Someone Had to Say It

Memorial Day Weekend- 2016: My Mom, Dad, sister, brother and me, celebrating their 50th Wedding Anniversary at The Hotel Manisses on Block Island. 

“You do know Sue, if something happens to Mom at this point, there’s no way Dad can stay in the house by himself”.

I still remember where I was parked when my sister spoke these words to me. Although our mom’s terminal cancer was “stable” at the time, our dad had entered into early stages of dementia and without her, would not be able to care for himself. Someone had to say it.

But we didn’t need to worry about that now, mom was fine, we had time.  

I also remember the intense fight my sister and I had after our mother passed, while having a discussion about our father, moving him out, selling the house. My brother was in on this one too. It was not a discussion at all actually, it was a screaming match between me and my sister, wrought with grief. Two against one, and I was the odd man out. I knew intellectually what needed to be done, I just wasn’t ready emotionally for all that it meant. Someone had to say it.

I will add, my sister and I are extremely close, yet there we were.

It’s very difficult to have these conversations during a time of crises or grief.  

There are many articles written about how adult children should approach these tough topics with their parents because it is so hard for any of us to face getting older and what these changes mean for all family members. I think there should be more written for parents along the lines of, “Talk to Your Adult Children Before Things Get Ugly, Because It Can Get Ugly”.

Have these conversations with your adult children now. Let them know what you want, but keep in mind their lives as well if what you want has a heavy impact on them. Don’t be afraid of hurting anyone’s feelings. You know your kids better than anyone. There’s potential for worse fall out and hard feelings amongst your children after you are gone. When you have these hard conversations ahead of time when things are good, your kids are secure in knowing your wishes and that they are doing the right thing by you in the future, because “Mom and Dad said so”.

Some pointers for families:

  1. Start Early
    The sooner you begin to open up these conversations the better. No one is in crisis and it’s much less threatening for all involved.
  2. Ensure your Estate Planning is in proper order
    Estate Planning is one of the most important things a family can be sure is buttoned up tight. Work with a qualified estate planning attorney to be sure your wishes/concerns are addressed fully in a legal capacity. Documents such as health care proxies and durable powers of attorney are critical to have in place at all times, but especially as we age. 

    While these may be generic legal documents, their impact is anything but. There’s a heavy human component to those pieces of paper, and you must be sure to choose a person(s) you know you can trust explicitly to carry out things the way you would want. A conversation should be had with anyone involved in your wishes. These directives will potentially be a huge responsibility for this person at some point. Be sure the person(s) you are choosing are up for the task that may one day fall on them. Don’t be afraid of hurting anyone’s feelings when making your choices. It’s too important for that.
  3. Organize Important Documents
    Personal, financial and legal documents should be organized and kept in one place. Tell a trusted family member or friend where they are should they need to be accessed.
  4. Talk About the What Ifs
    Have open conversations about what things might look like if things were to either suddenly, or over time, change. Discuss what options there are, what that might look like for all of you as a family, what would be the ideal solution if you could have it, what monies might be needed, who may need access to certain things like financial or legal documents. It’s a lot to think about, and not pleasant to talk about, but it’s harder when there’s been no discussion at all.
  5. Enlist the Help of Others
    If you find starting these types of conversations too difficult on your own or fear emotions escalating, enlist the help of a trusted professional who is well versed in your wishes. It may be your estate attorney, financial advisor, doctor, or clergy member that could help facilitate a family discussion and help keep emotions in balance. We work with clients and families touching the most personal side of their lives every day. We can help here too.

There are no easy answers, I’m not going to pretend there are. Facing one’s mortality or that of someone we hold dear is as real as it gets when it comes to human emotion, but having these conversations in an open and honest manner may be one of the greatest gifts you can give to each other.

“There’s No Place Like Home”

This past week, during one of our TV watching marathons, my youngest son and I happened upon “The Wizard of Oz”.

When Glenda the Good Witch began her famous mantra to Dorothy of, “There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home”, I couldn’t help but think of the irony in hearing this famous one-liner right now.

After all, for now, home is the ONLY place for most of us. I don’t know about you, but my home is less than idyllic at this point. I think I need to channel my inner Glenda.

Home is usually the place where we feel most safe and at ease, yet the fact that we are forced to stay home because of COVID19 instead creates a dichotomy of sorts, where our being at home is the result of a precarious situation reaped with uncertainties and anxiety.

What can we do during these times to help us feel less anxious and more “at home”?  We’ve all heard the cliché “control the controllable”. What is controllable, or even worth controlling, will be different for everyone, but there are always some things that are within our control. We can let go of the rest, remembering to not beat ourselves up for whatever we miss. Whatever it is that will offer stability, a sense of normalcy or bring joy is what we focus on.

These have been some of my controllables:

  • Cleaned out my closet. It helped declutter my mind and I had total control of every decision I made to keep or donate. Hey, control is control.
  • Choose to binge watch only happy, funny or heartwarming things. I don’t need the added angst I get when I watch shows like Bluebloods. This, I can control.
  • Set my alarm for the same time every day. Granted, some mornings I hit snooze more than others, but the attempt, and the control as to when I start my day, is there.

You may be thinking, “what does this have to do with my finances”?

Nothing. Absolutely nothing. Well, almost nothing.

I’ve already addressed market volatility and the stimulus bill in previous newsletters. I wanted this newsletter to acknowledge that right now, while we are in the thick of this, it’s not only about money and finances. And even in the “good times”, money issues are never black and white. There is most always an emotional component to money decisions. We make the best decisions by addressing the human side of things first.

I’ll end with a known fact about the human race.

We are a resilient and adaptable species. We are problem-solvers. There are already countless ways we have adapted as individuals, families and as a nation to a situation that 6 weeks ago we would have thought impossible to deal with. We will get through this and things will return to normal, because even a new normal eventually becomes normal over time.

Show Me the Money! – Highlights from the Stimulus Package

Like a good thriller movie (or perhaps more accurately, a horror film), the suspense is over and Congress has passed the stimulus bill that was then signed by President Trump late Friday afternoon. It is officially called the CARES Act (free package of TP for anyone who can guess what the “C” stands for).
But who really CARES what it is called? We care what it will do.

Let me see if I can help sort this out a bit.

This bill is over 800 pages long and includes many provisions for both individuals and small businesses. I am going to focus today on the ones that affect us most as individual taxpayers.

Stimulus Checks:

  • $1,200 for individuals; $2,400 for married couples
  • Additional $500 per child UNDER age 17
  • Amount is phased out based on your Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) in either 2018 or 2019, whichever tax return is the most current the IRS has on file.
  • Phaseouts begin at AGI’s above:
    • $150,000 for Married Filing Joint
    • $112,500 for Head of Household
    • $75,000 for Single

A confusing part of this stimulus check is that although they will be determining the amount we get based off of 2018/2019 AGI, it is actually a 2020 rebate. For those that may be phased out either partially or in full based on their prior AGI but are now suffering hardship in 2020, you may still get a rebate if your 2020 AGI falls into or below the phase out ranges. You just won’t be getting it now when you need it most.


  • State unemployment benefits are $600/week more than “regular” unemployment
  • This additional bonus payment runs for up to 4 months
  • Overall benefits are extended by an additional 13 weeks
  • Federal Government will pay to cover the one week “waiting period”
  • Pandemic Unemployment assistance for those not eligible for unemployment
    • Contractors, self-employed, gig workers

FEDERAL Student Loan Relief:

  • Payments and interest are deferred until September 30, 2020
  • While not required to make payments, voluntary payments are allowed.
  • Proactively contact your loan provider to pause payments, it will not happen automatically.

No Required Minimum Distributions (RMD’s) for 2020

  • This includes IRA’s and employer plans
  • Applies to Inherited IRA’s as well
  • If subject to the 5-year rule, 2020 is ignored

Distributions from Retirement Accounts: aka  “Coronavirus Related Distributions”

  • 10% Early Withdrawal Penalty is waived
  • Not subject to mandatory withholding of taxes (usually 20%; this applies to employer plans)
  • Up to $100,000 combined from IRA’s or employer plans
  • Withdrawn in 2020
  • WITHDRAWALS ARE TAXABLE INCOME, but eligible to be “rolled back in” to the account over 3 years. If this is done, an amended return can be filed to claim a refund for any taxes paid on the withdrawal.
  • If you do not roll it back in, the income and resulting tax can be spread out over 2020, 2021 and 2022.

Assuming your 2020 income has be greatly affected and you would be taking this distribution due to a Coronavirus hardship, it may make more sense for you to include all of this income on your 2020 return. Your CPA will be able to give you guidance on this. Your advisor will give you guidance on whether it is good option for you given your overall financial circumstances.

These are just some of the major highlights affecting a vast majority of US citizens.

If you are unsure whether you will qualify for a stimulus check or what the amount will be if you do, shoot me an email at and I will run through the numbers with you.

All we can do at this point is keep hanging on, be patient with our families and strangers, control what we can control and let go of the rest.

With three teenage boys trapped at home, a clean kitchen is NOT something I can control right now and I’m really trying to LET IT GO!  What are YOU letting go?

Wowzer, What a Week

A fun meme was going around on Facebook last weekend that said:

“Just a Warning, this week is starting by changing the clocks, has a full moon and ends with Friday the 13th. Good Luck People.

P.S. Don’t forget to wash your hands”.

As it turns out, that warning did not do the week justice as far as the stock market and our investment portfolios are concerned.

It happened whiplash fast.  A week where the biggest warning for the coronavirus was to wash your hands and stay home if you feel sick ended with many of us feeling quite sick, but not because we had the virus.

This past week ended a record breaking 11 year bull run as the major market indices officially entered bear territory, defined as falling 20% or more below their all-time highs.

Because in this life none of us can predict the future, we rely on what we know and have learned from the past. But there is always that underlying itch that says, “but is this time different”?  In talking with my friend and colleague Michelle this past week, also a financial advisor (a phenomenal one I will add), she remarked, “‘this time’ is always different, but also not different”. Meaning, it’s a new catalyst that pushed our markets into bear territory this week, but not different because we’ve been here before, and each time, the market eventually recovers and investors continue to make money in their portfolios.

So, following this crazy week, I thought I would share with you a compelling video by Loring Ward that depicts the value of $1 invested in the Total US Stock Market in 1927 and if left untouched, the value that single dollar would be today.

It gives a great perspective on the long term effects of “bad news” and “bear markets” on the overall stock market.

It covers over 90 years in about 3 minutes, so stick with it to the end for an inspiring quote from legendary investor Warren Buffet.

This clip will eventually be updated to reflect this past week and whatever the weeks and  months ahead will bring, but I remain confident that history will again repeat.

None of this is to say it’s easy to watch our portfolios take a hit.  It’s a punch in the gut and it takes resilience to stay the course.  But when we ride the wave, history shows us that staying in the market is the best place to be for the long game.

Out of the Mouths of Babes

I recently had the opportunity to help out at our local high school with a group of students who were participating in a program called “Credit for Life”. I had never heard of it, but with a quick Google search, I learned it is a nationally recognized program designed to help high school students develop personal financial management skills. SIGN ME UP!

I had a blast. I really did. I was assigned to the “Savings and Retirement” booth. I got so jazzed up talking with these kids about real world money matters. OK, granted, some of them I was talking at instead of with, but that was to be expected. But for the ones that were really listening and trying to take in what I was saying, it was very fulfilling. I had my first glimpse into the satisfaction teachers get out of molding young minds.

The advice I was repeating over and over to each group is really no different than what I would tell a client. At any age, the foundations of financial security and independence are the same. I didn’t want to throw so much at them that they walked away feeling overwhelmed and having learned nothing, so I kept repeating the following during those precious few minutes I had their attention:

Don’t spend more than you make.

Pay yourself first.

Most eyes glazed over when I spoke the phrase, “power of compounding interest”, but when I pulled out my graph to show them a visual of what their money could do for them if they committed to paying themselves first, and how that money could grow exponentially over time, their eyes lit up. I pointed out on their expense tracker that this sum of money they were “spending” from their paycheck was different than every other expense they had listed on that sheet because IT WAS STILL THEIR MONEY!

Imagine my excitement when I heard one student approach a group of friends and say something along the lines of, “guys, go over there, pay yourselves first”. Eureka!  My heart skipped a beat. And my pure, unadulterated joy when a friend shared with me that her daughter told her,  “Mrs. Danson said I can start contributing to a Roth IRA and it will keep growing and growing and I won’t have to pay taxes on it”. Wowzer! This young lady is going to be just fine when it comes to her future financial well-being.

Full disclosure, there was another student I overheard saying, “don’t go there, she takes 10% of your money”. I laughed out loud and said to the huddle of teens, “I’m not Uncle Sam, this is still your money”! I’m sure none of them understood the Uncle Sam joke, but I knew you would appreciate my humor. They’ll understand soon enough.

But interesting, isn’t it, that this was student #2’s interpretation of my message?

To that end, I leave you with this-

Spend less than you make and pay yourself first.

Is “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” Art Imitating Life in 1960 or 2020?

Have you been watching Amazon’s hit comedy “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”? Do you love it? I have-and I DO! It’s simple. It’s funny. I can fall asleep after it is over with a light heart. I binge watched Season 3 over the holidays.

The story line focuses on Miriam “Midge” Maisel, a NYC housewife in the late 1950s/early 1960s who discovers she has a knack for stand-up comedy and begins actively pursuing a career. To keep it simple without need of spoiler alerts, her husband can’t handle her success, has an affair with his secretary and they separate.

I love that it brings current day recognition to the female pioneers that paved the way for the careers we women pursue today (although still today, this is not without challenges and/or risks to our financial well-being, but that’s a topic for another newsletter).

“Mrs. Maisel” depicts, in a “making fun of what used to be” sort of way, the early phases of breaking the mold during a time that was probably anything but fun for women choosing this path. I love that it makes me recognize and appreciate how much things have changed for women.

Yet after watching an episode of Season 3, I began to wonder if in some ways, despite the 1960’s setting, “Mrs. Maisel” is also current day art imitating life when it comes to many women and their finances. As Midge gains earning power, she washes her hands of money management and leaves it in the trusted hands of her talent manager Susie, who fails miserably. And then, of all people, Susie goes to Midge’s EX-HUSBAND, begging him to take over Midge’s finances. So Midge has a successful career and is taking on the world…but will still be relying on her ex-husband to handle her money.

Unusual for the times? No, not at all. Women weren’t even allowed to apply for their own credit cards until 1974! But how much has truly changed in regards to women being fully engaged in their finances?

Certainly, there have been HUGE strides over the decades in so many areas for women, but there are still inroads that we need to make for our financial security and that of our families.

I leave you with this question:

On a scale of 1-10, how “in the loop” are you in the understanding of your personal or family finances?

If you are not an 8 or above, I encourage you to become more engaged, ask questions if you don’t understand, and make 2020 the year that you become your own pioneer in financial empowerment.

‘Tis the Season to be…Fearful?

Earlier this week, I was engaging in the nightly ritual of moving the Elf on the Shelf to a new location. As the tale goes, he had flown back to the North Pole overnight and reported to Santa whether my children were naughty or nice that day. Given my boys are now 16, 14 and 12, there’s a whole lot of not so nice around here and long gone is the fear that Ruckert the Elf is going to tell Santa about it. At best, my youngest is humoring me by even looking for the Elf each morning.

It got me thinking about what we all know as the “fear tactic”, most often used with children, to get them to do or act in a way which we desire…

  • Behave nicely or Santa won’t bring you any toys.
  • Eat your vegetables or you won’t grow big and strong.
  • And let’s not forget about Pinocchio and his nose.  

But let’s face it, kids aren’t the only targets of the fear tactic. If it’s a subject area I know little or nothing about (like car maintenance for example), I could be “told and sold” just about anything. After all, they’re the experts, right?

Well the financial services industry is no different. There are folks out there trying to instill fear to get you to take action. And not always, but often, that action is favorable to them in some way.

Tid bits you may hear along the way, such as…

  • Do YOU know your 401(k) balance after recent market volatility? 
  • Are you afraid of outliving your money?  

and my personal favorite….

  • Don’t let the nursing home take all of your hard earned cash. Come see us before it’s too late!

Fear Tactic…

The point is, when it comes to financial decisions, making a rash decision to DO or BUY or CHANGE anything out of fear is often met with regret down the road. You have some time… to ask questions and understand, to plan according to your needs and to make a decision from a place of knowledge and clarity.

I wish I could say the same for my car maintenance!