10 Questions For Aging Parents

10 questions for aging parents

10 questions for aging parents: Are you wondering if your parents have their estate and inheritance plans in order? Or how their affairs would be managed if they had to move from their home?  Or even that they might be vulnerable to the latest tele-huckster scam?  It can be a difficult topic to broach.  Here’s help posing the right questions in a sensitive way.

1.    Could you tell me where you keep your important papers at home, in case I need to find them?
2.    Have you made an inventory of your property, including furniture, jewelry, art and other collectibles?
3.    Is there anything I can do to help get your important documents in order?
4.    Have you named someone to make financial decisions for you if you are no longer able to make those decisions yourself?
5.    Do you have a living will or a health care power of attorney?
6.    How do you feel about long-term care, if you need help later on?
7.    Who are your key advisors: attorneys, financial consultants, accountants and insurance specialists?
8.    What charitable causes are important to you?  Are there any charitable pledges you have made or would like to make?
9.    Would you like to talk with me about your final wishes or funeral arrangements so I can make sure I know what to do?
10.  Is there anything else you’d like us to know?

One or two of these 10 questions may be the spark that ignites a meaningful conversation.  For more information on how to address one of these 10 specific planning topics, contact us.

Continue Reading10 Questions For Aging Parents

Painful Lessons from the Blackberry Patch

eating fresh picked

On the 40+ acres where we spend most of our weekends, we have wild blackberry bushes.  Last year, I planned to pick fresh blackberries at the peak of their ripeness and make cobbler, one of my favorite desserts.  In our neck of the north Florida woods, blackberries peak in June.  Throughout the spring I walked around the property, watching as the berries turned from green in March to red in April to black in May.  By the beginning of June, little black corpuscles grew into shiny clusters of ball-bearing-sized berries.

On June’s second weekend, I decided it was time to harvest.  The heat index was at a record in the high 90s.  To defend myself from thorns, sun and mosquitoes, I donned my long-sleeved cotton t-shirt, blue jeans, knee-high socks, Steel-Toe boots, gardening gloves, sunglasses, and wide-brimmed hat.  I drank a pint of water, put sunscreen on my face and neck, grabbed my colander for collection, and thought about how good that shower was going to feel in an hour.

My recipe called for two cups of blackberries.  From my previous broad surveys of the property,  two cups should have been no problem.   Tossing the two-cup requirement aside, I had instant visions of filling the colander – 4 to 6 cups – with leftovers for ice cream toppings, afternoon snacks, and oatmeal.  Judging from what I knew I had seen, I was excited about having fresh blackberries every day for the next week.

Not So Fast

I started at the scraggly patch close to the house, a 10-foot diameter group surrounding a skinny tree in the middle of the hayfield.  More red ones were there than I remembered, and the black ones weren’t as large as I thought, either.  Not wanting to waste my trip to the patch, I picked a few clusters for the sake of having something to show.   A bit frustrated, I marched 200 yards across the field to the big oak grove, intent on finding better quality there.

On the south side of the elliptical two-acre grove, the sun was intense.  The berries there were slightly better than the first patch, but some had little beetles on them that reminded me of stinkbugs.  I squinted carefully before I picked, sweat beads dripping into my eyes, to make sure no bugs were getting into my colander.  Even if it was a big juicy cluster, I left it alone if there was a bug on it.

About an hour into my venture, sweaty and thirsty, I walked to the east side of the grove.  Not only was it shadier for me, but the shade must have been good for the berries.  Instead of 12 inches tall, some of the bushes were 3 feet tall.  I didn’t have to bend over as much, but the banana spiders found the environment perfect for their webs. Like the stinkbugs, I preferred to avoid spiders rather than kill them or disturb their web.

But, whoa!  Some of the clusters were the size of my big toe (which was now a little uncomfortable in the cotton socks inside the Steel-toe boot).  Yet, how sweet!  And not many stinkbugs.   When I found a patch with no spiders or stinkbugs, it felt like the jackpot, but I had to be more careful. I went to pluck the big clusters, but they were so ripe that my gloved fingers squished them, or they tumbled into the tangled mass of thorns, ticks, or who-knew-what below the branches.  I checked my colander.  My excitement faded.  For ninety minutes of effort, I didn’t even have my minimum.

Light Bulb Moment

With my head down, I noticed how soaked my jeans were, covered with thorns, which wet jeans seemed to attract. Yikes!  I felt the familiar sting of a mosquito on my shoulder, through my shirt, which was sticking to my skin.  Ignoring the thorns would be easy, because the mosquito bites were worse.  I wondered if the tradeoff of bigger berries for mosquito bites was going to be worth it.

But I didn’t have my two cups.   I had to press on.   I hurriedly looked up for webs, down for berries, swung my free arm to clear webs and then slap mosquitoes, while trying not to spill the colander.  I looked like a sweaty, disheveled marionette being operated by a 5-year-old.

I stopped again.  “How did someone with an MBA end up with such pathetic productivity?”  I thought.  I was clearly not cut out for the ag business.  My efficiency had to improve or else, no cobbler.  This was an unacceptable result.

I took ten steps back.  From that distance, I could scan the next patch for webs and big clusters.  If no big clusters or too many webs, I moved on.  If big clusters or few webs, I gently plucked easy-to-reach, bug-free big berries. I thought of my speed reading class – keep your eyes moving down the page.  So while I was picking the current patch, I scanned the next one.  Working faster lessened the number of mosquitoes on my shirt. Although I was itching from the previous bites, the rate of new bites was declining.  (That’s what an MBA would tell herself in order to keep going.)  But, I was getting only the best berries.  In ten minutes I covered the rest of the oak grove and transitioned to the trails in the woods.  Productivity problem solved.

Within the next hour I had picked through five shady acres in the adjoining woods and filled my colander.  I wearily strode back to the porch, peeled off my boots and socks, and walked inside.  I put the colander in the sink and took my long-anticipated shower.  Afterwards, rinsing the berries, I thought,  “I could have paid $6.99 at the store.”  Worse, I took the risk of getting Lyme disease from a tick, or encephalitis from a mosquito.

Lessons Learned

I then thought about other lessons I already knew, but didn’t apply, that morning:

1)  In Florida in the summer, applying mosquito repellant underneath your clothes is not a crazy idea.
2) Sometimes there’s no substitute for experience. Although I thought I was well-prepared,  if I had consulted someone who had already learned these lessons, I would have saved three hours of heat-borne agony.
3) Among all of the “wish I had known thats,” the most disheartening was that the ripest, juiciest, biggest berries aren’t in the sun.  They don’t have to be plucked at the bottom where the thorns are. They grow in the shade.  With the right technique, they fall off the end of the branch into your hand.   (“It’s all in the wrist,” my father, a tennis player, would say.)  Knowing the right techniques makes a big difference in time and quality results.  Even berry-picking has techniques.
4) If quantity is the only goal, then pick every berry on every bush and be done.  If quality is important, then don’t burrow in the single bushes.  Step back and scan the whole patch first.

Considering the physical risks I took, this could have been a very expensive outing.  Was it worth it?

Well, for the short while that I was enjoying fresh hot cobbler with Cool Whip, in clean, air-conditioned comfort on a suffocating June day, yes, it was.

Continue ReadingPainful Lessons from the Blackberry Patch

Turning Japanese? I Don’t Think So

Some economists have been listening to the 80s song by The Vapors in their warnings about a decade of Japanese-style deflation.  While we do share similar predicaments,  there are vast differences between our two economies, based partly on our different cultures.  Deflation may be the Japanese story of the last lost decade, but it probably won’t be ours.

First, though, what do we have in common?   We both have massive government spending programs put in place to stimulate the economy and revive battered banking systems.   While our stimulus is relatively new, Japan’s is over a decade old.  Japanese government debt now exceeds 180% of GDP, according to a recent article in The Economist.  That’s the highest of any developed nation.  The U.S. is “only” at 56%  but rising fast.  Yet despite all that spending, Japan hasn’t seen inflation in over 20 years.  What gives?    Inflation comes from overspending, and overspending can only come from 3 places:  government, private sector (consumer spending and business investment), and foreigners (who buy exports).    Japan is a big export machine, enjoying global demand for consistently high quality products.    Government has also done its part.  However, both together were not enough to outweigh the drag created by Japanese consumers’ underspending.

Why do Japanese, on average, underspend?  First, they tend to have a higher work ethic.  Working longer hours, they simply have less time for shoppiong.  Second, after centuries of fires and earthquakes, Japanese families have a long history of saving to rebuild their house every 15 years.  So, they don’t spend on lavish home improvements like those that drove our last boom cycle in the U.S.  Third, their population is shrinking and aging.   Finally, Japanese culture doesn’t encourage borrowing.  For the average Japanese consumer, repayment is a lot more enjoyable than borrowing.

The end result of pumping a lot of dough into an economy with little spending and little borrowing is…nothing.    The money (in Japan’s case, the government’s stimulus money and our export money) just sits as reserves in the banking system, as cash on business balance sheets, or as savings for consumers.  It’s not in circulation helping the economy to grow. One possible answer for their problem lies in the overregulated small business and service sectors, where more economic freedoms could spark both business and consumer spending.

The Japanese are famous savers, and this has kept their economy from recovering for over 10 years.  Now Americans have entered an era of “New Frugality” – could we end up in the same boat?  I don’t see it. In contrast to the  average Japanese, average Americans are practically born and raised at the mall. Spending Saturdays “just browsing” is a national pastime.  While fewer of us may be doing so now, the cultural urge to splurge is as ingrained as Japan’s urge to save.  Further, the “American dream” of owning a home  isn’t a trend that will disappear in a decade.  Americans love owning their homes, love spending on them, and will continue to borrow profligately to buy and improve as much house as the bank tells us we can afford.   Repayment?  I’m not sure many Americans know what that is.  No, I don’t see American consumers  standing in the way of an eventual recovery like the Japanese have.

Does that mean inflation is on the horizon?  Not as long as we have a hobbled banking system and a trade deficit.  For at least 20 years, the Japanese have made products the world adores and demands.  They have collected foreigners’ (our) money and given up little of their own.  That’s called a trade surplus.  The last time the U.S. ran a trade surplus was 199?  One  possible way out of our troubles is to start making  more goods and services the world adores and demands than buying others’ goods and services that we adore and demand.  Not an easy task in a consumption-and-borrowing based culture.

Continue ReadingTurning Japanese? I Don’t Think So

Book Review – What Color Is Your Parachute? For Retirement

If your vision for the next chapter in your life seems like a jumbled puzzle, John Nelson and Richard Bolles’s book helps to put the pieces together using a simple process. It’s too bad they have to use the “R” word in the title. The book could be used by anybody at anytime in their lives to figure out “What do I want next”?

By breaking down the decision into the who, what, where, why, and how (almost literally), Nelson (the primary author) uses Bolles’ time-tested Parachute process to distill your dreams, wishes, likes, skills, and resources into a one-page picture. With their help, you are the artist.

In between the worksheets, Nelson gives some life advice in several areas. I particularly liked the section on “Uses for a Home.” In it, he divides our dwelling place into functions such as “Job,” “Project,” “Retreat,” “Base of Operations,” and “Gathering Place.”

To order the book through south Tampa’s independent bookstore, Inkwood Books, for $16.95, click here: http://www.inkwoodbooks.com/NASApp/store/Search;jsessionid=bac2GmbhX28Ufhrfl60qs.

Continue ReadingBook Review – What Color Is Your Parachute? For Retirement

Ordering your Credit Report

You are eligible to request a free credit report once per year from one of the three credit agencies: Experian, Equifax, and Transunion. Approximately once every four months I will send out a reminder for you to obtain your free credit report. Below you will find instructions for Experian.

Note: all of those cute ads you see on the television are for an unnecessary service (for most people at least). The link below is where the truly free credit reports can be obtained. Here are the steps necessary:

1. go to www.annualcreditreport.com
2. select your state and click “request report”
3. fill in your personal information, security characters from picture, and click “continue”
4. select Experian and click “next”
5. click “next” again
6. enter last four digits of your social security number and click “submit”
7. choose extras if you want to pay, I never do, click “annual credit report” at the bottom in gray.
8. check “I have read and agree to Experian’s Terms & Conditions, etc” if you accept them, click “Submit”
9. answer the “identity verification” questions and click continue.
10. click “print report” in upper right section of page.
11. print report

If you find there is something amiss, contact that agency immediately. You can contact Experian at 866-397-3742.  

If you are married, make sure your spouse obtains his/her report. Feel free to pass this reminder onto others.

If this message has been forwarded to you and you want to be added to our e-News list, please send me an e-mail request.
Continue ReadingOrdering your Credit Report