Egan: Widow discovers ailing husband blew $156K day-trading

His ashes were on a table, his widow in a chair, in a living room with fading flowers and carefully-perched dolls — sitting up, just so, staring.

He was a retired police officer — a senior one — and, after 59 years of marriage, she trusted him implicitly with their savings, which made the shock all the greater.

Days after his February death, when the widow, 79, visited the bank with her daughter, they discovered his dark secret: a registered retirement income fund that once held at least $156,000 had been emptied, all lost to day-trading on the stock market on his laptop. Gold and mining stocks were his favourites: “zip,” she says, was the balance after years of risky trading.

And the shame of it was that the man, who died of congestive heart failure at 83, showed signs of dementia during the last year or two of his life.

“It’s heart-wrenching for the family,” said his daughter. “It’s a huge shock. My father was extremely generous. He was a loving, kind, phenomenal husband.”


Added his widow, a church-going member of the choir: “My husband was a very smart, clever man. I trusted him 100 per cent. He was a good husband and a wonderful father.”

The woman agreed to tell the story as a cautionary tale. Absolutely — is it not certain to repeat itself? (The Citizen has agreed not to identify the family because of their concern over public embarrassment and denigrating the husband’s name.)

We learned recently that the number of people over 65 is surging in this city and that — in a government town like Ottawa — we will see a boom in retirees with assets to play with and computers to play with them on.

To put it starkly: what happens when a generation accustomed to online banking begins to suffer from memory loss, yet controls thousands of retirement dollars at the click of a shaky finger?

The family suspected that something was up but the man was good at hiding things. His wife, who had her own mental health issues, had no interest in the stock market and no real facility with computers.

“He wanted to talk about all these stocks but it was boring to me,” said the widow, who says her name was on the RRIF account. Whenever she saw evidence of what appeared to be large losses, he would brush them off. (“Oh it’s nothing. Don’t worry.”) When she inquired at his intent work on the computer, “quiet, I’m busy,” was often the response, she added. “I was in denial.”

Fortunately, the losses do not leave the widow in the lurch. The house and car are paid for, and she has sufficient pension funds to live comfortably. But the family believes banks need to be more alive to this kind of potential pitfall with aging clients.

“Don’t let it happen to you. Take note of things,” said the widow. “It was gambling and he was sick.”

Doris Belland is a financial literacy educator and author of a new book, Protect Your Purse, Shared Lessons for Women: Avoid Financial Messes, Stop Emotional…

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