Last month I spoke at a women’s day event held by Alexander Forbes about the importance of women, especially married women, having their own financial affairs in order. The most interesting part for me was speaking to the many women after the event who came to share their personal stories.
Stories of husbands dying suddenly or walking out after four decades of marriage and leaving their wives with no idea of where or how the family finances operated. I also spoke to women whose husbands had early-onset dementia and were worried about the management of their finances.
What surprised me in all these discussions was how disempowered many of the women were. In many cases it was a matter of just allowing their husbands to manage everything because it was easier that way. But what I also discovered was that although the couple had an adviser, the principle client was the husband and the adviser would often not share information without the approval of the client, namely the husband.
One woman who came to speak to me told me that her husband had Alzheimer’s and, with it still being in the early stages, he had some lucid days, but on other days he was more irrational. She was concerned about decisions he may make on those more irrational days. There are many cases of wills being changed or people being scammed out of money due to unscrupulous individuals who prey on those whose minds are starting to wander.
Just because you are not the main breadwinner does not mean you do not have an equal right in managing the family finances, and it should definitely not be an excuse to leave everything to your partner.
Whenever she speaks to their adviser, however, he asks her husband what he wants to do and will only act on his approval, despite knowing his mental state. What she really needs is an adviser who can help her form a strategy on how to cope as her husband’s mind starts slipping. She needs to fully understand the legal implications of her status as a spouse, including the fact that a living annuity does not carry the same protection for financial dependants as a pension or provident fund does.
She needs to understand that a simple power of attorney will not suffice as it effectively falls away once her husband loses his capacity to reason and that she needs to consider an administrative order. Basically she needs someone who has her best interests at heart and can advise her accordingly.
So there is a question to be asked as to whether or not spouses should each have their own financial adviser. For me, the first prize would be a financial adviser who acts on behalf of both spouses; someone who understands the importance of providing a financial plan that allows the spouse who is not the main breadwinner to also have control over the assets and have an equal say in how they are invested ‒ an adviser who encourages the wife to be involved and take an active interest in the family’s wealth creation.
If, however, a wife finds that her husband or the adviser ignores or treats her in a condescending manner, then she certainly should have her own adviser. Just because you are not the main breadwinner does not mean you do not have an equal right in managing the family finances, and it should definitely not be an excuse to leave everything to your partner.
This article first appeared in City Press.