Monthly Archives: February 2017

Prepare Your Family For Strange And Regular Inheritances

Strange Inheritance with Jamie Colby

Strange Inheritance episode Junkyard Gems with Jamie Colby

Say you’re going away for a weekend with your spouse, and your college kid will be in charge of his siblings. Wouldn’t you leave a long list of things to do? Feed the kids, the dogs, lock the house at night, throw in a load of laundry, and drop your brother at religious education? Say you’re the same couple and you and your husband learn that both of you have only six months to live. I would imagine your list would be a bit longer. You’d need to talk to your kids about your will, estate, how to take care of the house, how to collect and manage the life insurance, you get it. Why not just do it now, so in the event you get killed in a car accident on your weekend away, your kids are as informed and prepared as possible?

Except for getting a will decades ago, I didn’t think much about estate planning until my brother Brian began producing the Strange Inheritance show for Fox Business News. I watched an episode about an Illinois farmer and hoarder, who left his million dollar farm to two 70s TV actors he had never met. His conscientious lawyer waded through the garbage in his house to find the will. I spoke with Brian afterwards.

“How’d you like the show?”
“I loved it but it was very upsetting! There was so much left to chance! What if the lawyer didn’t find the will? What if there was family who broke in and destroyed the will? Where are the protections?”
“You’ll be glad to know we now have a show Strange Inheritance: Unpacked, which discusses all of these questions.”

I have a friend whose mother had a life-threatening stroke a couple of years ago. When she arrived at the hospital, she discovered that not only was her mom close to death but her dad was suffering from what appeared to be dementia. Although she knew that her mom had a living will, she didn’t know anything else about her parents’ estate, except the location of the documents.

She had to wrangle a Power of Attorney out of her dad so that she could make the end of life decisions for her mom. After her mother’s funeral she had to make plans to have her dad move closer. He died a couple years later. It has taken her five years to unwind her parents’ estates. Settling them took so much physical, mental, and emotional energy, I’m not sure she had any left to properly mourn her parents’ passing.

My parents did not say much about their estate either but when my dad died nineteen years ago, thankfully, my brother Paul began helping my mom manage her finances. When he saw her begin to slip, he persuaded her to sign a Power of Attorney. He assured her that he would only use it when she was ready to hand over control. When she could no longer manage her beach house, he convinced her to it to give to us kids instead of selling it. I believe that because it wasn’t dumped in our laps until after her death, the five of us had the time to figure out how to manage it.

Herein the problem lies. How do you get your parents to talk about these things? Like the sex talks you give your kids, you just muscle through. There is no easy way. It is sad that end of life and estate discussions are shrouded in mystery. Time and money could be saved if people were more open with their children about estate planning.

After my mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, she had to move out of her home in Florida to live with my sister. My brother asked me to go down, clear out her house, and get it ready to sell. I donated most of her stuff and sent each family a box of keepsakes. We divided up her artwork using a lottery system.

This all sounds easy and businesslike but it’s not. It is very emotional. It took me two years to get around to completing the task I was assigned of dividing up my mom’s jewelry. Last Thanksgiving, when we were all together, I gave each female in the family an identical box holding various pieces of my mom’s jewelry that I thought each person would like. It was a nice event and everyone was excited to get a meaningful, yet unexpected, gift before Christmas. Most importantly, my mom was present for the distribution.

My brother’s goal was to dismantle my mother’s estate so that there is only money left for her care. When she does eventually die, he will be able to “unwind it” in five minutes. I’ve recently taken to watching more episodes of Strange Inheritance, one about a flight attendant who amassed a very valuable collection of beads, another about a family who inherited a not so valuable roadside attraction situated on very valuable land, and one about a fantasy artist whose children were fighting over his collection of paintings. Not only do I enjoy each show, they get me thinking about how I should be talking to my children.

Most of us don’t want to talk about death with our kids, so we don’t. Many people don’t want to give up control of their finances or they’re afraid that they’ll ruin their kids’ work ethics if they tell them they are coming into some money. But is receiving an unexpected windfall whether it is money or a dinosaur roadside attraction, a good thing?

A financial planner told me that the majority of people who receive a financial windfall usually spend it within a year and a half, regardless of the size. There are financial advisers who specialize in counseling children who receive huge financial inheritances so they don’t ruin their lives. Experts say that if you know your child is going to get an inheritance, a trust fund, or say access to a 529 account, regardless of the size, you should tell them at a young age, to prepare them for it. You tell them why they will be receiving something and the background of their benefactor, if for example, it’s a grandparent.

I’ve used this tactic with my kids. Since they were born, we’ve spent part of the summer at my family’s beach house, at first with my parents, and then with my siblings and their families. At times my kids complained and said they were bored or it was too hot at the beach. I couldn’t understand why they were so unappreciative. A couple of years ago, my husband and I sat them down and explained that we could never afford to buy a house like this, that it was because of their grandfather’s hard work and success, and their grandmother’s generosity that we had the house. We told them that we are able to continue to hold onto the house because my siblings and I work hard to get along and keep it going. Once my mother dies, the house will be the only physical glue holding our family together.

It became clear to them that Joe’s Place, as we call it, is a gift that a lot of people have worked hard to keep in the family. I saw a change in their attitude toward the house immediately. So when you’re reading to your kids, teaching them to ride a bike, giving them sex talks, and showing them how to manage money, why not tell them what is going to happen when you die?

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Please Don’t Ask My Teen What He Wants To Be

We need to give our kids room to explore their interests before settling on a career path.

We need to give our kids room to explore their interests before they settle on a career path. My oldest is designing the logo for the T-Shirt company he’s going to start.

I met a real live rock star last week at my art studio. While he and his daughter worked on the project, we chatted about art, our kids, and some of the things he did before he became a professional musician.

“Isn’t it really hard for bands to make it?”
“Yes.”
“So how’d you do it?”
“Once I chose to be a musician, I headed out to LA. My band experienced a ton of rejection but we didn’t give up. We were early users of social media which helped us a lot.”

This conversation was especially interesting to me because I have kids in middle, high school, and college, some who are trying to figure out what they want to do after they graduate. My husband and I tell them they just need to work at a lot of jobs until they find something they love. Apparently this is true whether you want to be a businessperson or a rock star.

Last week I attended the Lyons Township High School parent orientation for my eighth-grader. We were told that our children would be asked what they want to be when they grow up. I wish they wouldn’t. It is the rare fourteen-year-old who knows what he wants to be and asking the question is ridiculous and causes unnecessary stress. My husband and I spend a lot of energy counteracting this thinking in our kids.

Instead of asking my son what he wants to be, why not tell him to get a part-time job? Studies show that the earlier a kid starts working the more successful he will be in life. In addition, why not offer a semester program where kids can work in various places for a week, such as at a hospital, insurance company, animal shelter, bank, or architectural firm? Students interested in becoming teachers can already get classroom experience through a program at LT.

The presenter then laid out the necessary requirements for my son to graduate. After the required classes he would have five electives available to him. I got excited thinking about the small engines, furniture making, and photography classes he could take. Then came the caveat: if my kid is going to apply to a competitive college, he will need four years of math instead of three, four years of science instead of two, and three to four years of a foreign language. Where was he going to fit in the fun electives? It’s like sending your kid to the candy store with no money.

High school and college are a time of exploration. Kids should be taking lots of different classes that they enjoy and then start to get more focused by their junior year. Doing internships and information interviews with people in jobs they are interested in is a great way for them to learn more about potential careers.

Thankfully, there are resources out there to help everyone figure it out. I would highly recommend every high school and college student read Designing Your Life by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans of Stanford University. They give great real life examples and exercises to help anyone, even people well into their careers, design a life and find a job they love.

I can’t say enough about how important it is for kids to work. When my eighth grader, Max, was nine he worked at his sister’s barn, walking horses and playing with the cats and dogs. After that, he got a volunteer position at a rescue, socializing animals. But instead of petting birds and rats, he ended up cleaning their cages. During the second week he got in trouble for texting.

On the ride home he said he didn’t want to go back. I helped him draft his letter of resignation. From this experience he learned that not all jobs will be what you think they are and not all bosses will be nice. At age thirteen he has continued to work with animals, taking care of our neighbor’s cat and dogs.

My husband, Frank, and I are always sharing our career paths with our kids and making sure they understand that the process of finding your vocation has not changed over the years. My husband’s story highlights how talking to people in the business you want to go into and “trying it on” can save you time and money.

While Frank was still in high school, he decided that he wanted to be a disc jockey and would major in communications in college. His dad arranged an information interview with Bob Reitman of WQFM in Milwaukee. When Frank got to college, he joined the radio station, and realized that he didn’t like being a disc jockey but loved managing the station. No harm no foul. After working different jobs, traveling to Europe, and going to business school, he has been a food and candy marketer for nearly thirty years.

As of now my eighth grader is going to be a You Tuber with millions of subscribers who will make him rich. He is buying computer equipment with the money he makes as a dog-walker to bring him closer to his dream. I am perfectly fine with this dream and all of the others he will have as he explores his world by taking cool classes, talking to interesting people, and working lots of jobs until he finds what he loves.

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