A Tale of Two Widows

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Ruth and Marge both came of age in the 1930’s. They experienced the Great War through the 1940’s, the prosperity of the 50’s, turbulence of the 60’s, and all that has come to pass in the intervening years.

Although they lived through the same times, their lives turned out very differently, and this is their story.

Ruth’s Story

Ruth married young but became a single mother due to an early divorce. She went out into the world and used her skills as a bookkeeper to support herself and her son. She stayed with the same small company for over 30 years doing an exemplary job while earning a modest salary and regular pay raises.

After retirement Ruth’s life was filled with all the things we plan for in our ‘Golden’ years. She and her friends enjoyed local theatre, their regular games of bridge, and dining out often. Ruth became a world traveler, visiting just about every continent on the globe. She did all these things for as long as possible, until it became too difficult because of her declining health.

During her final years Ruth enjoyed the best of care. Qualified and caring professionals came to her home and provided for her every need, from nursing to housekeeping.

Ruth passed away recently at age 90, but her family was consoled by the knowledge she had lived a full life, she had not wanted for anything, and she always had peace of mind about her financial security. Ruth even left a sizeable estate to her son and favorite charities, and she did all this on a bookkeeper’s salary.

Marge’s Story

Marge was the loving wife of an auto company executive. She maintained a beautiful home, entertained lavishly, and hosted parties for her husband and his business colleagues. She was always there for the children, active in the community, in short, she lived the American dream.

Marge was widowed in mid life but fortunately due to their success was left with a sizeable pool of investment assets, life insurance, and a fine home, seemingly more than enough for her to continue a comfortable lifestyle.

Sometime after the death of her husband Marge moved to Florida, purchased an upscale condo, and developed new friends and activities. Because her pool of assets was ample she was able to draw income from it to support her lifestyle.

But then things began to go badly. The market began to swoon in 2000 and her account began to decline precipitously. She began to worry but her financial advisor said, “Oh, don’t worry honey, the market always comes back in the long run. I’ll keep a close eye on it for you.” And every now and then the market did bounce back, at least temporarily, but it didn’t come back to its previous level. She continued to trust her advisor, and her accounts continued to lose value. Over the next three years, with continued withdrawals and market declines, she lost over 50% of her money!

Marge is now in her late 80’s but her remaining years are uncertain, and she lives in a constant state of worry. She’s had to cut back on her expenditures but even that sometimes doesn’t seem to be enough.

What Made the Difference?

I believe I know the answer to this question. The difference was Ruth had a trusted financial advisor in her life. You see, I was that advisor from the day Ruth retired in 1984. We went through the ups and downs of the economy together, made adjustments when needed, and made intelligent decisions together all along the way.

I met Marge later in her life, in 2002, after much of the damage had been done. I analyzed her portfolio and discovered her financial advisor had cost her dearly. Her investments were high risk, far too high for a retiree seeking income and asset protection. They were also far too expensive. The investments had paid her advisor handsome commissions, commissions that were unwarranted and contributed to Marge’s portfolio value being in the dumps. I also noted most of these investments had been purchased after the death of Marge’s husband.

I wanted to help but because of her disastrous experience she was unable to trust anyone with her finances and investments. We parted on amicable terms but I’ve often wondered what would become of this fine woman who had done so many positive things throughout her life.

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