No one can deny that women’s roles have changed dramatically over the last 50 years.
These changes can be seen in many arenas, including the increase in women’s presence in the senior ranks of Corporate America and the changes in the proportion of men and women in the professional arena as reflected in women representing parity in law school and medical school enrollment.
One of the greatest areas of change, but still one of tremendous challenge, is in the area of women and money. There is no lack of information available about the buying power of women. Whether earned or inherited, women control a staggering amount of money. While women have always been in control of household spending, there has been a remarkable lag in their control of making both insurance and investment decisions.
Traditionally, women did not sell financial products and did not independently make investments or buy insurance at nearly the same rate as men. In the world of life insurance, specifically, they played the role of the beneficiary.
So when the status quo changes for a woman due to death or divorce, it can be a difficult and confusing time. In a way, divorce is a kind of death – death of the status quo, death of having a partner to share or make decisions, death of the lifestyle that was taken for granted.
In a divorce, the time has come to demand not so much from others, but to be a part of the conversation yourself. The time, however, should have come long before to be a significant part of the financial decision making. Too many women find themselves surprised or even betrayed by how little they know about their joint money.
What Steps Should We Be Taking to Make Sure We Are in the Know Before We Find Ourselves in a Difficult Situation?
1. From the very beginning of shared funds, make sure you have an understanding of your joint assets and how they are invested.
2. Make sure you have a relationship with the professionals handling your investments and share in decisions, even if you don’t feel qualified to do so. Being surprised by changes in your joint account is unacceptable, but unfortunately not impossible or unheard of, if you always say “ask my husband, he’ll handle it."
3. Make sure that beneficiary designations on your spouse’s retirement funds, insurance policies, and joint accounts are in order and cannot be changed without your knowledge and approval. Review ownership and beneficiary designations annually.
4. Make sure that no changes in ownership on real property, bank or brokerage accounts can be made without your consent.
Women cannot afford to take their financial picture for granted. Multitaskers at their finest, it is critical that this is one of the most essential areas of well-being that women have to address. Talk to your financial advisor and make sure to keep your focus on fiscal fitness!
Lori Epstein, president of Lori Epstein Consulting Group, is a well-respected attorney and expert in sophisticated estate, business and retirement case design. Ms. Epstein has a very impressive resume, including her current position providing invaluable case design, training and marketing support to financial service organizations, their firms and top-tier financial advisors and planners. Lori focuses much of her energy on planning for non-traditional couples, families with a child or dependent with special needs and planning for women and small businesses. Before Lori’s most recent corporate position as Vice President of MassMutual’s Advanced Markets and Financial Planning organizations, she held significant positions related to estate, business and financial planning for more than 20 years at MetLife. She was instrumental in attracting more advisors to the practice of Financial Planning, providing the critical training and support necessary for them to be more productive. Prior to joining MetLife, Lori maintained a private law practice in Manhattan concentrating on estate and business planning, elder law and real estate. She is a member of the Estates, Trusts and Surrogates Court Practice and Women in the Law sections of the NYSBA and the New York County Lawyers Association, as well as the Association for Advanced Life Underwriting (AALU) Business Insurance and Estate Planning and Membership Committees. Ms. Epstein serves on the Board of Directors of the Women’s Venture Fund and in 2014, was a recipient of the Fund’s Highest Leaf Award which honors women whose business or professional contributions have significantly impacted their industry. She has also received the Women on the Move award from The Arthritis Foundation which honors women of achievement who are role models in their professional, philanthropic or individual endeavors. Lori is a sought after speaker on such topics as estate planning, planning for same sex couples and individuals with special needs, as well as helping women plan for a secure financial future. She has been a featured speaker at numerous national events including Women Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC), National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO), Women in Insurance & Financial Services (WIFS), Wine, Women and Wall Street and MetLife’s Women’s Sales Forum. Lori is a proud member of Toastmasters International, SEC Roughriders Club of NYC.