Friday, February 23, 2018

Atta Girl

Yesterday, I was talking to my daughter, who is looking for a new job. In addition to the normal activities (update and re-post resume, network, hunt through Monster, Indeed, Career Builder, file for unemployment insurance, etc.), I told her to find all her previous good reviews, positive notes, emails, etc.

This idea came from our Chief Nuclear Engineer, Roger Moore. I did some work for him for a few months years ago when his secretary was out with an injury. He asked me to do some filing. A few of the items were marked “Atta Boy.” I asked him about it.

“Whenever I get a commendation or note of thanks, I file it in my Atta Boy file. Then, when I feel underappreciated, I take them out to remind myself of the things I have done well in the past.”
After I spoke to my daughter, I decided to look at my own file again.

I found the plaque I received as part of a team tasked with improvement to the company’s on-time delivery. Within a couple of months, we went from more than fifty percent of products delivered late to ninety-nine percent on-time or ahead-of-time.

Another company had a policy were anyone could write up an employee for outstanding performance. These were given to HR. A copy went into the person’s personnel file, and the original went to the person acknowledged. I kept three of them for various accomplishments.

I kept all of my performance reviews over the year, nearly all of which were above average or outstanding. In looking through them, I realize I’d forgotten I actually did some of these things.

In the file are several awards and certificates for service to our church.

In 1983, I was given the President’s Award for outstanding work in my department. Only twenty people, in a company of over 4,000 employees, were honored. (I left the company the following year. At the time of my exit interview, my boss told me I would have received another one.)

A rumor circulated about a “doomsday list.” This list was supposed to contain the names of those who were so valuable they would be retained until the doors closed. Although management denied its existence, at my exit interview, my boss confirmed I was on the list, and so was Larry.
I still keep the letter of recommendation from one boss. He left the company in 1987 but wanted to make sure I had a letter before he left. He told me to write it myself. When I brought it back to him the first time, he said it wasn’t complimentary enough. He gave me a few more sentences and told me to rewrite it. I did so. But he still wasn’t satisfied and added a few more superlatives. I used it when I applied for most of my subsequent positions.

But my very favorite thing in the file is a simple hand-written note from a corporate vice president regarding a cost estimate I had prepared for microfilming a project. In part, it says:

I just read your…estimate. Superb job! It reads well, it’s easy to follow, and it looks good on the page—short paragraphs, etc. It appears you also typed it. Can you crack walnuts with your feet?

It is followed by a star and his name. This was from a VP not known for his sense of humor, so I have always treasured it.

I hope my daughter has a similar collection. When changing jobs, it is easy to slip in to insecurity, but with an atta boy or atta girl file, it’s easier to remember accomplishments and awards.

Do you have a file like this? Do you intend to start one?

Friday, February 16, 2018

Peace of Mind

We recently met with our estate attorney to update our trust. We try to do this every few years to be sure everything is current. We discovered several areas we needed to update.

We’ve had our trust for over twenty years. The attorney did a presentation at our church about estate planning, and we decided to take advantage of the opportunity to codify our wishes. I’m glad we did.

At the same time, my mother prepared one of her own. My stepfather had died shortly before, and Mom had a little money for the first—and only time in her life. We knew it wouldn’t last long, but this seemed important to her.

On the day we picked up our paperwork, as we left the office, Mom started to cry. I was afraid she was sad about contemplating her demise. When I asked her about it, she said, “I’m just so happy to have this done. I’ve been worried about it, and now it’s taken care of.”

We had no idea she had been concerned about making sure her wishes were recorded, but her obvious relief made the exercise more than worthwhile.

At the time, we had no idea how important this would be to us. At the same time the trusts were prepared, so were our powers-of-attorney for medical and financial. As Mom grew more and more senile, we had to make many decisions on her behalf. The powers-of-attorney provided for our legal rights as well as hers. We had peace of mind because we knew we were doing what she wanted and had the legal permission to do so.

Another source of comfort for us was having her final wishes designated.

Years ago, one of Larry’s Boy Scout leaders died. His wife shared with us the preparations he’d made. She said he researched all the options and contacted the Los Angeles Funeral Society. When he died, his son called the number on the card he carried in his wallet, and they took care of all of the details.

This happened shortly after the publication of Ruth Harmer’s book, The High Cost of Dying. (Larry had her as his English instructor at Cal Poly, Pomoma.)

The book exposed how mortuaries and funeral homes exploited grieving families by using guilt to convince them to spend more than they needed to.

We decided to contact the Los Angeles Funeral Society. We received several forms where we could designate our preferences (no embalming and immediate cremation among them). For a small lifetime fee, they would keep our records on file and guarantee the lowest prices.

When we moved to Dana Point, we transferred our membership to Tri Counties Funeral Society.

Mom first moved in with us a couple of years later. She had a plot reserved for her next to her ex-husband. After a short time, she announced she’d changed her mind about being buried. “I want to be cremated and have my ashes spread off Dana Point. It’s my favorite place, and I want to be with you.” (Our instructions are to have our ashes spread in the ocean off Dana Point.)

She joined the funeral society and filed her directions. The morning she died, I asked the nursing home if they needed us to come down. “No, we have her direction on file. We’ve already called he mortuary. You can come later in the day to pick up her personal effects.”

A couple of weeks later, the mortuary called us to collect her ashes. While we were there, we prepaid for our own services. Now our daughter won’t have to make any decisions on our behalf, and everything will be pre-paid.

No one wants to contemplate making these kinds of decisions, but I can assure you, the peace of mind having these directions taken care of ahead of time while we were not under pressure made taking care of my mother’s death much easier. She had years of her own peace of mind as well.

Friday, February 9, 2018

Gone Too Soon

On Tuesday, February 27, at 10:00 a.m., we will celebrate the life of our nephew’s wife, Christina, at Sts. Simon & Jude Catholic Church in Westminster.

Early on Sunday morning, January 21, we received a call from Larry's brother, Casey, informing us that Christina, had died. Danny and Christina were not married for long, but our family loved her very much.

She was thirty-five years old, a kind and generous soul, who never turned away anyone in need. She would have given the shirt off her back if she felt someone needed it more, even if it were her only one. She cared deeply about people, especially her close friends, but her whole life revolved around her eleven-year-old daughter, Savannah.

We all adore this child. She is smart, funny, well behaved, and a terrific human being. Her mother deserves all the credit. The two of them were inseparable.

Savannah wrote a complete fantasy novel. Her mother told us about it on Thanksgiving Day, and I asked her to send it to me. Imagine my surprise when I read it and found it was excellent. In fact, it is better than some submissions I have received from the adults for whom I edit.

Savannah understands how to tell a story, how to create a story arc, character arcs, tension, and suspense. She has an impressive grasp of language and understands the value of dialogue. I went through the manuscript and identified a few small issues, but for the most part, it was well done.

Christina and Danny brought Savanna to our house one day between Christmas and New Year’s, when Savannah was on semester break. She stayed with us for a couple of hours while her folks went to the harbor. We discussed my questions about the book. She was articulate and came up with good solutions.

I had promised her as part of her Christmas present I would help her publish it. I intend to keep my promise.

Our greatest concern is the welfare of this wonderful little girl. Unfortunately, our nephew's family has little say about what happens to this precious child. We can do what we are asked and pray for the very best outcome.

Fortunately, she is currently living with her uncle and aunt. We are impressed with them. They responded in a levelheaded manner and now provide a stable environment for her. Her private school has waived tuition for the rest of the school year, so she will have continuity in her education. Her father will have custody, but he has granted her aunt and uncle temporary guardianship through the school year.

All of us around her feel an obligation to her mother to provide emotional support to her and to those around her. Christina had many close friends, and they want to help in whatever way they can.

I identify emotionally with Savannah. I, too, lost a parent as a child. I know how it feels to be set adrift without a rudder. I know about the large hole a parent leaves in a child’s life. And I know it never goes away.

Christina is gone far too young, and the rest of us around Savannah owe it to her mother’s memory to provide a stable and supportive environment for her child. Our hearts are broken for our nephew, Christina’s family, and her daughter. We feel helpless, and we would like to help in some way.

Right now, we’re taking one day at a time and doing whatever appears for us to do.

Have you ever had to deal with the death of a young person? Did you find anything of help? If so, what?

Friday, February 2, 2018

Do You Have a Will?

Our family recently suffered the loss of one of its younger members. She had been a single mother until her recent marriage into our family. She leaves a young child.

Unfortunately, she did not leave a will or a trust. However, she had surgery about a year ago and completed a directive for the hospital. Included were a couple of critical pieces of information the family has agreed to abide by, although they aren’t binding.

Most people—especially younger ones—don’t like to think about what will happen when they die. They assume they will have a long time to take care of it.

I found out quite young that this is not always the case. My father died when I was seven, leaving my young mother with two children to raise alone. I knew how quickly life can turn upside down.

Who Doesn’t Need a Will or Trust?
Unmarried people with no assets can put off planning, at least for a while. Everyone else needs to plan.

What Happens if You Die Without One?
Your assets will be frozen, and your estate will be locked up in probate. The state will decide who will get your assets and dictate who will raise your children. Your heirs may also have to pay various fees and taxes.

Writing a Will
You can hire an attorney to do this for you, but there are also several good products on the market you can use to “fill-in-the-blanks.” These work well if you have a simple estate. However, if you have children you may want to consider a trust.

You can also create a “holographic will.” Different states have different requirements, but generally, this is a will written in your own handwriting (not typed). Most states require up to three witnesses, not named in the will, to observe and certify your signature and testify as to your mental soundness. These still require probate, and some states do not recognize them at all.

What is a Living Trust?
It is a legal document created during your lifetime to spell out your desires in regard to your assets and dependents in the event of your death. A trust bypasses the long and costly process of probate, so your wishes can be implemented quickly. Your trust should also contain durable powers of attorney for health and finances, which allow someone you designate to make decisions for you in the event you become incapacitated.

There are two types: revocable and irrevocable. With the first, you transfer your assets into the trust, but you retain control of them during your lifetime. With the second, you also transfer ownership to the trust, but you no longer have control of them. However, because of this, they are also not subject to estate and other taxes.

Who Needs a Living Trust?
People who have complex or substantial financial assets, special family circumstances (such as blended families), people who own a business, people who wish to bequeath their assets to someone other than a relative, and folks with estranged family relationships.

How Can I Get One?
For simple estates, software exists to create your own. However, this option should be used only for the simplest of estates.

For most people, it is worth the expense (between $1000 and $3000 or more per person, depending on the size and complexity of the estate) to hire an attorney who is a specialist in these kinds of trusts to draw it up. They are current on all the applicable laws and know how to word the necessary documents. Most will update you trust as your circumstances change over the years.

Hopefully, you want your wishes carried out in the manner you choose. Not putting these in writing leaves your survivors with a guessing game.

Our recent experience has brought home once again the necessity to make plans long before they are needed.

Do you have a will or trust? If not, why not?