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Joined Accounts And Other Signature Stories

(Names changed as requested)


When we first marry, we assume life will be wonderful. We rarely think about or discuss potential problems or the possibility of illness darkening our doorstep. We set up our lives as we set up our apartments, usually with one person taking care of some “tasks” and the spouse taking care of other “tasks.” That usually means that there will be only one name on your bills (like the phone bill) and anything else that only one of you has set up.

It is only when a problem strikes that we realize that we should have ensured that both names are on everything – from bank accounts to bills – as the following stories illustrate.

Sarah’s husband had been hospitalized for an extended period of time. The hospital did not have patient phones, so they put in a private phone for her husband and had it billed as part of their home phone account. When her husband’s room was changed, Sarah tried to have the phone disconnected. She discovered that the phone company would not allow her to. It seems that her home phone had been opened by her husband 20 years ago, and was under his name alone. The bills had all been coming in his name, and like most of us, Sarah never noticed to whom the expected monthly phone bill was addressed.

Since Sarah had no power over the account, she could not make changes to it. Only her husband could. The phone company told her that she would either have to bring in a copy of their power of attorney, if she had one, or have her husband call, if he was able, in order to disconnect the line. All Sarah could think of was the hours she’d now have to spend in order to just disconnect a phone line – time she didn’t have to spare, and a headache she could do without. If only her husband had called the phone company years ago to add her name to the phone account.

Raizy did a great deal of work from home. Her computer and her Internet access made all of that possible. She was not extremely computer savvy, but she could use her computer for her job.

Raizy was a well spouse. Her husband was no longer able to speak, but he had been the one who set up the Internet account.

So, when Raizy’s Internet server crashed and she called the company to get back on line, she was told they could not help her. Only her husband could authorize the Internet server to do anything, as he was the one who had set it up.

Raizy lost days of work. She had to get a copy of their power of attorney to the Internet service provider before they could help her. If only her husband had authorized her to be an additional contact on the account when he set it up, she would have had no problem. Her computer would have been reconnected with a simple phone call.

When Avi’s wife was on sick leave and in the hospital for an extended stay, he kept getting calls from his bank. The caller wanted to speak to his wife and refused to let Avi know what the call was about. This alerted Avi to the fact that perhaps there was something in the bank that was only under his wife’s name. He had thought that everything in the bank was in a joined account.

He discussed this with his wife and she too was under the assumption that everything had been opened in both names. As it turned out, Avi’s wife had opened a mutual fund with the bank and had them deduct a specific amount monthly from her paycheck for the mutual fund purchases. Avi and his wife had agreed to do this years ago, but somehow Avi’s name was never added to the account.

When Avi approached the bank, they would not discuss the account with him. He could not add his name to the account, only his wife could do so, and she was in the hospital.

None of us has a crystal ball with which to see the future. We don’t know if or when a spouse or other dependent person will become unable to care for him/herself or even, G-d forbid, pass away. It is important to prepare for these events.

Take a few minutes now to ensure that all services, accounts and other financial and legal documents are in both your names. That simple phone call now may save you hours of time and unbelievable stress later.

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When one is blind one learns to use Braille to read. When one cannot walk, a wheelchair gives mobility. Sign language allows a mute person to speak and ocular implants assist in hearing when one is deaf. These are all compensatory strategies that help a person function despite his disability. But compensatory strategies are not just for physical problems. Understanding our psychological weaknesses and setting up our lives to ensure that we are not tempted to repeat our past mistakes, is as necessary as any aid to the disabled.

Well spouses have often discovered that their friends and relatives, despite their closeness to the situation, often don’t realize the tremendous emotional impact living with chronic illness has on the family. With the best intentions, suggestions, ideas and criticism are offered, based on the non-experience of those with healthy families. Even when the good intentioned get a taste of the difficulties, it is sometimes not enough for them to then identify and understand what the family of the chronically ill must face on a constant basis.

Over the past two weeks I have shared letters from a therapist and a well spouse. Both of the letters gave personal insights into the process of losing hope, how we react when that happens and some ways of coping when test scores, diagnosis and just simple repetitive behavior indicate that change for the better is impossible.

Dear Ann,

I’ve read your last few articles on psycho-neurological testing (Oct.8-22) with interest. As a therapist who has counseled couples dealing with chronic illness, I’d like to give you another perspective.

Dear Ann,

Your articles on the Neuro-Psychological Testing were right on (October 8-22). My husband underwent testing twice and your articles explained it things exactly the way they were. Besides the test, we also tried therapy.

Very often when we can’t face our big hurts or big loses we focus on the little ones. We can discuss those. We can cry over the small loses, be angry at the smaller hurts even though it may look trite and sound ridiculous to others.

Over the last two weeks we have been discussing one way in which well spouses can determine whether behavior displayed by their ill partners is caused by their illness or is a way they have chosen to act. We have focused on Psycho-Neurological testing, what it can tell us, as well as its pros and cons.

Last week I discussed a question that haunts many well spouses: not knowing if the difficult and often inappropriate behavior frequently displayed by their partners are caused by the disease and therefore not-controllable, or if the behavior is a choice the spouse makes and can therefore be changed. This doubt can be the source of much frustration and many marital disagreements. One way of alleviating this doubt is by having a psycho- neurological work up done. But that path is not so simple.

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