by Joy Loverde
Selling a house among other financial transactions can get quite complicated in a later-life marriage, especially when adult children from both marriages are also in the mix. Nineteen years ago when Mom married Bill, she sold the family home and used all of her proceeds to buy half of the Florida house she now owns with Bill. Bill did the same. And here’s where things get sticky today.
Nineteen years later, the house is on the market. Since Mom and Bill are expecting to gain financially from the sale of the house, instead of two checks being issued at closing, I learn from Mom that Bill is insisting that one check is issued in both of their names and deposited into a bank account in Bill’s name alone. The reasoning behind this arrangement (so I am told) is so that Mom and Bill can share the expenses of paying for the furniture for the Chicago apartment. After that, Mom is instructed by Bill that she can withdraw her share of what’s left and open an account in her name. When I learn of this plan, I know in an instant that this is a potential financial nightmare.
Should Bill (or Mom) become ill or incapacitated while their co-mingled house sale money shares the same bank account, the funds will be considered marital property and will be tapped into to pay for the other’s care if the need be. One of them can wipe out the other financially. The only way to avoid this financial wipeout is for them to request separate checks upon closing. But in my Mom’s case that’s easier said than done.
Mom is old school. She was raised to believe the man of the house takes care of the money, and the woman stays out of his domain. That was the financial arrangement with Mom and my Dad and that is the way it is now with Bill.
When I suggest to Mom that she asks for a separate check from the house proceeds, I could see the fear in her eyes. Mom has never talked to Bill about what he does with their money. Bill pays the bills and makes any and all financial decisions. Mom hasn’t written a check in nineteen years and has no idea as to what’s up with their finances. Mom’s relationship with Bill is based on blind faith and trust.
Now that Mom is in town to buy furniture for the apartment, my husband (who is a family-law attorney), my sister, Linda and I decide ahead of time to talk with Mom in person regarding her vulnerable financial situation. And so we do.
Sitting with Mom in my living room felt more like an intervention – a compassionate tone of voice with a tough love message: Get your head out of the sand and become financially responsible in this relationship. We speak candidly about the potential for Bill’s incapacity and the need for power-of-attorney for finances and health care. Slowly Mom begins to get the picture that she is unprotected financially unless she takes legal action. She promises to ask Bill for a separate check when the house is sold. That will be a huge personal accomplishment for her.