Category: Life’s Important Questions

April 30, 2017

By Steve Litt, LCSW


Thumbs UP

Thumbs up, People! One of the oldest and wisest sayings I’ve learned in my career is, “Catch people doing something right, and then acknow-ledge it”.

I thought at first this was about changing other people. The idea to me was to encourage the best in children, family friends and employees. I continue to see that this works in all aspects of life. It is a highly effective technique.

What I didn’t recognize for years was that this worn out homily also has a profound influence on the one who is catching people doing something right.

Once you start looking for what’s right in the world, it begins to change the way you look at the world around you and actually changes your brain. There is growing evidence that these changes can be passed on genetically to you children.

Neuroscience has developed rapidly in the past few decades. What we think about how one gets a positive attitude has been enhanced.

We have always known that the more you continue to think positively the more easily those thoughts come to you. Norman Vincent Peale’s, The Power of Positive Thinking, first published in 1952, was one early and important contribution to theories about how thinking affects behavior, happiness and success.

The opposite is also true, the longer you persist at looking at things negatively the more you will see in that dim light.

Practice makes perfect. The more you do anything the easier it is do and continue to do until you tire of it.

In family relationships we can both change our brain and our behavior by practice.

Here’s an example from my professional life. A woman came to me complaining that her children were taking their father’s “side” in the couples contentious divorce. The youngest daughter, a 12 year old, was refusing to visit the mom and complained that her mother was abusive and drinking too much.

Investigators from the county checked the story and the kid admitted she was lying. The lie was suspected because no one, not even the dad, said mom had ever been seen to be drunken or abusive to anyone. When I discussed this with the mom, she was furious at her daughter. I would be, too.

She said she wanted to confront the daughter and ask her why she’d lied, question her motives, and generally give her a piece of her well offended mind. It probably would also be asked, “Did your dad put you up to this?” (He didn’t). By the time she and I were done discussing this, she asked the little darling merely for an explanation. She said it something like this, “Honey, I know this divorce has been rough on us all, but I’m wondering what that last bit was all about. Can you help me understand it? I want us to stay close, but I really would like to know what that was all about.”

Rather than attacking her child and putting her on the defensive, she called upon all the good times the two of them had and asked how to get back to that. It was a long and emotional discussion. It worked.

When this kind of struggle comes up in any relationship, think about your response at least overnight.

What is the most loving and positive thing you can say?

That’s what you use. It will change the relation-ship, the child and you.

The thoughts of ripping them a new one are OK if you never voice it.

We have a right to be mad, but not ineffective and mean. Be Positive like these two above.

July 7, 2016

Wills and Trusts

It is going to happen, so get a will or a trust started now.

By Steve Litt, LCSW, Professor Emeritus at DFI

Plan now for your and your spouse’s death. If you aren’t married, but are living together as a committed couple, this is even more important. Marrieds have more protections and get more breaks in the law. A will or trust can greatly help unmarrieds.

Too many of us ignore financial or estate planning for death. There aren’t enough of us with wills, especially if we are younger. Plan financially for the death of the other. Discuss how to manage finances, where the money is, who to ask for help with taxes, probate, and insurance. Don’t pretend that you will live forever.

Ways to start a will

There are many internet sources for writing your own will. With a little checking it’s easy to find something that will be a fit. You do get what you pay for, but unless you have complicated estate and trusts there is no need to spend thousands. There are even free sites. Whenever I want to do something I got to Wikihow or YouTube and see if there is anything useful on that site.

There are also software packages that work well. I am not going to review them here, but there are sites that review and rate software for writing wills. I have done my simple will using one of them. I have to admit it was easy. Putting off the task of writing a will is more about denial of death.

Don’t live in denial of death

We want to pretend that we will live forever. I suppose for many of us thinking of death is the same as intentionally shortening your life span, or something equally as senseless.  DENIAL!!

A little less than 50% of all adult Americans have wills. That number is smaller with African Americans and Hispanic Americans, with about 30% and 25% respectively.

Does that mean that white American adults are in less denial of death? I doubt it. It may mean they have more access to resources. This statistics are probably more a function of income than ethnicity. Maybe 55% of all adults in the USA don’t have anything to leave their survivors. But even if you only have a piece of pottery to leave your family, they could end up in probate court over who gets custody of the beloved ceramic.

A detailed will can be very helpful in reducing the costs for surviving family members. Be fair to your heirs and don’t set them up to have conflicts over the estate. I have seen bad wills and trusts that seem to have been written with no thoughts of the effect on all the survivors.

A well done will can make life a lot easier for your survivors emotionally and financially. They just lost you and the last thing they will need at a time like that is a messy legal struggle.

Trusts can be complicated and a good one can really help the life of the beneficiaries

In my experience, the best trusts are ones that use a team of at least 3 people to make the decisions, protect the principal from depleting, and are flexible and fairly distributed. Trusts that dump large lump sums of money on the heirs often lead to destructive behavior. It’s like winning the lottery and having a miserable life.

If your trust is written so that only one person is in charge, they may not continue to be as wise and benevolent as when you were alive. Sometimes the passage of time changes people. Bank Trusts that are run by bank employees would be my very last choice. Somehow these Banking groups seem pretty uncaring and self-serving.

I watch many Banks invest the trust’s funds in their own bank stock, charge high fees and be rigid and inflexible or chaotic and random in distribution. Frankly, I wouldn’t ever choose a bank as the trustee. I might place funds in banks, but I would not place trust.

Find a good trust attorney and have a bunch of people read it before you set it up. Strangely, I have become good at seeing the pitfalls of wills and trusts, though I am not a lawyer, perhaps because bad wills and trusts cause so much disruption to families.