Nothing to Lose

Thanks to wise financial planning, she enjoys a life that affords her the ability to take chances and do good.

by Elizabeth Titus • Member { View Profile }

I’m a 62-year-old widow living on the Upper West Side of Manhattan with my two dogs — Sophie, a golden retriever, and Henry Longfellow, a piebald dachshund. My only child, adopted in China in 1994, is in college in Boston, leaving me with a lot of time on my hands.

In many ways I count myself fortunate, despite losing my husband of 30 years to melanoma when we were both just 56. We met at the University of Pennsylvania and moved to New York in 1982, where we enjoyed successful careers; he became a partner in a global architecture firm, while I worked for 20 years in communications, mostly at American Express.

After years of devastating infertility treatments, a late-term miscarriage, and two ectopic pregnancies, we found the child we were destined to have on the other side of the world. We considered this the most important thing we had ever done. She is the most amazing person I will ever know.

We were also in the workplace at a time when employers had meaningful benefits, such as IRAs and stock options. When I started working at American Express in 1987, the company provided, at a reduced rate, financial planning services through its advisor division. Gregory and I sat down with Seth, a handsome, enthusiastic young man, who told us we needed to start planning for retirement right away. What? Retirement? But he was persistent, and soon, we were set up to make regular contributions to employer-matched retirement plans. He also said we needed life insurance. We were shocked. Why? We had good health and no kids.

"Trust me," Seth advised us. And not only did we need life insurance, we needed to set up an ILIT. And we needed a good lawyer.

Soon, Seth met with us and our newly acquired lawyer, Doug, who happened to live in our building and was a tax and estate lawyer. And voila, we had an irrevocable life insurance trust (ILIT) and a trustee — Mac, Gregory’s best friend.

Oh, how we hated that damn ILIT and those “crummy letters” Mac had to file each year for the next 20 years, until Gregory’s death on April 11, 2007.

But how I loved the ILIT when I got a check within weeks for $1.5 million. Seth had gone off to become a massage therapist in the early 1990s, and we found an independent financial advisor in Boston who urged us to increase Gregory’s life insurance when I quit working at American Express in 2002, just five years before Gregory’s untimely death.

Thanks to this wonderful advisor, our daughter’s college education was fully funded (over $200,000) when Gregory died, and I believe this gave him great peace. And long before the crash of 2007, we had a diversified portfolio, 50/50 split between fixed income and equities. (After losing money in the tech bubble like so many of our friends, we never bought stocks again, just funds. "Ask Jeeves what he did with our money," was a long-running joke Gregory and I had.) Our home in Connecticut that Gregory had designed was fully paid for since our advisor was against taking on too much debt. We lived within our means, comfortably. I am somewhat in shock that we had such foresight (even though I did manage to get an MBA at Wharton after five years of teaching English). I continue to work with this advisor, who recently convinced me to purchase long-term health care insurance, just in case. And oh, do I ever know about those "just in cases."

So here I am, finding my way alone, a widow and an empty nester, with outdated job skills but enough investments to live out my life and leave a substantial amount to my only child.

I’ve found meaningful volunteer work helping Afghan women, through two non-profits, the Afghan Women's Writing Project (AWWP) and the School of Leadership Afghanistan (SOLA). I have a close circle of friends, and each year, we rent an apartment in a city together — Berlin, Rome, Istanbul. I am blessed.

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