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How To Extract A Refund From A Widow

I have been reading this fantastic site for years and have a number of stories I could share with you. I’m sorry that my first submission is such a sad one but it’s the one I really would love some advice about as I have no idea what to do.

Just as a bit of background, I’ve suffered from some severe anxiety/panic/depression issues on and off over the last few years. When I gave birth to my first child in March this year, it gave me the kick up the backside that I needed to try and tackle them once and for all – my beautiful son deserves a mother as mentally healthy as possible.

I live in the UK and I went through all the treatments available on the National Health Service from medication (that gave me severe side effects) to CBT (which is a wonderful thing but didn’t help me get to the root of my issues). I know that these options are brilliant for many people but they weren’t quite the right “fit” for me.

So after a lot of research, I, my husband and my doctor agreed that the best option for me was Psychotherapy. The only problem was the price – Psychotherapy is not available on the NHS and my husband and I are not rich (I do a little freelance work from home and my husband has a good job but we still don’t have chunks of money floating around).

We found a very respected, highly qualified therapist who my doctor had worked with before. I met him and felt that he would be a great fit for me so my husband and I found a way to make it work. I sold a number of my items on ebay and my husband worked himself to the bone to earn a bonus at work. Between the two of us, we managed to come up with enough money for the first three months of sessions without touching our meager savings.

I had three sessions with him and I have to say, he was absolutely marvelous. At the end of the third session, I wrote him a cheque to include the next ten sessions (I had been paying per session until then) because my husband and I wanted to know that it was paid for and that the money couldn’t be mis-allocated or used for something else. I was positive that this was the person who would help me turn things around. He really was that good.

The day before my next session, I got a call from my therapist’s wife saying that unfortunately, he had been hospitalized and would call me when he was out to reschedule. Not a problem of course. The cheque had been cashed but I had no doubt at all about the integrity of this person and was only concerned for him.

But then nearly 3 weeks passed with no word. Eventually I received a group e-mail from his wife informing us that he had passed away with a link to his obituary in the local paper.

I can’t say enough how much of a loss I think this man is to the world. In just three sessions, he made more progress with me than anything or anyone ever before put together. And during our informal out of session chats, I could tell that he was a good man who cared deeply about his patients and his field.

I replied to his widow’s e-mail with my genuine condolences and said much as I did above. She replied saying, “Thank you very much. By the way, I know that you paid “John” for more sessions than you got and I will sort that out. Good luck in your journey.”

Now this is the part that may sound tacky – it is now two months after receiving news of my therapist’s tragic death (so nearly three months since the cheque was cashed and my last therapy session) and I haven’t been refunded for the ten sessions I paid for in advance, or had any further contact.

My heart wants to let it go but I am really keen to continue with my therapy – we don’t have the money to do that without raiding my son’s savings account which really isn’t an option.

So, my big long post can really be condensed to these two questions – how on earth does one request money back from a grieving widow? And should I in the first place?

Any advice from yourself or the readers would be very much appreciated.    1114-13

As tragic as the therapist’s death is,  this is a business problem, not a personal one.   You paid for a service and have not received that service so you are owed a refund.    I have no doubt the therapist’s widow understands this.   I can’t imagine she would believe her husband’s clients owe her compensation for losing her husband.   She has acknowledged that the business owes you a refund (please tell me you kept that email) and may have forgotten that in this season of grieving and estate resolution.    Send her another email gently tweaking her memory and ask if there is a time frame by which you could expect a refund of your money.    I don’t know how estate probate works in the UK but in the US, the estate can continue to pay debts for the deceased until the estate is settled.


Comments on this entry are closed.

  • SV November 19, 2013, 8:04 am

    Admin’s right – this is a business problem. I tactful email asking what kind of time frame you are looking at is not unfeeling.

  • ferretrick November 19, 2013, 8:26 am

    A polite e-mail, maybe in response to hers from several weeks ago, saying that you COMPLETLEY UNDERSTAND that it’s a difficult time and it may have slipped her mind, but could she please get you the refund as soon as possible? I don’t think the widow is trying to scam you, or anything; the oversight is understandable, and you certainly don’t need to be demanding or rude. That said, you’ve waited more than a fair amount of time for her initial grief to pass and it to be time to settle the deceased’s business affairs. Life does go on.

  • Jenn50 November 19, 2013, 8:45 am

    I would write something like, “Dear Mrs. Therapist, I am so sorry for your loss. Your husband helped me a great deal, and I am glad to have known him. I feel very awkward to be pestering you about business at this difficult time, and am loath to remind you that I had prepaid for ten visits prior to Therapist’s passing. Is there a convenient time for me to pop by to pick up a cheque for the credit, or has it already been mailed?”

    I, too, have problems with anxiety, particularly around confronting people, even kindly. The proliferation of email has made this much easier for me than phones or face to face meetings because I can prepare my wording in advance.

  • The Elf November 19, 2013, 8:48 am

    Ugh, this is a toughie. Is there a business partner or associate? If the business is still up and running, it would be a good idea to pursue repayment through that.

    Otherwise, I’d go with the genty worded reminder. You don’t want to intrude on a widow’s grief, but this is business and you are owed a repayment. Include copies of any documentation that you may have such as the email or the canceled check.

  • CaffeineKatie November 19, 2013, 9:04 am

    I think if you phrased it the way you did here–I made such great progress with your husband that I want to keep going to therapy, but we don’t have any extra money–you would be remind her of your need to settle soon without even a hint of rudeness.

  • Lex November 19, 2013, 9:12 am

    As a fellow Brit who has suffered similar issues to yourself and who was helped by Sertraline and CBT (I was originally prescribed another common medication which gave me terrible nightmares and I’d wake up in tears) I can empathise.

    As this is a business issue, I would assume that the executor of the estate will be dealing separately with the business side of things. You have given the grieving widow appropriate time to come to terms with the immediate grief and it would not be inappropriate to approach her from a business perspective and request reimbursement. I would recommend doing so in old-fashioned paper-and-ink writing rather than email as this is slightly more personal but without being too pushy (as a doorstep visit might be construed, for example). In your letter it may be worth requesting details of the executor/solicitor in charge of dissolving the business (or auditors or whatever) as the widow may not be dealing with this herself and it would be more appropriate to submit your request to them instead.

  • Cat November 19, 2013, 10:02 am

    By all means, ask for the name of the person handling the estate and have your money refunded.
    It’s usually a mistake to pay fully for something you have not received. My neighbor paid for a water filtration system for his home and swimming pool. That was fine, but they installed the system at my home while I was at work. They had his money and I had his system. It was an honest company (mistake in address by owner’s daughter) and we got it fixed.

  • Kimberly November 19, 2013, 10:27 am

    Unless the widow is also the secretary or such of the business, I actually, would no longer deal with her.

    I would, however, write a letter to the office of the therapist stating the details, that you pre-paid for ten sessions and due to unfortunate death of the therapist, you know that these sessions will no longer be available. Please refund my funds as soon as possible. I would also include a copy of your cashed check.

  • Wild Irish Rose November 19, 2013, 10:36 am

    Lex is right. Because this is a business issue, you should take it up with either the executor of the estate, or his solicitor, or his office staff. I too hope you saved the widow’s e-mail regarding the money you are owed. Good luck!

  • Allie November 19, 2013, 10:43 am

    You need to find out who the executor is and contact him or her to request the money back. The wife may well be the executor, but she may decide to use a solicitor to probate the estate, it probate is necessary. It may not be if all the assets are joint. Contact the solicitor. If there is none, write a business letter addressed to the estate setting out your claim and send it to the wife. All claims against an estate should be in writing. I am a lawyer. I would consider the money you are owed as a debt of the estate. Therefore, there is no need for a delay in repaying it. However, as you are not a secured creditor, if there is not enough money to satisfy all the deceased’s debts, you may not be able to recoup all the money. I am sorry this has happened to you. I hope you are able to get your recovery back on track. And congratulations on your beautiful baby boy!

  • Wendy B. November 19, 2013, 10:46 am

    What Lex said. And even if she is the executor, you should probably send a note to the attorney handling the estate. Make it as kind and pleasant as if you were writing to her, but sending it to a lawyer creates a better paper trail.

    We’re settling an estate right now, and we’ve taken to sending all correspondence through our lawyer for this reason.

  • nutraxfornerves November 19, 2013, 11:04 am

    I cannot speak for UK probate law, but as a recent widow, and someone who has previously been executor of other estates in the US, I can make some general comments.

    Settling an estate can take longer than expected. A lot is going to depend on how both the business and the personal affairs were legally set up, as well as the will and the naming of an estate representative.

    There are procedures that must be followed to ensure that potential creditors are informed about the person’s death and have an opportunity to put in a claim. The estate may be unable to pay any creditors until all these procedures have been completed and all creditors identified. Depending on the estate, this can take some time.

    That doesn’t mean that the poster shouldn’t enquire as to what is happening, and perhaps to ask for the name of the best contact person. The poster may also want to find out if there is some sort of form or letter that needs to be formally submitted in order to satisfy legal requirements.

  • Susan November 19, 2013, 11:07 am

    Ultimately this is not an etiquette question but a legal one. You may need to file a claim against the estate. This is time sensitive so check on it immediately.

  • Margaret November 19, 2013, 11:18 am

    Perhaps inquire with the funeral home whether they have contact information for the executor/lawyer or if they can pass your information along. Two months seems like a long time to you since you have urgent need of the money, but it is not really that long for someone grieving who also may not have had much or any involvement in her husband’s business finances. If the widow is settling the estate herself, then there is nothing wrong with a gently worded reminder as suggested above.

  • Elizabeth November 19, 2013, 11:50 am

    I don’t see how the widow is at all involved here. Why not contact his office/partners or the executor of the estate and submit your claim? This isn’t a personal matter and has nothing to do with his wife. This is business so follow appropriate business channels.

  • Angel November 19, 2013, 11:57 am

    I agree with Lex, maybe find another more appropriate channel to pursue the refund other than the widow. If that can’t be avoided, then I would agree that enough time has passed for her to start settling her husband’s business/estate dealings. Therapy can be very expensive and I’m sure that she realizes this.

    Good luck to you!

  • JWH November 19, 2013, 12:15 pm

    It’s a business issue. If reaching out to the widow is uncomfortable for you, then you ought to reach out to his business (assuming it had some existence independent of him, i.e., a partner, or an office manager). If the amount at issue does not justify hiring a solicitor, you may need to do some shoe-leather to determine who is handling the man’s estate and where to go to pursue a claim.

  • EllenS November 19, 2013, 12:44 pm

    Rather than contacting her to request a check, I think it would be perfectly appropriate – and probably more useful – to contact her and ask who is handling the business side of the therapy practice. It is probably not her, personally.

    I have worked in many professional offices, and the business does not just stop existing because the practitioner has died. He may have a colleague who will take over his patients, or a business administrator who is handling the accounts payable and archiving the files. The therapist’s long-term patients all will have confidential records that need to either be returned to the patient or passed to the new therapist. There are utility bills to pay, taxes, insurance, all sorts of things that need to be done to wind up the practice correctly. I highly doubt the widow is dealing with all that herself.

    Asking her for a name/phone number is a lot less intrusive than asking her for the money. The business person will be able to verify what is owed and write that check dispassionately – and may even be able to recommend you a new therapist.

  • Mae November 19, 2013, 1:15 pm

    I also think this is more of a business matter. Maybe an email or call asking who to contact regarding your refund as I don’t think the widow is handling the patient/business matters.

    Best wishes on finding a good therapist that can continue to help you!

  • Alicia November 19, 2013, 1:41 pm

    I would contact the business office not the widow. This is a proffesional issue not a personal one.

  • the op November 19, 2013, 2:51 pm

    Thank you everyone for the advice, very much appreciated.

    Just to clarify, the therapist worked by himself with his wife doing all the admin etc.

    I was looking for advice on when/if it would be appropriate to mention the refund and how best to word it. I do still have the email from the widow but am I am certain that she is bit looking to run off with my money – I just had no idea how to approach a matter like this with someone going through such a horrific loss.

    As suggested I will ask how to contact the executor and if that is her, will use the wording suggested here.

    Thank you all again

  • the op November 19, 2013, 2:55 pm

    Sorry I am writing from my smartphone with its “useful” predictive text. The above should say that I am certain she is not looking to run off with my money

  • Thistlebird November 19, 2013, 3:31 pm

    I presume, OP, that you’ve made a typo and mean she is *not* looking to run off with your money–that is certainly how it seems from the tone of the rest, am I right?

  • Marozia November 19, 2013, 3:34 pm

    I agree with @Susan, #13. You need to speak to the executor of the estate about this.
    Make sure you have all the receipts and paperwork that goes with the therapist’s sessions to show you’ve paid.
    You’ve travelled this far with your therapy, don’t give up on it either. As a fellow anxiety/panic attack sufferer, I understand how difficult it can be.

  • hakayama November 19, 2013, 4:17 pm

    While you are waiting for the refund, don’t just fret and feel defenseless. Please consider consulting an herbalist, aromatherapist and/or a homeopath. What is good enough for your country’s royalty, not to mention celebrities of the glitzy type, might just work for you too… 😉
    The beauty of their fields is that there is quite a bit of overlap, and if you can remotely think out of the box of conventional modern medicine, you have nothing to lose and a lot to gain. The gains include the reasonable costs too (at least in the US).
    Merely googling “natural treatments for + the name of your condition” you’ll get oodles of guidance. Then there are great “maverick doctors'” sites (Mercola.com being my fave) that offer lots of help too.
    Best wishes for a successful journey to recovery.

  • Helen November 19, 2013, 4:54 pm

    His business funds (for future services rendered) really shouldn’t be intermingled with his personal funds (and as such, should not be part of the estate/probate). If he has a business administrator, you should contact him/her about a refund.

    If the widow is his business administrator, just keep it professional — say how many sessions you paid for, how many your received, how much you paid, when you paid, when the check was cashed, the check number, etc. If it makes you feel more comfortable, you can explain that you need the money in order to resume your therapy.

    Honestly, following up on this may be good for you — you’re standing up for yourself, for your mental health, and that’s a good thing. Best of luck on your continued journey to mental health, OP.

  • EllenS November 19, 2013, 4:56 pm

    Thanks for the update, OP. That is a terrible situation for her, to have to deal with all the business stuff on top of her grief. Your inquiry will be just one of many, and I’m sure you will be much more respectful than the tax authority or the utility company.

    It may also be worth inquiring to whom his other patients are being referred. If he was in practice for a long time, he probably had colleagues he respected and often referred people to, who may also be good fits for you and his other patients. After all, if you were under a doctor’s care for diabetes or high blood pressure, you would still need a doctor when your “primary” is unavailable for any reason.

    Hopefully you will soon be getting good care again.

  • Rosie November 19, 2013, 7:12 pm

    OP, if you think she may be “looking to run off with your money,” you need to contact an attorney ASAP. Wasn’t sure from your wording. Hopefully you may be able to avail yourself of a free/low cost public legal service. Most estates typically do take several months to settle, so you need to put your claim in now. This is now a business matter; while it is wonderful of you to be so kind to a grieving widow, you need to take the necessary steps to re-couping money that you are owed and can ill-afford to lose. Good luck!

  • DaisyG November 19, 2013, 7:22 pm

    The other posters have given good advice around the money owed. For your mental health I’m sorry psychotherapy is a ‘postcode lottery’ in the NHS. However your health visitor may know of some other local resources that could help you and in some places there are NSPCC projects helping parents with their mental health.

  • another Laura November 20, 2013, 5:07 am

    Completely different circumstances, but the title reminded me of the episode of “Friends” where Monica and Phoebe cater a funeral and the widow only cries when they approach her for payment, and sings show tunes the rest of the time.
    OP, blessings on getting the treatment you need.

  • Green123 November 20, 2013, 5:42 am

    I note that the OP is in the UK (despite the US spellings in the letter…) so I’d encourage her to contact the Citizen’s Advice Bureau and/or seek the excellent advice given on the Consumer Action Group website and forums.

    The fact that the therapist has died means (I’m so sorry to be harsh) that the service you paid the business for has not been supplied, so you are fully entitled to a refund. This is a business matter, not a personal one, so the heading ‘extracting a refund from a widow’ is irrelevant – this is, I’m afraid, a clear-cut consumer and legal issue. I hope you don’t have to go as far as the small claims court.

  • Angela November 20, 2013, 7:46 am

    I would suggest wording your letter in terms of “your husband helped me so much and really opened my eyes to the benefits of therapy. I am actively working to engage another therapist to continue the good work that your husband started, and this requires some outlay of $$.”

  • Green123 November 20, 2013, 10:27 am

    Angela’s wording is very nice, but the OP has no need to give a reason or an explanation for wanting her money back. She’s legally entitled to that money so it should be provided whether or not the OP sends a sympathetic note to the late therapist’s wife.

  • Margaret November 20, 2013, 10:53 am

    In the US there is a time limit for creditors to notify the estate – four months from the date probate is opened . Once assets are distributed to survivors, the claims are gone. So send the letter now.

  • Lambzig November 20, 2013, 11:08 am

    I totally understand this situation as have friends who work in this field. In the UK, a large number of psychotherapists work as individuals with patients visiting their homes, usually with a room in the house set aside as an office. They may not even have separate business accounts, so it is completely appropriate to contact the widow. I think telling her how much help you got, and how you need the refund to continue your therapy is completely appropriate.

  • Abby November 20, 2013, 4:28 pm

    @ another Laura

    I thought of that too! Every time Monica approaches her, she starts sobbing, Husband always handled the money! and breaks into hysterics.

  • Enna November 21, 2013, 1:25 pm

    Could you contact the late man’s company or office or solictor? I think admin’s advice is good too.

  • Whodunit November 21, 2013, 8:25 pm

    Unless this business is run by the widow, leave her alone. Go through the proper channels, which is not an email to a widow. Simply send a letter of request to the business and then follow up. Unfortunately in these situations of service rendered by an individual who has passed on, you probably won’t see repayment and the widow is not responsible to compensate.