Some of my friends have lost husbands through various means – divorce, natural death (with a small handful of divorced women holding life insurance policies on the ex and waiting anxiously — just joking), separation, illness and disappearing acts. In this emotional state, women tend to turn to experts. My warning is beware of the experts male or female although there is a tendency in our society to believe males have more expertise and power than women.
My husband was a good guy but a poor negotiator. Whenever we moved he left the management of the project to me. A number of years ago, we built a house and I worked with the foreman. There were many instances where the man answered my questions by inferring I was just a woman and didn’t understand the complex mechanics of house building. Well, that may be true, but I wasn’t asking about how to wire a house. My questions were a bit more practical like I won’t be able to open the dishwasher because the cabinet is in the way, and how can that be rectified?
When I asked the reason why my outside air-conditioning condenser was smaller than those hooked up to houses with the same square footage as mine, the foreman laughed and told me it was an engineering problem and that size was irrelevant. All units carried the same voltage/horse power and that was what counted. What would a lowly women know about that sort of thing? I slinked away, my tail between my legs, totally embarrassed.
The next day, on a whim, I went outside and checked those statistics written right on the units. Lo and behold, mine were less. Of course, I got him to make the change. He was not pleased, to say the least.
After four months of going back and forth on many issues, I told him I had to run something by my husband. The man looked at me like I’d gone berserk.
“I didn’t know you were married,” he said.
Would he have acted differently had my husband been working with him? I think so. Now, in my new place whenever I ask the contractor to come in to finish a certain job he smiles, nods and doesn’t show up or gives me an hour or two here and there. I became so discouraged that my son came in and built a closet for me. He told the contractor to come in the next day to finish some parts of it. The contractor not only showed up, he but stayed four hours – a miracle. Why couldn’t I have as much influence?
Over the years, I sometimes resented having the full responsibility of dealing with people who provided services. But, it did put me at an advantage when my husband passed away. I wasn’t exactly naïve even though I did make mistakes. Overall, my semi-awareness worked well. But, as a woman, I had to soft peddle any confrontations. Speaking loudly or demanding that mistakes be fixed, inevitably brought that certain look from men. Sometimes, I’d even hear the under-breath mumblings, accusing me of breaking balls. Deep down, it touched a nerve – pushy women were unattractive. It made me feel very uncomfortable, despite my independence.
When I had to fire anyone taking advantage of me, I’d gently say we had a personality differences instead of telling them outright they were incompetent or criminally trying to rip me off.
Once I was widowed, experts appeared from under rocks, tryng to take advantage of me — a WOMAN ALONE.
For instance, my husband’s friend, whom he hired to help with finances and business matters had never charged him for phone calls nor billed hourly. That changed when my husband got sick. When I took over the finances, our costs for the friend’s services more than doubled. If I knew he’d charge me for phone calls, I’d have never spent the time asking about his wife and kids – something that took up half the conversation.
I went along with the new unspoken rules. But the shenanigans continued. He insisted on reviewing my entire estate that had just been updated by an estate attorney. After the review, he said it was vital I see another attorney of his choosing who could put my financial house in order much better than it was. I still, foolishly, trusted him.
A meeting was arranged with the new attorney, and I was told my will needed several important elements that were missing. It would cost me $5000.00. I was floored by this amount since I’d just paid dearly for the will to be redone.
I went home and read the will myself, something, I’m ashamed to say, I hadn’t done before. Buried under the legal language I found that the elements the lawyer told me I needed had already been included. I complained to my friend, the one who had brought me to this lawyer. He had the nerve to tell me I misheard the whole thing.
“Women don’t understand complex financing,” he had said.
That might be so, but when I hear a dollar amount, I understand that quite clearly. He then told me it would only cost $1800 for another missing piece. But that, too, was contained in my will. I very nicely told him to kiss his ass goodbye. He then delivered a walloping bill to me for his time. I, not so nicely, sent him half the amount. I’ve never seen him since.
Would he have tried this with my husband? Maybe. But I think he believed I was an easier target. The upbeat note in all this was another advisor my husband occasionally used came through for me. He helped me through the maze – and the business of dying. And, it is a business. In the midst of grieving, you’re asked to know and follow all the government rules, regulations and red tape associated with death, or pay an expensive lawyer to do it for you.
We have this ever growing population of WOMEN ALONE. Women still live longer than men. Some of these women have never lived by themselves. When we are thrust into having to deal with experts who can make or break you, it’s easy to feel thrown to the wolves. And, many times, that is the case.
I urge women (and men whose wives take care of the finances) to participate. I still don’t fully understand all the ins and outs of what is required in these instances, but I hope I’ve learned enough to let the advisors know I am watching them with enough knowledge to be half a step behind them.
From the sexy G — even though this piece is not so sexy. Hey, who knows? Maybe the experts will think it’s sexy when you come prepared.