Empowering Women

You CAN take charge of your own affairs

By SharonAnn Hamilton | Oct 10, 2018

Dear SharonAnn,

I’m just so angry I could scream! We KNEW my husband was going to go soon. The path of disease was clear. But WHY did we not talk about what I needed to know about our business? Although I’d been a partner since the beginning, I was a silent partner receiving in my account a hefty monthly profit share.

Then he died. Through grief I walked: blind, deaf and really stupid. I “wake up” now, a year later, and see that I sold the buildings, land and business for half their value, giving up millions. My adult kids live on the East Coast, and we don’t really talk much. I didn’t want to bother them with my problems.

I have a new, helpful “friend” who understands finances, but she is now my sole beneficiary, and is a joint tenant on my bank accounts. She says if something happens to me, she will send that money directly to my kids. I am increasingly uncomfortable because she is living with me, and watches everything I do. And she just bought a new Tesla to replace her Civic. I’m starting to ask myself if I can really trust her. I’m just 68 and not ready to give up or give in. HOW do I get out of this mess?

Signed: Angry at my husband, Angry at myself, Angry and ashamed

Dear Angry,

You are not alone either in grief and anger, or in getting into a mess. You may like your friend very much, but you are right to feel uneasy. I see several signs of something disturbing – isolation, unaware of business decisions, changed beneficiaries, joint account, an expensive new car.

Do you know 1 in 10 vulnerable adults are alongside of you? In fact, according to AARP, only 1 in 44 seniors report being financially exploited due to embarrassment and shame. You are lucky that you caught it!

Now that you are “awake,” are you ready to act? Get ready for a busy week. Although you may not be able change the outcome of the decisions you made for selling the business, you can change a great deal of your current circumstances. You’ll need to do this BEFORE you inform your new “friend.”

1) Call Adult Protective Services (APS) 1-866-221-4909. Although you are not elderly, you are a senior. They will have many resources that will help you immediately. If the “friend” has taken or used any of your money for her own benefit, you may be able to press charges against her and recover some of it.

2) Open a bank account with a new bank, and transfer your joint account funds entirely to the new bank in your name only.

3) Cancel any credit cards that have your “friend’s” authorization on them.

4) Visit your attorney right away to change your beneficiary. Tell all of your advisors in writing that you alone will be in charge of your affairs. Find out if getting a person out of your home will involve legal proceedings. Start them without delay!

5) Verify your beneficiary statements on insurance policies, annuities, 401k, IRAs.

6) Change the locks on your home and other properties you use, like your vacation place.

7) Get this person out of your home as soon as possible.

Your goal is to separate yourself legally, financially, emotionally and physically from this person quickly.

Is it scary to do this alone? You bet. Do you have a good friend, a club or church member, a caring relative you can ask to stand alongside of you? If not or you don’t want to involve them, you can apply to The Council for Women, an organization of faith-based, professional women [fiduciary, attorneys, CPA, banker and more] working to educate and empower women who are widows, retiring, divorcing or inheriting.

How can you protect yourself in the future?

Some clients want to pass the baton of responsibility onto another. They remarry quickly, sometimes poorly. If you are a person who wishes to abdicate the caretaking of your own fortune, I strongly suggest you find a professional trustee. A professional trustee is responsible by law to only act in your best interests at all times (a fiduciary duty). A new spouse is not!

• Learn. Understand your own financial picture.  Your advisors will gladly answer your questions and, over time, you will become comfortable with financial terms. Make learning a lifetime practice.

• Forgive. Let go of anger. All of it. Forgive yourself for your mistakes.

• Read. Everything. Read your estate plan. Read your financial plan. Read your policies. Read and understand before you sign.

• Investigate. At every decision point you have options. Think through the advantages and disadvantages of possible decisions. Talk them through with someone you trust, not to get votes on your decisions, but to be certain you have not overlooked anything.

• Share. Tell your adult children about the plans you put into place. You don’t need to reveal details, but share enough to let them be alert on your behalf.

Does this seem daunting? It can be, yes. Remember the way to tackle any big project is one step at a time. Your life is the most valuable project of all. You are just 68 years old. Your estate needs to last you 30-40 years if you take care of your health. You have time to learn and you can learn, when you put your mind to it.

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