Friday, July 21, 2017

60) 'Summer in the City '17'

July is building to a crescendo.

Soon the heat will break, the evenings will be cooler, and the calm & stillness of August will arrive, tagging along the Dog Days of Summer.

- Although the Dog Days of Summer trigger the true image of a dog lying in grassy shade, panting, and biting at bothersome flies, the august, August sky features the rise of the star Sirius.  Sirius is the brightest proper star and the 'Dog Star', part of the constellation Canis Major ('canine').  It follows the constellation Orion ('The Hunter') through the night.  This year, 2017, Sirius lingers from July 22nd to August 22nd.

To survive the summer I have been attending my NYC orchestral park concerts, and outdoor film, in order to satisfying some of my need for pleasure, organization, structure, civility, and motivation.

I have been working on my bevy of annual summer work projects (e.g. updating beneficiaries, technology upgrades, continuing education, autumn marketing plans).

I already enjoyed my 48-hour summer vacation, which pains me as I used to live at a shore for the entire summer.

I miss living seaside and I enjoyed the throwback to simplicity, and my return to nature.

- The thought is reminiscent of at least two Twilight Zone episodes, as I am not the first to yearn nostalgic.

As a kid, my summers were outside  the concrete jungle, at the Connecticut shore.  I went to the beach, played a variety of sports, and enjoyed a wide range of other activities from speed-reading, to more clarinet playing, and earning my driver’s license.  My buddy and I would play badminton after dinner, barely making out the shuttle cock at twilight, or ping pong in a poorly-lit screen porch, having to play by shadow.

Screen doors would pop and bang, children would yell in the distance, and everyone had a bicycle.  There’d be armies of ants near the Weeping Willow, my favorite tree.  I watched the moon landing on the black & white television set.  Cinder, my black cat, would hunt.

- The remake of Outer Limits dropped the word ‘set’ from the narrator’s introduction, "For the next hour we will control your television set."

After my divorce, Pepper the cat, and I would move to the Jersey Shore on Memorial weekend, we'd retrun on Labor weekend.  The 1950s bathroom porcelain was turquoise, the windows levered.  I'd feel the ocean breeze and hear the distant waves through the kitchen window while washing dinner dishes by hand.

Wet clothes would hang on the sun-drenched, salt-aired line, but you had to take them in before the dew.  There'd be flowers and grass in the yard by the crabapple tree.  I'd sit on the beach and read historical novels about the area, picturing the familiar locations in my mind, and then I’d scout them out, getting lost on purpose, just to find my way back.

I'd still work a full day on my laptop and wireless telephone headset, in my Speedo.  I’ve long since retired from my 30 year aquatics career.  I would finally visit the beach after 5pm - the best time, but still be chocolate by Labor Day.  The movement of the sun across the sky was a clock, and suddenly it would be eight o’clock.

The ocean hosted frolicking dolphins, and few boats.  At low tide, I’d body-surf the long, lazy, lolling, rolling waves; I think I rode ne ’r a city block, ending in four inches of water, scratching my nose on the sandy bottom.  I had to hold my breath for a very long time while listening to the foaming bubbles in my ears.  I'd take my nightly constitutional on the three-mile boardwalk, ‘watch the Tram Car, please’, taking in the sounds, lights, smells, amusements, and short-term visitors.

This summer brings with it, a plethora of new business and personal challenges.  I try to keep my workout schedule up, finding a renewed passion thanks to an additional food supplement.

My time is almost too full, preventing me from taking afternoon naps like Andrew Wyeth's dog.

I crave simplicity; technology has become the bane of my existence.  Computers are people, too.

Even the bedroom air condition rattles with such hostility that it aggravates my chronic tinnitus.

- There’s no cure for tinnitus or the air conditioner.  The masses pronounce it ‘tinn-I-tus’, the professionals have taken to pronouncing it ‘TINNitus’.  The dictionary says both are acceptable.  And no one makes a window air conditioner anymore for New Yorkers who have bars on the windows.

The dental office isn't being responsive.  My teeth are my only other medical challenge.

We're killing the Earth.

The Swedish girl I'm in love with, who lives in France, and works in Monaco selling yacht insurance, has disappeared; we were communicating daily.

I spend much time alone.  The cat passed last year.  I have family, and so many friends, but I live alone, I work alone, I work out alone, I DO much alone, and ultimately I have learned to BE alone.  But (hu)man is a social animal, and sometimes I wish to share my beasthood.

I just attended a book launch about the ‘inner wolf’; a Native American once taught me that I’m the brown bear, the leader of the council.

It's challenging to keep a balance between body-mind, and spirit, work & play, do & be, eat & sleep, especially in the slow, simmering, summer heat.

Much of my work is dependent on the support of others who do not work for me; they drop the ball.  It’s frustrating, although my philosophy classes have taught me to be at peace with it.

I just booked my ‘pre-tax season escape’ to one of my other favorite earthly beaches; it’s now the one vacation I know I take each year.  My coaching tells me I should have four.  I have made friends who meet me on the sleepy island.  Two of them are women from Vancouver.  One is the Assistant Warden of men's prison; the other is the Ph.D. psychologist who hired her.  We walk the deserted coast and discuss what it's like to be in solitary.  Then they hug me.

I'm hot.  I want to be lazy.  I get lonely.  I avoid the Siren's call and temptation of depression.  I move on.

I will survive.

But today is a challenge.

Survival is a challenge, if not a struggle.

After my divorce, one of my karate teachers told me to move forward just by putting one foot in front of the other.  I do.

I do what I need to do.

And I consciously remember to breathe.

Who's Your Trusted Family Advisor?©

Sunday, March 31, 2013

59) The Third Estate

The Third Estate

assover, (with two Seders in the Diaspora), Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter, all arrived this week.  Students, teachers & parents took vacations, family members prepared gatherings & feasts, the S&P 500 hit a high, and tax preparers kept crunching numbers except for family functions and religious holidays.

            I remember a Sunday television show from my childhood that methinks was called 'The Third Estate'.  I believe it  was about religion; I believe it had relatively broad appeal.

            But I couldn't understand the title!

            I concluded that the Third Estate was humankind, and the First Estate was G-d's (or Heaven, if it’s real estate?).  However, I could never figure out who might be the Second Estate.

            As it turns out, in the Middle Ages, 'estates of the realm' were the ‘broad social orders of the hierarchically conceived societies as ordained by G-d’.  It was big in France.

            The Clergy occupied the First Estate in order to ordain Royalty and Nobility (the second estate), who, in turn, ‘settled privileges on the more prestigious commoners, or burghers (bourgeoisie)’ - the Third Estate.  Peasants made up the Fourth Estate.

            Although I believe that humankind has not evolved as much as we might have thought as children growing up in America, I believe that, to some degree, that society shows evidence of evolution.  I think most (although I fear maybe not an overwhelming majority) of the world’s people, now, supposedly, have rights: Human Rights, Civil Rights, and other legal rights; rights, such as to property - an estate.

            Everyone has an estate.

Basically, it’s everything you own, and to which you have rights.

            You would be wise to learn about, and plan your estate.  Everything from additional estate creation and protection (e.g. life insurance, investing, a business), to maximization (tax minimization, investing, protection from lawsuits, creditors, divorce), and settlement (legal devices & distributions, accounting & administration, and taxation).

Estate planning has two parts: the part while you're alive, and the part after you're dead.

Each part requires planning, usually documents, and is coordinated (it’ usually a basic estate plan from an attorney that may save cost.  And even if you pay aalot, how much more are you protecting?  100 times?  More?.

            While you're alive, it's prudent to have at least two documents:

1.    a Living Will/Health Care Proxy
2.    a Durable Power of Attorney

            Your Living Will (your will/wishes while you’re alive but can’t speak for yourself) states your wishes such as whether or not to be kept alive by artificial means.

            Your Proxy (i.e. agent, representative nominee) for your healthcare, names someone to make medical decisions for you, such as whether or not to have an operation, or pull a plug.

            You need to choose someone who understands your wishes and can make tough decisions.  In addition, you may need a substitute person in case the primary person can't/won't serve.

            A Durable Power-of-Attorney names someone as your Attorney-in-Fact to act on their behalf after the point of incapacitation; it’s durable.

            This can power can go into effect at its signing, or it can ‘spring’ into power by some event such as a doctor certifying incompetence.  Such are known as ‘Springing Powers-of-Attorney’.

Different powers can be granted to different people.

            Depending on what powers are appointed to whom, your Attorney-in-Fact can pay bills, collect income, file taxes, buy/sell property, and, maybe make gifts - a special power.

            These documents vary from state-to-state and probably should be coordinated with certain other documents such as Driver's Licenses, where you can donate body organs.

After you've departed, this world, your Will comes into play.  A Will is a final clean-up (vehicle) document for everything left over from, what are considered, ‘Will Substitutes’.

A Will Substitute is anything that takes precedence over & above (& prior to) your will.  Examples include certain joint ownership assets where the deceased's share automatically transfers to the other owner(s)(e.g. Joint Tenants with Rights of Survivorship vs. Tenants in Common), or naming beneficiaries on insurance, retirement accounts, and trust assets.

Your Will states who gets your stuff (e.g. home, money, art, intellectual property, royalties), and who takes care of the children, dependents, and pets.

Your Will may also, need to be specific to the state in which you are domiciled.

Divorce can void a will, and federal law (e.g. pension, bankruptcy), and state statutes usually trump a Will (e.g. a surviving spouse may be entitled to a third of their deceased spouse's estate - unless there's something like a pre/post-nuptial agreement).

Before death, a Will can be rewritten or modified with Codicils.

Estate plans need to be reviewed when tax laws change and personal circumstances change (e.g. marriage/divorce, death/births, disability/windfalls, change of state residence or states in which you own property.

            After death, a Will may allow you to 'speak from the grave' by doing things such as creating and/or having established trusts with personal guidelines for family members.

Wills can be challenged, and if not absolutely clear, can cause confusion.

            An estate goes through an administrative settlement process with each state in which property is located.  This makes sure that everything is accounted for, all monies are collected, all claims are paid, any taxes (e.g. income, gift & estate, etc.) are filed and paid, all beneficiaries are identified, and finally, all assets are distributed.  The Will states how and who does these things.  Things can go wrong.

            The person in charge of executing your last will, is named in your Will as your Executor/Executrix.  In New York the administrative process, called Probate (probating a will), is done by the Surrogates Court, usually with a Clerk.  Both, the Executor and Court are allowed to collect small fees for service, according to a state schedule.  (These fees should be tax-deductible to the Estate - and income to the recipient.)  Family members often waive their fee.  A Successor Executor/Executrix should be considered and listed.

            Should someone die without a Will (i.e. Intestate), then there's a state schedule of who is entitled to the property (e.g. spouse, children, parents, etc., ultimately, the State) that didn’t pass by Will Substitute.

            None of these documents should be kept in safe deposit box (you can leave photocopies, there for back-up).  They should be handy so that if the safe deposit box gets ‘sealed’, when the bank learns of the death of one of the key holders, you have access to them.  They’re important.

            More sophisticated planning, for privacy (court records are public, trusts and beneficiaries are not), tax issues, family issues (like divorce, providing for a minor or children of a prior marriage, or caring for a handicapped person), liability, business continuation, investing, or charitable donations can also be accomplished.  Some of it is not as difficult as it seems if you have a good financial planner, insurance agent,  and ultimately, estate attorney for the document preparation.

            in addition, prudent estate planning should coordinate with all kinds of insurances, elder law, and, possibly Planned Giving, whether it's for gifting (to a charity, and/or in order to qualify for Medicaid) or, possibly Long-term Care Insurance.

            Ideally, estate plans could be discussed with and explained to family members or loved ones.  This way, they know what you want.  And those who will be asked to serve understand what’s expected of them.

            Proper estate planning is a must.  Too many family, business, financial, and tax issues can arise causing immense strife, conflict, time, and cost.  All of this on top of the hurt and healing.

            You can save money, protect loved ones, assets and businesses, remove insult from injury, feel organized and confident, and instead of being a Bull, a Bear - or a Hog, be a SWAN (sleep well at night).

            Live for the good times, plan for the bad.

Is your estate plan up to date?

            Who's your Trusted Family Advisor©?


Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Conscious, Deliberate Decisions.

58)  Conscious, Deliberate Decisions. 

ecision-making is a process.  It's a rewarding one whether it's for goal attainment, smart decisions, your American Dream, quality of life, fame & fortune, simplicity, or a mental exercise - and exercise feels good.

            You assess a situation, you consider your alternatives and their repurcussions, and then make a conscious, deliberate decision.  Maybe you temper your mind with your heart, your gut, your moral compass, but you make a prudent choice using a smart process.

            Where will you live?  By the sea?  (I hate being land-locked but wouldn't want to lose my home or my life to a  hurricane.)  A city?  (More than half the world's population now does.)

            What will you do for food clothing and shelter?  Will you hunt?  Farm?  Sew hides?  Weave?  Live in a cave?  Build a log cabin?  Do you need money for these things?  If so, how much?  How will you get money?  Steal, work, public assistance, beg?

            Will you have children?  With whom?  How will you raise them?  Alone?  How about their clothing, a home, healthcare, and education?

            What about your health?  How might you pay doctors or buy medicine?  What if you can't work?

            How about old age?  Will you work til you die?  Who will take care of you if you're sickly?  Where will you get money?  Who will bury you?

            How will you get and manage money?  How much do you need?

            In life, you can choose your own path, otherwise it will be chosen for you.  You can live life on purpose or by accident.  You can be captain of your ship or a victim.  No decision, is a decision.

            It's up to you.

How do you make conscious, deliberate decisions?

            Who helps you make smart money decisions?

Who's your Trusted Family Advisor?

Friday, March 8, 2013

'Congress: SHAME ON YOU!'

57)  Congress: SHAME ON YOU!

f they were children they would have been given a ‘time out’ or a spanking.  If they were high school or college students, they would have been suspended or expelled.  If they were professional athletes or investment professionals, they would have been evicted and, maybe, banned for life; they, themselves, would have been having hearings.   If they were Employees at Will, they would have been fired.  If they were military personnel, they'd be demoted or even thrown in the brig.  In another country, they may have been overthrown or assassinated.

            Indeed, according to a New York Times columnist, a record number of politicians went to jail in 2012.

            They managed to destroy our credit rating, which made the US Government the safest investment on Earth.  It was thought so due to its power of taxation, never having paid interest late, never having defaulted on a debt, and, loosely, its supposed ability to ‘print money’.  Now there are for-profit corporations rated safer, and their responsibility is to their stockholders!  There's no transparency, and our civil liberties are smothered.  There was the Fiscal Cliff, tax change (the type I expected and to our benefit, but after such bickering) and now the Sequester.   Voters and residents are confused, upset, depressed, disillusioned, and demoralized, and Americans are forming militias and becoming Doomsday preppers.

            It seems as if we’ve switched from one step forward, three steps back, to one slow step at a time.  At least, the stock markets think so.  Employment’s slightly up, we’re most of the way through the winter, some holidays are approaching, and American morale may be a little better.

            But, it's still the other Golden Rule: 'The One with the Gold Makes the Rules'.  Money is so strangely intoxicating.

Many continue to suffer, whether it's not knowing how much tax to have taken out of their paycheck, or about unemployment, or having lost their home due to business & financial collapse or weather.

            Congress has become a childish power struggle, dividing the Union like the Civil War for which our entire society shall pay and suffer.  One of my friends also thinks it's racist.  It’s something we must overcome immediately before it escalates and something horrible happens; they are supposed to be working for us.

            How long are we going to trust them?  How far are we willing to trust them?  We can kick the out at election times.

            Should it return to being a volunteer position like when we were founded?

            When you look at the lists of the cities on Earth to live (based on factors such as happiness, healthcare, infrastructure), it's becoming more plausible to leave the US.  There's a whole community of older brothers and sisters out there from whom we can learn and with whom we can enjoy life.  So many speak English, balance work & play better than we, have excellent technology & infrastructure, are less crowded, and have daily flights to the US.  Some are much less expensive - further bettering your quality of life.

            Do you have a financial plan?

            Who's your Trusted Family Advisor®?

Thursday, February 21, 2013

'Income Tax Reporting - Your Patriotic Duty'

56)  Income Tax Reporting
- Your Patriotic Duty

ncome taxes are your patriotic duty.  It's just a shame it's so complicated.  And there's so much waste, and everybody tries to rip off the system rather than feeling they're supporting a government that provides valuable services to them.

            Other countries, such as Sweden, see millionaires returning out of patriotism, because they feel the way I want to feel.

            Nevertheless, we have to settle up on April 15th.

            A tax return is built from the bottom, up.  Information on lower pages, feeds information to middle pages, and eventually, everything gets summarized on the top two pages, of some version of the IRS Form 1040.

            You want to become familiar enough with ‘constructing’ a Return to take advantage of every tax saving tactic you can.

            On average, we all pay between 15 and 50% of our income in taxes.  You can't consistently earn that much on investments, so your first, best investment should be in tax management.

            Learn about what you can deduct (i.e. Adjustments, Deductions); learn about Credits.

            If you can't or don't want to do it yourself, then hire someone who knows.  Make that someone, someone who's patient, explains things clearly and repetitively and who will take the time to teach you to manage your custom taxes - not just someone to prepare them (which is what too many tax preparers do).

            Become empowered, save tax, file early and easily.

            Who's your Trusted Family Advisor®?

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

'The Trusted Family Advisor’

55) The Trusted Family Advisor

ow does one, especially a woman, choose the right Financial Planner?

            Firstly, what is financial planning?

            Financial Planning is the effective management of financial resources to achieve life goals.

            What is a Financial Planner?

            A professional in a vocation involving specialized knowledge & skills used to provide disinterested counsel and service for compensation without expectation of other business gain.

            A Financial Planner may be trained in a variety of personal finance topics ranging from daily financial management to long-term financial planning.  These topics can include goal-setting & prioritizing, values assessments, budgeting (what you spend on), cash flow management (when you spend), banking & bill-paying, credit management, and tax management, to insurance management, home purchasing, education planning, retirement planning, investing, estate planning, and specialty areas, such as planning for same-sex couples or divorce.

            The CFP (Certified Financial Planner) is often the professional designation of choice.  It covers a wider range of topics than any other financial professional, with the possible exceptions of the Chartered Financial Consultant (ChFC) or a CPA who holds the AICPA's Personal Financial Specialist (PFS) designation.  There are other designations out there, but they are usually related to a single specialized area.

            A Certified Financial Planner holds a certificate from the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards.  To attain this designation, the professional must satisfy education & ethics requirements, have passed a long, comprehensive competency exam in a variety of topics and have had three years of experience.  They are then governed by a Code of Ethics, a Code of Practice Standards, and a Code of Professional Conduct.

            A disclosed CFP Practitioner practices the 6-Step Financial Planning Process:

            1. Establishing and defining the client-planner relationship.

            2. Gathering client data, including goals.

            3. Analyzing and evaluating your financial status.

            4. Developing and presenting financial planning recommendations and/or alternatives.

            5. Implementing the financial planning recommendations.

            6. Monitoring the financial planning recommendations.

            All of this is separate and above from licenses and registrations for managing/brokering investments and/or insurance, preparing taxes, practicing law, etc. and other specialized designations such as for divorce financial planning.

            A CFP Practitioner (vs. a CFP) will be one of the best persons you will ever know since they are usually intelligent, articulate, educated, practiced at teaching, and they like to help people, and adhere to high personal moral integrity.  They are not all about making money for themselves, although they like to earn a decent living and be in control of their own lives.

            The biggest issues that women face relate to their historic non-involvement with money.

            If you think about this, it’s ludicrous.

            Women live longer than men, often marry someone older, and already control more than have of the money in the US.

            They have always had to provide for children (and now, parents), and have always managed the household, making them excellent multitaskers, budgeters, and savers.

            But it's been the man's purview to have a team of financial professionals, including accountants, attorneys, bankers, insurance agents, and investment brokers.

            Men like to confidently take action, often ignorantly and without advice, and they often practice, 'Ready FIRE, Aim'.

            Most financial professionals are men and most financial decision-makers have been men.  If a man and a woman visit their advisor together, studies show that the professional spends the majority of the time speaking to the man.  The man will 'take care of the little lady who should concern herself with such things’.  This just pisses women off and they usually find a new advisor when their man is no longer in the picture.

            Therefore, a woman will want to choose a planner who is referred and/or whom she has checked out by hearing them speak (e.g. live, TV, radio, writing).  She will check their credentials.  She will meet with him/her to feel comfortable and heard.  The planner should be professional, willing to explain things again, and again, until she feels comfortable with the answers to her questions and the advice.  The planner needs to be patient, understanding and have a good bedside manner.  A woman will develop trust for the planner and be involved.  And the planner will be responsive.

            In my office, we appreciate delegation, not abdication; we fire clients who abdicate responsibility and involvement.  And we place particular emphasis on education and security.

            We like to teach, women like to learn.  Women have different goals and values than men.  Women like to make a plan, and patiently stick to it.  Women integrate, men categorize; women ask for help.  Women are loyal and send referrals.

            In her book 'Next: Trends for the Near Future', Marion Salzman, a Young & Rubicam Global Brands Manager observed that people are spending more and more time with like-minded individuals.  This ranged from who their friends were, the activities in which they participated, with whom they do business, and even where they live, moving to be closer to those who share their values and interests.

            The right planner may be more loyal, communicative, respectful, and true, than a husband.

            Who's your Trusted Family Advisor?