‘What did he do with all the money?’ My dying husband cashed his $700K life insurance and emptied his bank accounts – MarketWatch



Dear Moneyist,

My husband was diagnosed with brain cancer in 2001. Doctors told us not to bother acquiring long-term health care since he wouldn’t live five years. Hey, we were happy. He could have been hit by a bus. He passed in 2016. I turned out to be his long-term health-care aide.

He was diagnosed with a brain tumor that aggressively mutates. His original biopsy was switched with that of a woman with breast cancer, so he was given the wrong treatment. We sued the hospital, which had a cap for malpractice. We received a settlement of $700,000, and gave 50% to the attorney.

My husband was a high-end hospitality executive, and he asked that I let him continue to manage our bank accounts, because it made him feel like he was still working.

I concentrated on raising our children, and was locked out of our accounts. I never knew where the money was going.

When his health started to noticeably deteriorate, I requested a letter from our doctor stating that it was time for me to become his power of attorney, but I needed two signatures from immediate family members. I didn’t want to ask my children, who had just come of age, so I asked his sister and brothers. They did not respond.

During this time, his mother needed to be moved to a retirement home. Her daughter, my husband’s sister, sold all of her belongings at a garage sale. His mom had been living with his sister’s family, and she provided them with the money to completely renovate their home.

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My husband’s brothers and sister had 16 children among them. When my husband’s mother passed, we never saw a will. My husband was given money here and there for about a year. Nothing made sense, and I still had no access to my husband’s accounts.

His one activity was constantly checking the mail. One day, I checked the mail before my husband, and found a cancellation notice from John Hancock on his $700,000 life-insurance policy. I tried and failed to reinstate the policy. I called and got two new policies — not for a lot of money — and he died two months before they went into effect.

After he was put into a rehab facility, I was given access to his accounts. All the money was gone — his IRAs, bank accounts and stocks, all of it.

I looked at the paper trail, and went back 10 years: $45,000 was taken out month after month. It started just after his mother was placed in the nursing home. There is no tracking number, just the bank statements.

My husband refused to tell me what happened to the money. He blamed the banks.

I contacted an accountant who came out to the house. With my husband sitting next to me, I showed him all of the bank statements and other documents. When my husband was out of the room, the accountant said, “I’m sorry, you need to get a divorce. There is nothing I can do, but I won’t charge you for this.”

My adult children and I are devastated. We have literally lost everything, but we now get FB, +1.33%  notices of my husband’s cousins going on wild vacations. I can’t help but suspect that the two things are connected. What kind of people do this? I don’t know how they can live with themselves.

What did he do with all the money? I have never been able to trace it to anything. I know his mom was put into a nursing home and the dates do coincide for that time, but I have no proof of that. It just seems like his family sucked us dry, and then wrote us off.

I thought maybe it was online gambling, but we had the same credit cards, and I didn’t see any indication of that. I did keep his computer’s server, but really don’t have the money to have someone investigate that. I am so upset about the money, but know realistically that it won’t be recovered.

He even took money from my kids’ college fund. I sold my jewelry to pay for my kids to go to college. My son also used his savings and, much to my chagrin, my daughter took out a student loan without my knowledge.

I thought we had a happy marriage. I felt — and still do feel — like I’m in “The Twilight Zone.”

What do I do?


Dear Distraught,

This is probably the worst kind of betrayal. It was planned years in advance and carried out surreptitiously in plain sight. The only situation that comes close is that of Axton Betz-Hamilton, who never suspected the woman she trusted most was stealing her identity: her own mother. She stole over $500,000 from various institutions in her daughter’s name.

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After her mother died, her father found an overdue credit-card statement bearing her name in a box with her birth certificate. Betz-Hamilton told me, “My blood ran cold. It was in a box at my parent’s home and with a P.O. Box as an address that only my mother had access to.” As with your situation, the person who had betrayed her had passed away.

Also see: As a baby boomer, I didn’t grow up with this culture of entitlement — do I have to leave my estate to my children or spouse?

I always suggest people consult a lawyer, but I’m afraid he or she will tell you what you already suspect: It was your husband’s money to do with what he pleased, and he had legal access to these accounts. For some reason, he wanted his origin family to have this money. If so, it was a cruel and unusual decision. Perhaps he felt they had some kind of hold over him. We will never know.

There is another factor to consider: Your husband had brain cancer. I have head from medical professionals who work in the neurological department of intensive care units. They say family members come into the hospital and say things like, “I was going to divorce him. He was not the man I married.” Or, “She stopped caring about her life.” Your husband may have been in an altered mental state.

You could hire a computer expert and do a forensic search of your husband’s computers to see if his family used any undue influence, given that he may not have been of sound mind, at least from a legal perspective. Such symptoms can occur before a brain tumor is first diagnosed. Depending on what you find, you could hire a lawyer. It is more difficult to retrieve funds once they are gone.

Some psychologists say that a person will give away what is most precious to them and/or everything they have if they believe they will receive the validation and/or love they never received as a child. The other explanation is one that Betz-Hamilton believed was the cause of her mother stealing her identity: psychopathy, an inability to feel compassion for others.

What can you do now? Your children seem like fine people. You have one another, and I believe that love and support will see you through the years ahead. You could hire a forensic accountant to see where your husband’s money went, but I suspect that — even if it was siphoned to his siblings and nephews and nieces — it will be almost impossible to get back.

Don’t miss: I discovered through that my biological father is someone else — can I claim an inheritance as his heir?

“To survive, I have fallen back on my research into identity theft,” Betz-Hamilton told me. “I want to dissect it and understand every dimension of it. It gives me a conceptual framework of what Mom has done financially. That has helped me, instead of processing this on an emotional level.” You could seek out counseling, support groups and/or speak about spousal financial misdeeds.

Were there any red flags when you met? What kind of man was he? Was this a happy marriage? What could other people learn from your experience? Talk to the accountant who went through your files and suggested you get a divorce. What did he see? By examining these questions, you may discover that you, like Betz-Hamilton, can use your experience to help others.

Do you have questions about inheritance, tipping, weddings, family feuds, friends or any tricky issues relating to manners and money? Send them to MarketWatch’s Moneyist and please include the state where you live (no full names will be used).

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