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"Sign Here Honey"
by Helga Hayse

Every year, on or around April 15, millions of wives are asked by their husband 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 heapostrophed just picked up from the accountant.

"The post office is open till midnight, so letapostrophes do this right now," heapostrophed say. Most wives sign and donapostrophet give it a second thought. Thatapostrophes what I used to do. In fact, weapostrophere often relieved that we donapostrophet have to be involved when we have so many other things to do. Besides, isnapostrophet taxes our husbandapostrophes job? The answer is NO!

"Sign here Honey" may be three little words that can come back to haunt you if you are ever divorced or widowed. Whether your husband, an accountant or H.R. Block prepares the return, once you sign the return, you are attesting to your understanding and agreement that the information as stated on the return is correct.

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. When he says, "Sign here, Honey," Betty signs, relieved that Mike is taking care of something she doesnapostrophet want to think about at home.

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. Wasnapostrophet 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 didnapostrophet.

If she had, she might have discovered that her husband was underreporting their income. Betty protested that she didnapostrophet know about it; her husband prepared the returns and she would never have signed something she knew to be fraudulent, and sheapostrophes very sorry and so on.

For the IRS, itapostrophes nothing personal. A couple is a legal and financial unit. The taxes require the knowledge and signatures of both partners. Community property law required that Betty repay the government half of the taxes owed when she was still married. Her half amounted to nearly $75,000, a huge amount of money for someone whose lifestyle had been severely compromised as a result of the divorce.

If youapostrophere not interested in your tax return, you should be. Itapostrophes an integral part of your marriage and will give you a closer look at whatapostrophes 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 didnapostrophet know about. Perhaps there is a business partnership you need to know about if your husband dies.

Tax time is a good opportunity to learn about investments which belong to both of you, but which you typically donapostrophet pay attention to because your husband is the one who interacts with the broker.

How do you learn more? ASK!

Start with your husband. Your husband isnapostrophet necessarily trying to hide things from you by doing the taxes. He does it because you may want or expect him to. If he is preparing the return, your husband might be delighted that youapostrophere interested.

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 doesnapostrophet understand.

The point is, you have to ask, especially if youapostropheve made it a point not to be involved over the years. "Sign here Honey"
takes on a totally different meaning when youapostrophere participating as an informed partner.

(c) 2009, Helga Hayse. Reprints welcomed so long as the article and byline are kept intact and all links are made live.

About the author:

Helga Hayse is author of "Donapostrophet 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. For more information visit