The dilemma: My husband and I know little about investing, not having grown up in the world of money. We have savings and 401(k)s at work, and college savings accounts for our children, but that’s all. Recently my great uncle surprised us by leaving me a great deal of money and a townhouse in New York, now being sold for a small fortune. It’s life changing for us.
The New York lawyer introduced us to a lawyer here who helped us do wills and trusts to protect our children, now that we have so much money, and he also sent us to someone at a big brokerage firm down here who he likes. We went there and we liked him too, and felt we could trust him because of our lawyer’s recommendation.
In signing all the paperwork, one of the documents in the big pile said that I was aware that a fee was being paid to the lawyer for sending us there. A referral fee, the broker acknowledged reluctantly. I was shocked. They had never said anything. My husband didn’t feel it made any difference; that this is the way business is done. I felt it was slimy and I felt betrayed and have lost my confidence. I stopped signing and said we’d come back at a later time.
My husband is so annoyed at me. He thinks I’m being unreasonable and hysterical, and wants to get the money working, but I’m frozen. I realize I don’t know what I’m doing and now don’t trust the people who are advising me. Maybe the estate lawyer was referred because of a kickback. I’m paranoid. How do I proceed?
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Meg’s solution: Not only are you not being “unreasonable and hysterical,” you happen to be right. Don’t sit still for being bullied, which is what your husband’s behavior implies, and who knows why. Take a deep breath, gently ask him to back off while you figure this out, and listen up.
First of all, it’s your inheritance, not his. This, my dear, is something you must accept, and I hope this hasn’t been compromised. All of the funds should stay in your name alone, not joint, while you’re figuring out whose advice you can trust. An inheritance is not legally part of your marriage, and you should keep it that way. Divorces are all too common, and although I’m not wishing it on you, you need to be aware. It’s not a gender rule, either. It’s for any heir. A small mistake now can become huge down the road, so tread carefully.
My confidence would have been shattered too, but kudos to you for actually reading what you were signing. To me, this compromises the integrity of the referral. Shame on him for sneaking this on you. Transparency is key, and you have to insist upon it. This inheritance gives you a bit more power on the scale, giving you stature with any financial advisor, and hopefully bringing you to equal partner in your marriage. If not, that’s something you need to acknowledge and deal with.
Sorry hubby. You’re supposed to be helpful and supportive, not scolding. I have little patience for anything else.
If you have a good and trusted CPA, start there for some help; ask friends for referrals. Get a second opinion on your estate plan and discover if the attorney was solidly on your team in terms of advice. A clean sweep and start-over is much better than being compromised into something that’s even a little bit off.
Interview wealth managers and financial advisors, and make sure you come away with a good feeling about being advised as well as listened to. Have them consult with your other advisors. It’s a big job, but it’s yours to build your financial team. It’s your checks and balances; your confidence. Step up and pull in as much help, including marriage counseling, as you need to ease the way to making good decisions.
And this is why so many have said, “It was easier when we didn’t have money.” Not if you do it right, though.
Got a dilemma? Email email@example.com. Meg Green, CFP, is a wealth manager with offices in Aventura. Her Money Dilemmas column runs monthly in The Miami Herald.