Today I met a sweet and kindly lady in the course of a volunteer project I signed up for. While we were figuring out what we were supposed to be doing, we of course struck up a conversation, during which she came to tell me her life story.
At 60, she’s struggling financially: always “on the edge,” she says, despite holding down a full-time job and juggling three side enterprises. It was not always so.
She was widowed in her 40s. Her husband, retired Air Force, died unexpectedly at 54. He left her an annuity, some savings, and a paid-off house. They had been married for about two decades.
Being a relatively young woman, she soon took up with a new man, one who appeared to be acceptable. They were together for quite a few years.
During that time, this gent took over paying the bills and managing their finances. They owned a business together, and he ran it.
What he really was doing was quietly cleaning her out. We won’t mention the womanizing he was doing on the side, also quietly, because it’s not especially relevant.
Then one day the license plates were stolen off her car. She called the Department of Transportation to get them replaced and was told she couldn’t have new licenses because the car was uninsured. This was news to her. She became so confused in the bureaucratic maze that her S.O. offered to take over and get the job done for her. She gratefully agreed.
He told her he needed a power of attorney so he could represent her with ADOT. She agreed to give him one, signed and notarized.
He sallied forth and did battle with the bureaucracy, eventually returning with new license plates.
Time passed; she didn’t think much more about it.
Then the day came when their relationship started to dissolve. That’s when she discovered that he’d used the power of attorney to take out a second mortgage against her paid-off home, to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars. Having convinced the credit union manager that she was sick, incapacitated, and needed money to pay medical and skilled nursing bills, he’d drained her bank accounts and taken pretty much everything she had, except for the small annuity and modest savings in a 401(k).
He’d spent it all on his chippies, leaving her in poverty.
And, as it developed, there wasn’t a damn thing she could do about it. Because she had given him a power of attorney, she had authorized him to do as he pleased. The police and the state attorney general told her no crime had been committed—or at least, not one that could be prosecuted. She did not pursue him in civil court because she believed he had no money, and she certainly couldn’t afford lawyers’ fees for a suit that would return nothing.
She’s still trying to pay off the loan against the house, which is now worth less than she paid for it. She came close to losing the house, because she didn’t know the loan existed until the payments were far in arrears.
She expects to work to the age of 70 to maximize her Social Security benefit. But she doesn’t have a nickel or a dime, and at the rate she’s going, she never will.
No one should ever let somebody else control their finances—even communal finances—without oversight. I think this is more common with women than with men, at least in my generation. But I know of men whose finances were similarly drained by designing women. Even in these more enlightened times, I’ll hear 20-something women students remark that they don’t understand money and don’t want to—it’s too, too boring.
Well, get bored, laydeez and even yents. A little tedium is a heckuva lot better than spending your old age in penury.