Addiction doesn’t discriminate. This insidious disease grabs ahold of the unsuspecting, brightest, strongest and most caring individuals. As you watch your loved one succumb to addiction, you try to wrap your arms around “why” and “how” this could have happened. You plead, fight, scream and cry enough to wake up a whole neighborhood. However, you are simply hoping that you wake up the person who you are trying to reach – your spouse. Being married to an addict can become very lonely. It can also be financially devastating. Rehab treatment centers (if they are willing to even go) are extremely expensive, job setbacks often occur, and credit card debt surprisingly mounts up. While you cannot control your spouse’s actions, you must take control of yourself and protect your finances from addiction.
Before we dive into six ways to protect your finances from addiction, you must know that realizing your spouse has become an addict (and saying these words out loud), doesn’t mean that you are giving up on your loved one, or that you are giving up hope. You are empowering yourself with the decision that it is now time to protect your money. It is time to protect the rewards of your hard work, sacrifice and dedication to your future.
I am writing this article because I have shared similar shoes with you. While it wasn’t my husband, I watched someone that I love very much battle with addiction and eventually lose his fight. He was sixty-four when he died, and it all started from prescription pain pills after a knee replacement surgery. I had many conversations with his disbelieving and hopefully optimistic wife throughout his battle. The steps I recommended she take to protect her finances from addiction are the ones which I share with you below.
Know Where Your Money Is Going
If your addicted spouse has been handling the finances, it is now time to get involved (better yet, take over managing the family’s finances). You must know how much money you have and where it is.
You must also be aware of where your money is going and the financial liabilities that must be met. Look at the statements for your jointly held accounts: checking, savings, CDs, etc. If you do not have a family budget in place, now is the time. You must know what bills need to be paid and when. It’s now your job to make sure the bills are paid on time. Be aware of the balances in your accounts to make sure your spouse isn’t draining them without your knowledge.
Monitor your Accounts
Is your spouse taking money out of your investment and bank account that is unusual? Are they taking cash advances from credit card companies or trying to become approved for personal loans? Is your spouse secretly tapping into your home equity line of credit? Pay attention to money being sent to different banks or different addresses from your accounts.
These are huge warning signs that you must be mindful of. Family Law Attorney Laurie Wasserman, encourages clients to pull their credit reports. “It’s extremely important that you’re aware of your debts and that you keep an eye on potentially fraudulent activity.” Mrs. Wasserman also encourages her clients to closely monitor joint credit cards, if possible, and set your accounts up for alerts if there are large cash withdrawals. It’s time to put financial safeguards in place. Failing to monitor your accounts can lead to depleted savings. You must be hyper-aware of every little detail.
Get your Estate Planning Documents in Order
Estate planning discussions require us to think about the morbid topic of our death. While this is a topic that no one likes to discuss, it’s also extremely important. It’s time to be honest with yourself and about your situation as you are married to an addict. You must ask yourself: “If I were to die tomorrow, where do I want my money to go?” “If I became incapacitated, who would make decisions on my behalf?”
Edwin Fee, Estate Planning Attorney with Whiteford Taylor and Preston, recommends providing financial boundaries for your addicted spouse in the event of your death. He discourages you from leaving your addicted spouse assets outright. To protect your money from passing outright to your addict spouse, Mr. Fee, recommends that “The non-addict spouse should revise their own Will or revocable trust to provide that assets pass in Trust for the benefit of the addict spouse, rather than passing outright to the addict spouse.”
This means that it is time to review your beneficiaries on your Individual Retirement Accounts, workplace retirement accounts, life insurance policies, etc. If you spouse is listed directly and outright, this inheritance must be reviewed, and serious thought should be given to amend the beneficiary to protect the assets in the account from being depleted for drug and alcohol purchases. Mr. Fee recommends “the non-addict spouse should create a new power of attorney omitting the addict spouse as a decision maker. The non-addict spouse should consider whether it’s necessary to create a new health care document omitting the addict spouse as a decision maker.”
It’s also important for your addicted spouse to have their estate planning documents up to date. According to Mr. Fee, “The non-addict spouse should make sure that the addict spouse has a current power of attorney and health care document so that someone (often the non-addict spouse) may make financial and medical decisions for the addict spouse if necessary.”
Lock Up Your Valuables
Stow away your jewelry and other valuables if your addicted spouse is living under the same roof. The temptation to sell or trade those objects for a quick fix may be too great to ignore. Likely, one day, you will just find things missing with no explanation of where they are. If something is precious to you, take due care accordingly.
The Price of Rehab
If you are like most human beings, you will do whatever you can, whatever the cost, to save your addicted spouse. Rehab treatments can be incredibly expensive. Likely, your addicted spouse will need several rounds of treatment. Talk with your financial planner to budget for the cost of this rehab. Taking money out of your retirement assets is not often the best place to start. Laurie Wasserman encourages clients to “check insurance policies to see what inpatient and outpatient rehab services are covered. Educate yourself on the requirements and limitations of these rehab facilities.”
Be Ready to Leave
No one can tell you whether to stay with or leave your addicted spouse. Only you can make that decision. If you are considering separation and divorce, family law attorney Laurie Wasserman, encourages her clients to think about custody if you have children. Mrs. Wasserman also advises clients to “have your ducks in a row before you broach the news to your spouse. Move quickly and efficiently. Whether you think you need it or not, have a safe place to take yourself and your children. Pack your go-bag just in case. Most importantly, do not be afraid to call 911 if you feel unsafe.”
It’s Time to Take Action
It is now up to you to take control over what you can. Get your finances in order before it’s too late. Remember that you are not alone (Al-Anon is a great support network as well). Let go of the guilt and paralyzing fear surrounding your spouse’s addition and take financial control to protect yourself and your children. You’ve got this. I am always here to help you.
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