"To the well-organized mind, death is but the next great adventure." - J.K. Rowling, British novelist, screenwriter, producer known for her Harry Potter fantasy series. (1965 - )
BY JULIA ANDERSON
Stories about women, men and money come my way all the time. Here are a few.
A woman lives with a man for most of her adult life – more than 25 years. They never married. First together in their youth, they brake up for a couple of years before getting back together in their 30s for the long haul.
He dies in his 60s.The long-time live-in girlfriend knew that while she and her partner were apart in those early years, he briefly lived with another woman. What she didn’t know was that while with this other woman he named her as beneficiary of his pension when he died. He never got around to changing that beneficiary assignment.
Now, even though that old relationship is long over, the former girlfriend collected a death benefit of more than $120,000 from his pension policy at his death. His long-time live-in girlfriend of 25 years gets nothing!
Because they never married and because he never changed the beneficiary designation, there is no way to challenge this. The other woman’s name was on the document. The long-suffering girlfriend’s name was not.
Scenario No. 2:
A couple, long married, plans their retirement and decides that they will start collecting the full pension benefit from his 30 years of employment. That’s instead of taking only some of the monthly benefit so that the wife would continue to collect on the pension policy if she survives him.
He was in apparent good health, they wanted to enjoy an active retirement, so why not?
Within six months of retiring with the full pension benefit, he is dead from a massive heart attack. She is left to pay her bills on her own without any long-term benefit from his lifetime of work and their shared life together. The pension payout dies with him.
Scenario No. 3: A couple had been married since their youth. A successful journalist and marketing guru, he launches a community newsletter in the 1990s during the exciting transition from paper to online news delivery. The newsletter was a money-maker.
Down the road, he is diagnosed with a blood cancer that slowly kills him. Despite the dire illness, he persisted in putting out the newsletter as if nothing is changing. He never talks with her about dying or about the details of the newsletter operation after he’s gone.
While she had been handling the business accounting, he dies without giving her training in news gathering or in technical support for its online delivery.
She struggled to learn on-the-job while grieving his loss. It was a lonely, miserable transition filled with stress and anxiety. She eventually (ala Martha Graham) prevailed and ran the publication for many more years.
There’s more: The newly widowed woman who faced massive debt left by her husband who owned a failing business. Or the woman who discovered unpaid mortgage debt left by a husband with a secret gambling problem. These men were in death denial.
A lot of men are.
In fact, Americans in general don’t talk about death, estate planning, end of life issues or even the details of retirement. Experts say it’s because few of us are ever exposed to death because we don’t live on farms anymore where the cycle of life is always present. We don’t witness death of family members because they are sheltered away in care centers rather than dying at home surrounded by loved ones, young and old.
When the topics of illness and death come up, we cringe. If pressed, men offer the pat answer, “we’ll be fine,” emphasis on the “we.”
Men, I think, more than women do not want to think about getting old or about dying. That leaves many women picking up the financial pieces after they lose their spouses. It means many women “pay” for the mistakes made by the men they live with because they ignore their mortality.
Those mistakes might be:
- Never getting around to updating beneficiaries on a pension plan or a life insurance policy or brokerage account.
- Choosing to take all the payout on a pension plan rather than preserving half for a surviving spouse after they are gone.
Men are certainly at fault for failing to plan to when they are gone. But women also get blame for not being more assertive about estate planning, for not making sure that they will be financially whole, if their spouse or their live-in boyfriend dies?
Yes, if men don’t want to talk about money, it’s difficult to have the conversation.
Talking about money is stressful, causes anxiety and can create push-back. But let’s say you live with someone in HIS house. How will that shake out if he’s gone and his kids want the real estate?
Are beneficiaries up to date on his accounts and policies? Avoid the ugly surprises.
What about jointly-owned vehicles, RVs and savings accounts? Is everybody clear on what happens if one of your dies?
Here’s what you can do, right now:
Make sure beneficiaries on all checking, savings, brokerage accounts are up to date.
If you marry or move in with someone after age 50, get a pre-nuptial agreement that spells out who gets what, when you each die.
On individual bank checking and savings accounts, put a POD (payable on death) name on the account. You can do it by filling out a form at the bank. The money goes to the POD beneficiary without the hassles of probate court or trusts. It can be your kids, live-in boyfriend or spouse.
If you own an account jointly, the surviving co-owner will automatically become the sole owner of the account.
Consider setting up a legal living trust to save time, money and the hassles of settling your estate in probate court when you die.
Here’s a suggestion from Dr. Keith Ablow, a psychiatrist, author and nationally-known mental health expert:
“If you do just three things in the next three weeks that you would do, for sure, if you knew you were going to die, you will improve your life,” he says. By taking this action, you will alter your life’s course, he suggests. You will be on the way to “truly living your life,” Ablow says.
Some women skim along on the surface of life...…. work, kids, grandkids. It’s busy-ness but not taking care of business. They are making assumptions about their financial future and what happens when the man they live with dies. Have the Money Talk!
“Why Denying Death Means Denying Life,” FoxNews.com, clickhere.
“The Psychology of Death: Facing up to our own mortality,” Psychology Today, click here.
Avoiding Probate with transfer on death accounts and registrations, click here.
Avoiding probate, www.nolo.comLiving trusts, www.nolo.com
I meet women all the time who face job and money transitions and who want to do them right. It’s about building confidence and taking charge of the future. This is your money. No one cares more than you do!
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