business acquaintance said recently that whenever she and her spouse need to have a “discussion” regarding family finances, she always says, “Well, let’s get out a piece of paper and write everything down.” To which her spouse always responds: “This is a family, not a business. We know what’s going on. Why can’t we just talk about it?”

Respectfully, I would say that his position isn’t defensible. I believe that all families, from those of modest means to those with ultra-high net worth, are “businesses.” They have revenue streams, expenses and projections for growth and expansion and “personnel.” And they have a bottom line.

To help maximize benefits to all its members, a family needs to organize its finances. Getting out a sheet of paper is a good start.

Too often, families may operate like my acquaintance’s spouse, and, when they do decide to get organized, they are practically beginning from a standing start. This puts them into basically the same position as a person who becomes a family’s financial guardian or an executor, or as we often see, a divorced spouse who never managed his or her own finances.

Whatever the circumstances, though—the first step above all else is: Get organized.

Yes, that’s easier said than done, which explains why many people ask for a framework to help them get organized from that standing start. Following, then, are the recommended steps your family should take to get its finances, or those of another family, into good organizational shape.

To help maximize benefits to all its members, a family needs to organize its finances. And simply getting out a sheet of paper is a good place to start.

It has been said that you can only defeat complexity with a simple system. So, to start, use the simplest of systems: a large three-ring binder and a hole puncher. The binder should be set up with a different tab for each individual brokerage account, bank account, IRA and pension accounts; insurance policy; real estate property; individual loans; employee benefits; private equity fund investments; and paperwork for any other assets and liabilities.

If you’re in the unfortunate position of becoming a guardian or an executor, you may wish to begin by looking at prior income tax returns and engaging professional counsel. A lot of detective work is required to find out what is owned and what is owed.

From the binder, a balance sheet and a statement of cash flow can be created, and a budget can be reconciled. These building blocks of financial organization can help provide important decision-making information. The next step is to enroll all the accounts for online access so you can log on and see everything.

You might also consider using personal financial software, but that will require you to be fairly technologically competent and you’ll need a sincere willingness to invest some time learning how to use the software, and to troubleshoot it periodically. If your personal computer troubleshooting skill set is weak, or if you can’t program a smartphone or conduct software updates by yourself, and don’t have an IT person in your household or as a trusted friend, it may be a bad idea.

But just remember: No matter how granular and/or digitally sophisticated you get in your financial organization campaign, it really does start with a piece of paper.

Mark C. Hutchinson, CFA is a Financial Advisor with UBS Financial Services Inc. in Chicago. UBS Financial Services Inc. Financial Advisor(s) engage Worth to feature this article. As a firm providing wealth management services to clients, we offer both investment advisory and brokerage services. These services are separate and distinct, differ in material ways and are governed by different laws and separate contracts. For more information on the distinctions between our brokerage and investment advisory services, please speak with your Financial Advisor or visit our website at The strategies and/or investments referenced may not be suitable for all investors. UBS Financial Services Inc., its affiliates and its employees are not in the business of providing tax or legal advice. Clients should seek advice based on their particular circumstances from an independent tax advisor. The views expressed herein are those of the author and may not necessarily reflect the views of UBS Financial Services Inc. a subsidiary of UBS AG. Member FINRA/SIPC.

This article was originally published in the August/September 2016 issue of Worth.