If your marriage is in trouble and divorce is looming, a lawyer will probably advise you to secure your assets from your soon-to-be-ex-partner.
That's not as easy as it sounds - especially if assets are held jointly. But there is a legal remedy: Open a bank account solely in your name, apply for your own credit card, read statements carefully to see that the charge accounts you still hold jointly aren't overdrawn and make sure the mortgage is paid.
And I suggest you don't overlook one issue that could fly under the radar: life insurance. Here's a real-life case study.
No trouble getting into trouble
When Melissa and her husband were married, each one took out a life insurance policy naming the other as beneficiary so the survivor could pay off the home mortgage if either of them died. The policies were universal life insurance, so after two years either spouse could start borrowing against his or her own policy when needing cash.
A couple of years and a child later, the trouble began. Melissa's husband had a spotty employment record, but had no trouble taking out credit cards in her name, which he then maxed out. And it wasn't hard to do since he knew Melissa's Social Security number, date of birth and family information. Melissa tried to closely monitor her husband's activities, but found it difficult because she worked long hours, and he didn't. Simply put: he was home when the mail arrived, had unfettered access to the phone and e-mail and spent what she earned.
It's an old story, but with a new wrinkle. Health problems, the recession and their child kept them together. But finally Melissa realized that the enemy within was destroying everything.
Take the money and run
Her moment of bitter enlightenment happened by chance when she came home from work early, got the mail and saw an envelope from her life insurance company. The letter read, "Thank you for calling," and went on to say that, "You can withdraw up to a certain amount from your policy or take the whole amount." Her husband was stealthily tapping into the cash value of her policy.
When she tried to reach her life insurer, Melissa discovered that her login and password had been changed. Her husband had bypassed the insurer's safeguards by having another woman call in and pretend to be Melissa. Her husband, who had already drained his own life insurance policy, was going to do the same thing to her.
"If it had gone any further, he would have signed my name and taken the money" she says. "Fortunately I got that letter."
Melissa finally convinced her insurer that she was the real policyholder and obtained a new protected password. She also changed her mailing address to that of a friend's house.
Even though she could have taken her husband to court for fraud, and perhaps won a hollow victory that would have put him in jail, she opted not to do so. Instead, they continue to live together in the same house, while she tries to keep an eye on him and hang onto whatever assets are left. And hope against hope that he someday gets a job.