The Elderly, Money and Doing the Right Thing

There exists a distrust of the financial system among certain ethnic and cultural groups in this country.  If your parents or grandparents immigrated from Eastern Europe or Asia this is something you may want to pay attention to.  Some people hide money rather than entrust it to a bank.  In the fast paced financial world of today, this behavior is largely confined to the elderly.  I recognize there are substantial amounts of cash locked out of the legitimate banking system due to the illegal nature of the activity producing it.  But this story is about the elderly and their hard earned savings

As a personal financial planner, I had a client whose mother died in her home in California.  My client traveled to California to bury her mother and close out the estate.  She and a friend arranged for a dumpster and were busily making three piles of mom’s lifetime of possessions.  There was a pile for what my client wanted to keep and a pile for donations.  The dumpster was the third pile.  No elderly person wants the dreaded dumpster in their driveway, which is why the cleaning out of the house customarily occurs after they have passed or moved along to a care facility.

My client and her friend were busy cleaning out the garage, most of which was landing in the dumpster.  There was a shelf with a bunch of old board games, all of which were being tossed out.  As they tossed a Monopoly game box into the dumpster the box came apart and sent over fifty thousand dollars in one-hundred dollar bills fluttering into the dumpster.  The money had apparently been hidden under the game board in a false bottom.  From that point forward they went through every box!

Most parents try to raise their children to make smart choices and to do the right thing.  If you find something that is not yours you return it to the proper owner if you know who that is or in the alternative you attempt to locate the owner.  My wife and I were flying somewhere a number of years ago.  When we sat down in our assigned seats I noticed a wallet between the seat cushions.  I opened it and saw it was a man’s wallet complete with credit cards, driver’s license and a considerable amount of travel cash.  I pushed the call button and, when she arrived, turned the wallet over to the flight attendant.  She explained their procedure to us, which included having two employees take a written inventory of the wallet contents and calling ahead to the owner’s final destination to make them aware of where the wallet was and to make arrangements for its return.  The pilot came back to our seats and personally thanked us for our honesty.  It made me wonder how many people might have elected to keep the wallet or at least the cash.

My wife and I were brought up to follow the Golden Rule – ‘do unto others as you would have them do unto you’.  For us there was no question, the wallet was not ours, someone was going to have a difficult time without its contents and it must be returned.  I like to believe my two daughters would have done the same thing.  And I believe they would have.

Young people sometimes get a bad rap.  Particularly young people from the cities.  It’s all about the hustle to get something for nothing.  Then something happens challenging that perception.  Something like the three roommates in New Paltz, NY, who last week discovered forty-thousand dollars in the cushions an old sofa they had purchased at the local Salvation Army thrift store.  It seems an elderly lady had been moved from her home temporarily due to poor health and a well-meaning relative donated the sofa to the thrift store.  And as we all now know she had hidden her money in the sofa.

Certainly these three young college students could have used the money.  On the heels of the great recession we find the typical graduating college senior loaded down with tens of thousands of dollars in student debt.  One of the students simply said, “It’s not our money.  We didn’t have any right to it.”  Another said, “I think if any of us had used it, it would have felt really wrong.”  They returned the money personally to a very grateful and teary eyed elderly woman.

I would like to meet the parents of these three college students and thank them for raising what by all accounts would seem to be wonderful young adults.  Take a minute to think about what you would have done, it will tell you a lot about the job your parents did raising you.

1 thought on “The Elderly, Money and Doing the Right Thing

  1. shoreacres

    I heard about those college students — and bless that lady for giving them a very nice reward.

    When my grandmother died — yes, THAT grandmother, so full of wisdom! — it was entirely by accident that her money was found. My mother was taking down drapes, thought the hem was a little deep, a little “strange” in some places. Lo. Grandma had sewn a good bit of cash into them hems of her drapes.

    And then there was my mother. After she died, I tore her apartment apart, trying to find her diamond rings. I looked and looked. There wasn’t anything that left without being fully examined. No joy.

    Then, the people who lived down below came up to claim the tv I was giving them. The woman saw Mom’s jewelry chest, and asked if I was selling it. I just gave it to her. I’d been through every tiny drawer, every nook and cranny. Ten minutes later, I got a call. They said I needed to come down and see something. Yep – there was a compartment I hadn’t found, and there were all of her rings.

    The most terrifying part is that, if she hadn’t taken that jewelry chest, it was going to go off to Goodwill. Oh, my.


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