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Sign Here Honey

Every year, on or around April 15, millions of wives are asked by their husbands to sign a joint income tax return. My husband used to say "Sign here Honey" at 9:00 pm on April 15 as he raced into the house with the tax return he'd just picked up from his accountant. "The post office is open till midnight, so let's do this right now," he'd say. Most wives sign and don't give it a second thought.

In fact, they are relieved that they don't have to be involved in what they consider to be, like mowing the lawn or cleaning out the garage, their husband's job. But "Sign here Honey" may be three little words that can come back to haunt you if you are ever divorced or widowed. Whether the return is prepared by your husband, an accountant or H.R.

by signing the return,the government assumes that you understand what you're signing and agrees that it's accurate. My friend Betty earns a six figure income with a large corporation. She manages huge budgets and financial commitments affecting hundreds of employees.

But when it involves her marital finances, Betty reverts to the traditional role of wife. Her husband Mike manages the finances at home, works with the accountant to prepare the income tax return and brings it home just in time to get it mailed before midnight on April 15. Betty signed the tax return year after year, glad that Mike was taking care of what she considered to be an overwhelming job.

During her divorce proceedings a few years ago, Betty was asked if she saw the tax returns annually. She did. Did she review them? No, frankly, she trusted her husband. Wasn't she concerned about what she was signing? No. Three years after their divorce was final, Betty was wrangling with the IRS. Did she have copies of the returns that she signed? No, she didn't.

If she had, she might have discovered that her husband was underreporting their income. Betty protested that she didn't prepare the return, that she relied on her husband and wasn't aware that the information was not accurate. No matter - It's nothing personal. Community property law requires that she repay the government half of the taxes owed when she was still married.

She owed the government $75,000, far more than she could comfortably manage now that her lifestyle was so different as a result of her divorce. If you're not interested in the tax return, you should be. It's an integral part of your marriage and will give you a closer look at what's really going on financially in your marriage. You might discover that your husband has more income than you thought.

You might find an IRA or a KEOGH plan that you didn't know about. If you find out after a divorce or your husband died about a business partnership he had, that would affect you financially and not always in your best interests. Tax time is a good opportunity to learn about investments which belong to both of you, but which you typically don't pay attention to because your husband is the one who interacts with the broker. How do you learn more? Ask your husband for one thing.

Husbands aren't necessarily trying to hide things from you by doing the taxes. They do them because you may want or expect them too. You'd be surprised how many husbands are pleased when their wife shows interest in what's going on financially. If an accountant is doing your joint return, attend the meeting with your husband. This is a good place to ask questions because the accountant can explain things to you that even your husband often doesn't understand.

The point is, you have to ask, especially if you've made it a point not to be involved over the years. "Sign here Honey" takes on a totally different meaning when you're participating as an informed partner. Copyright (c) 2008 Helga Hayse.

Helga Hayse is author of "Don't Worry about a Thing, Dear" - Why Women Need Financial intimacy. She teaches women about participating and understanding their marital finances. She speaks to financial planners and estate planners about how to encourage crucial conversation between generations.

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