gas bill-nothing fancy or terribly secure, just your average utility. Here's how that conversation went:
"I'm sorry ma'am, I do not see your name listed on the account and cannot discuss any of these questions with you until you are added to the account. You will need your husband to call us and add your name to the account, or you will have to call us back when you are with husband before we can discuss your questions."
Full stop. There was no workaround, no validating my identity, showing them our marriage certificate. Nothing. Just simply a "we won't talk to you".
And the important thing to know is that this is not just for utility companies. There are so many companies that have a policy of not acknowledging or granting access to a spouse if they are not explicitly listed on the account.
And because of my work with Sunny, I've also worked with many recent widows/widowers who are locked out of accounts that they desperately need information or access to because their spouse started the account and never thought to put their other half's name on it. Here are some accounts that you can consider getting your name on (or your spouse's name, if you are already on it) in order to prevent getting locked out in the event of an emergency:
Credit cards: Do you want to ensure your spouse can still use your shared credit cards if something happens to you? If so, you must first know if your spouse and you are are joint account holders or just users of the credit card you share. There are pros and cons to both situations, however, it's important to know what your situation is because if your spouse is only a user of the credit card, when he/she calls to cancel your credit card, his/her credit card will also automatically be canceled.
Bank accounts: Do you want to ensure your spouse can easily access your bank accounts if anything happens to you? This is another scenario where there are pros and cons to having shared or separate banking, however, it is so important to at least know if you do have a joint banking account with your spouse or not. If your spouse assumes you do share a bank account and are incorrect, once he/she notifies the bank of your passing, the account may be frozen and he/she will most likely not be able to access it until after the estate has gone through probate.
Safe Deposit Box: Do you want your spouse to easily access your safe deposit box if anything were to happen to you? If so, adding your spouse as a joint holder for the safe deposit box or adding he/she as an authorized person to access the box is helpful. Without this, it can be an exorbitant amount of process and protocol to follow in order for your spouse to be able to access it.
Utilities: Do you want your spouse to be able to ask questions, change payment information, and take your name off the utility if something were to happen to you? As mentioned above in my story with the gas bill, your spouse can easily be locked out of these accounts if you did not put he/she as a secondary contact on the account. If you do want to ensure your spouse has the same rights as you on these accounts, it is so easy to simply call the utility company and tell them that you want your spouse added as a secondary contact.
Cable/Internet: Do you want your spouse to be able to ask questions, change payment information, and take your name off the cable bill if something were to happen to you? If so, similar to utilities, adding the secondary contact is a good idea, but you may also need to share other set up information you added to the account such as a secret pin or answers to the secret questions you answered when initially setting up the account so that your spouse can transition it seamlessly.
Email: Do you want your spouse to easily access your email if something were to happen to you? I know, this one feels invasive. However, in my experience working with families who have lost a loved one, email is the single most helpful service to be able to access of someone who has recently passed. Email contains so much of the account information, subscriptions, and overall access we need to know of what needs to be closed out or switched over to a surviving spouse. Services like Gmail have an option called "inactive account user" that allows you to designate a spouse who would then be granted access to your email in the event something were to happen to you.
Of course, there are many circumstances where sharing accounts with your spouse is not appropriate and these options are not optimal for all. We always suggest you seek legal and financial advice before taking action on any of the above-mentioned tasks.