Category Archives: Family

Declutter Your Life

Ringing in the new year always feels like a new beginning, the perfect time to shed those behaviors, habits and attitudes we no longer need or want.

This kind of decluttering takes many forms. A successful Realtor in her mid-60s remarked at a gathering I attended that once the sale she had in progress wrapped up, she thought she might retire. Asked what else she was ready to give up, Diana said, “Costco.”

Nothing against the store — it’s the bulk packaging she wanted to live without.

Maybe you are not ready to retire, and maybe you still like buying 40-ounce jars of mixed nuts, a six-month supply of toilet paper and body lotion sold by the liter. But as we get older, many of us do change our ways.


‘Ridding Myself of Self-Disdain’

“Around 50, we start to shift from externally-imposed pressure or guidelines to choices that are more internal, freer, unique to each of us,” said Leslie Davenport, a Northern California therapist in private practice for over two decades.

Davenport also noted that obsessions about body image tend to fade over the years. “At a younger age, what we eat may be dictated by a clothing size or a particular weight,” she said. “Older women tend to focus more on food that is enjoyable and feels healthy, and they let the dress size or number on the scale just be whatever it is.”

As we age, we often let go of the belief that circumstances or people are supposed to be a certain way.

— Leslie Davenport, therapist

Cheryl, 66, can relate to that. She had joined a gym in suburban St. Louis, and when asked about her goals, said she wanted to improve her balance, strength and stamina.

“Previously, the first thing out of my mouth would have been that I wanted to lose weight,” Cheryl said. “I am ridding myself of self-disdain and loathing.”


Embracing Free Advice When It Hits Home

Tuning in to our own wants and needs doesn’t mean we can’t still benefit from outside advice when it suits our larger purpose. Shannon, 55, is a freelance wardrobe worker in New York City theaters. Words from a boss just happened to be words Shannon needed to hear.

“A supervisor told our crew, ‘If you are using this job as your life, I suggest you go out the door and get one,’’’ Shannon said. “That statement changed my life.”

Shannon stopped thinking of work as a competition, and says she no longer cares whether she is in charge. “Now it’s much more fun to go to work, do the job well, be a helpful and productive part of a team — and then clock out at the end of the day,” she says.


Rekindling Relationships or Letting Them Go

Sometimes, as we consider more carefully what we want for ourselves, we find we are ready to give up long-held grudges.

“Maybe we’ve kept a family member or friend at arm’s length, but as we age, we often let go of the belief that circumstances or people are supposed to be a certain way,” Davenport said. “Letting go of rigidity in our beliefs can lead to a rekindling of relationships.”

Or, in some cases, the opposite occurs.

Half a dozen people interviewed for this article reported that aging has given them the courage to cut ties, ending one-sided friendships and relationships that bring them no joy.

Grandparenting experience will be a breeze

To march or not to march. That is the question. Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous political fortune, or take arms against a sea of alt-troubles and by opposing dream of ending them…

Hmm. I confess this question gives me pause.

My hesitation owes nothing to ambivalence. Given my particular stew of passions, the Women’s March on Washington on Jan. 21 feels more an imperative than an option for me. (I realize there are women who have very different views than mine, and respect that.)

As a boomer, it’s downright uncomfortable to admit that sometimes the all-too-personal gets in the way of the oh-so-important-political.

The feeling I have about going is unfamiliar for someone who’s never considered attending — let alone waded into — a mass protest. As a member of the national press since age 21, I have observed the rules of my trade, which frowns on member participation in partisan events. Instead, volunteer work and my checkbook have been my outlets to quietly support issues and apolitical groups of importance to me.

But with my retirement from reporting for the news biz, my profession’s proscription — which I now realize was also a handy excuse — has fallen away. And here’s what I’ve found: Much as I fervently want to support this cause I care about, I no less fervently don’t want to go. As a boomer whose coming of age was informed by the idea that the personal is political, it’s downright uncomfortable to admit that sometimes the all-too-personal gets in the way of the oh-so-important-political.


A Million Reasons Not to Join the Protest March

In a nutshell: I hate crowds. Loathe them. Every year when I flick on the TV to watch the ball drop in Times Square, I cringe at the sight of the teeming masses, and welcome in the new year with the thought: Thank God I’m not there.

I’ve long hated the feeling of being hemmed in so much that during my office days, I favored a corner chair at the conference table. Without having to jostle for elbow room, I found that my voice could be heard just fine from the far end of the table. (Added bonus: I could slip out quietly, without detection.)

There’s also the standing factor. I’m all in for walking, all in for sitting. But standing for hours on end, being propelled forward in inch-long increments by an ever-thickening crowd? About as appealing as joining that Times Square logjam. Standing in the cold? Ditto.

Then, there’s the frustrating fact that I’m a directional dyslexic. You won’t find this diagnosis in your DSM or on WebMD, but I’m telling you, it’s a real disability. Almost 100 percent of the time when I walk out an unfamiliar exit, I turn the wrong way. I worry that during the trajectory of all that incremental inching, I may get pushed so far off course that I won’t be able to find my way back to Union Station in time for the departure of my bus. Not a biggy. But a cause for pause nonetheless.

And yet… While participating in a mass protest has never been on my Bucket List, this event speaks to me. Loudly. Almost like a command that’s saying, Stop putting your money where your mouth is. Get out there!

Strategies for Widows and Widowers

The rules for claiming Social Security benefits are incredibly complicated and that’s especially true for widows and widowers. Here’s some guidance:

If you are widowed, you might be eligible to claim Social Security widow’s or widower’s payments. That’s true even if you were divorced when your former spouse died, provided you were married for 10 years.

If you are at least Full Retirement Age (currently 66) when you file for Social Security, you get up to 100 percent of your spouse’s Social Security payment. (Earlier filing means reduced payments, down to 71.5 percent at age 60 — not 62 like regular Social Security.)

If you and your spouse are getting Social Security, you’re over 66 and one of you dies, the survivor gets the higher of the checks for the rest of their life.

Think of it this way. If you and your spouse are both getting Social Security, you’re over 66 and one of you dies, the survivor gets the higher of the Social Security checks for the rest of their life.

Caring for one or more kids? You could even get a 75 percent payment at any age, if you were married at the time of your spouse’s death (or divorced after a 10-year marriage), have limited earnings and are caring for the surviving child under age 16.

And remarriage after age 60 does not block your widow’s or widower’s payments. But remarriage before age 60 blocks payments for as long as the marriage lasts.


You Might be a ‘Dualie’

You can be “dually eligible” for widow’s or widower’s payments and your own Social Security. If so, you can take one benefit early, then switch to the other later. Even if you get reduced early payments on one benefit, the reduction does not carry over to the other.


Smart Claiming Strategies for Widows and Widowers

Here’s how to claim Social Security wisely if you’re a widow or a widower:

Contact the Social Security Administration to learn two numbers: your widow’s or widower’s payment at your Full Retirement Age and your own payment at 70. That’s when each benefit reaches its maximum. Then, the rule of thumb is to take the lower benefit first and the higher benefit second. It’s like a double-harvest — you reap the wheat now while the corn continues to grow.

Let me give you a few examples:

Paul and Ruth are retired and over 66. Paul gets $1,500 a month from Social Security; Ruth gets $2,000. If either one dies, the survivor will get the higher payment of $2,000 a month for life.

Here’s another example: Lisa was widowed at 56. Her earnings — and therefore her Social Security payments — were high; her husband’s were low. At 60, Lisa retired. She immediately started drawing a (reduced) widow’s payment, 71.5 percent of what she would get at Full Retirement Age. At 70, she’ll switch to her own (then maximum) Social Security, up to 132 percent of her Full Retirement Account payment for the rest of her life. There’s no carry-over reduction for taking her widow’s payments early. If Lisa remarries, her widow’s payments will continue because remarriage over 60 can be disregarded.

And one more: Carl was married to Mary for over 10 years, then divorced. Mary died five years later. Mary was a high earner; Carl is not. At 64, he retires and immediately starts his own (reduced) Social Security. At Full Retirement Age, he switches to (maximum) widower’s payments on Mary’s record. He gets 100 percent of what Mary would have gotten at her Full Retirement Age. There’s no reduction for taking his own payments early.

Marrying After 50

Marriage after age 50 is a wonderful thing, but it has some financial challenges, too. There is plenty to take into account, and plenty of money myths, if you plan to tie the knot in midlife — especially if your spouse-to-be has children from a first marriage.

Here are six common myths:


Myth No. 1: Prenups Are Only for the Rich and Famous

Actually, if you’ve been married before and have children from a previous relationship, a prenuptial agreement is essential to ensuring that property will pass to children from the prior marriage, says Christine M. Searle, certified internal auditor and owner of Searle Business Solutions in Arlington, Va.

And, she says, even if you’re getting married for the first time, chances are you’ve accumulated significant assets by this point in your life (and perhaps even some debt). So you’ll need to plan how to handle those if, sadly, this marriage doesn’t work out.

Estate planning is essential if you have children from an earlier marriage. Otherwise, your entire estate could pass to your new spouse.

Don’t think of a prenup as prearranging your divorce, Searle says, but more like writing your will. “If you don’t have certain things arranged,” she says, “the state gets to make decisions for you and that’s like dying without a will.”

After 50, the focus of a prenuptial agreement should be on protecting your children and grandchildren. “The context of a prenuptial should be how to do we provide together for our extended families,” says Carla Dearing, CEO of Sum 180.

For instance, in the United States, states can let a surviving spouse claim his or her “elective share” in place of what was left in the decedent’s will. A prenup allows your spouse to waive the elective share so you won’t need to fear your estate plan will be challenged by your surviving spouse, says Philadelphia divorce lawyer Linda A Kerns.

Similarly, many states automatically give spouses some rights to life insurance or retirement benefits, but a prenup would let your spouse give up their rights to them. Kerns says that if both spouses have substantial investments, they might want each of their own children to be the beneficiaries.


Myth No. 2: Never Discuss Estate Planning With Your Stepfamily

Estate planning is essential if you have children from an earlier marriage, Kerns says. Otherwise, your entire estate could pass to your new spouse and not to your own children.

Kerns recommends having frank conversations about your estate planning and prenup with your adult children and your new spouse. Grown kids are sometimes wary of their parent getting remarried because they are concerned about how it will affect their inheritance, Kerns notes.

If you have concerns about providing for a new spouse and children from a previous marriage, you can get creative with your estate planning, says Kelley C. Long, CPA, a Chicago financial planner with Financial Finesse. One of her clients created a formula for how much money he wanted his new wife to have when he died; the amount fluctuated based on their wealth and age. He also had regular meetings with his new spouse and his children to discuss how much each could expect to receive when he was gone.

Guide helps you look for love in all the right places

If there’s one thing Consumer Reports (CR) is known for, it’s being thorough. If there’s one thing it’s not known for, it’s romance. Until now.

That’s right, the nonprofit organization known for “providing unbiased product ratings and reviews since 1936” has decided to get into the love game.

After admitting that this is “new and fairly unusual territory for us” in a recent article titled “Match Me If You Can: Comparing and rating dating apps and sites for boomers,” the ratings giant went about the meticulous work of dispassionately reporting the results of a survey of about 115,000 subscribers in meticulous detail. Complete with those wonderful comparison charts. And a handy guide to dating lingo such as “Netflix and chill” (in case you didn’t know, it’s slang for coming over to have sex) and “Tinderella” (a “twist on Cinderella; popular with male Tinder users to describe the perfect match”) for newbies.

Your tech-support provider might not be able to fix your shattered smartphone but at least she won’t shatter your heart.

The Online Dating Survey Says …

What did the survey show? That online dating works. It has a 44 percent success rate. Also: online dating stinks. People hate it — with a passion.

Even the highest ranking site — the free OkCupid — received a reader score of 56, which basically translates to “meh.” (Runners up: Tinder, with a 52; Grindr, with a 52 and PlentyOfFish, with a 50.; all are also free.) Or as the story dispassionately puts it: Respondents “gave online dating sites the lowest satisfaction scores Consumer Reports has ever seen for services rendered — lower even than for tech-support providers.”


But is that really Tinder’s fault? Your tech-support provider might not be able to fix your shattered smartphone, but at least she won’t shatter your heart. As the story notes, a sweater can’t reject you or lie about its age or show up to dinner wearing a blaze-orange hunting vest.

In other words, being a dating app is hard because dating is hard. And definitely not for the feint of heart.


By the Numbers

Other numbers cited in the story are more encouraging:

  • 15 percent of American adults have used online dating sites and/or dating apps
  • Boomer enrollment in online dating sites/apps has doubled since 2013
  • People over 50 are one of the fastest growing segments in the online dating world
  • And this one bears repeating: 44 percent of those surveyed who tried online dating said it led to a serious relationship

Millennial About Managing Money

No way around it: Your grown child needs to save in order to achieve financial freedom. The ability to delay gratification is more important than ever, and here’s what you need to tell him or her:

1. Set up an emergency savings cushion. When you broach the topic of emergency savings with your grown child, you might well be greeted with a rant about high rents and low-paying jobs, and how saving is virtually impossible for his generation. That’s your cue to explain why it’s time to start saving now, even a tiny bit, regularly.

An emergency cushion can mean the difference between an inconvenience and financial disaster — so your Millennial won’t get evicted

An emergency cushion can mean the difference between an inconvenience and financial disaster — so your Millennial won’t get evicted for not paying the rent, for example. As an adult, your son or daughter will have to create a safety net rather than count on one held up at the corners by you.

The rule of thumb has been to save a cushion of six months’ worth of living expenses — enough to tide your child over until he or she finds work. That said, I recommend saying to initially shoot for a three-month cushion so the goal doesn’t seem unattainable. (For an online worksheet to help your kid figure out how much to set aside for living expenses, go to

2. Paying off high-rate debt can be the smartest way to save. Granted, this is another idea that might seem laughable to a recent college grad with zero in the bank. But it’s an important concept for your kid to get now — and one that even many adults don’t understand.

Here’s the gist: Before long, your child will build up some savings —particularly if he or she is living at home — and should use it to get rid of expensive debt.

Let’s say your son owed $1,000 on an 18 percent credit card and had $1,000 in a savings account earning 1 percent. By the end of the year, he’d have paid out $180 in interest to the card company and earned just $10 in interest on the savings account. Even though he technically had money in the bank, he’d actually have had a net loss of $170. If he instead used that $1,000 to pay off the credit card, he wouldn’t have earned any interest, but he wouldn’t have paid any, either; it’d be a draw. And that’s much better than losing $170.

But, you might be thinking, shouldn’t my child have the emergency savings cushion mentioned above? The answer: It depends.

If your son is living with you, he should rid himself of high-rate debt first and then save up his first month’s rent and security deposit for his own place. That is one of the supreme financial benefits of moving back home. This approach requires his firm commitment not to charge any more on his credit card than he is able to pay off in full the following month. Even if he’s out on his own, I say devote at least half of his savings to whacking away at that high-rate debt, and deposit the other half into a savings account for true emergencies only.

Once he has one month’s worth of living expenses in his savings cushion, he can start putting even more toward getting rid of that credit card debt. Only when it’s gone does it make sense for him to turn back to building up his emergency cushion to the minimal three months’ worth of expenses.

3. Make saving automatic. Behavioral economists know that getting someone to save voluntarily is a bit like getting someone to cheerfully sign up for a root canal. As your trusty Magic 8 Ball would say, “Outlook not so good.” That’s why your kid needs to set up finances so he or she doesn’t have to think about saving every payday. It’s a neat mental trick: Because we never see the money in our checking account in the first place, we don’t experience the pain of “losing” the money had we transferred it to savings.

Senior Living Community

There are many reasons older adults move into a senior living community, but is looking for love one of them?

Burdett Stilwell has been working with older adults for many years and, and as sales and marketing director of Somerby of Mobile,  she has had the pleasure of developing friendships with the many residents of this Somerby Senior Living home in Alabama. She’s up-to-date on who is dating whom. When it comes to relationships, Stilwell says, the Somerby people she knows fall into two categories: those who are interested and those who have “been there, done that.”


How Senior Living Communities Bring Couples Together

While there’s a lot of data about couples who met in college or high school, research is lacking on couples in senior living communities. “Over 90 percent of the older adults we help move into senior living are moving in alone,” says Ben Hanowell, lead senior living researcher and data scientist at A Place for Mom, an assisted living referral service. “Once they move in, our organization unfortunately can’t track whether they are lucky in love.”

But the anecdotal evidence shows that many in senior living settings have active romantic lives.  These kinds of communities can bring couples together, Stilwell says, adding that marriage is not unusual among residents.

“One couple grew up in the same county, but never knew each other,” she says. “When they met here, they had lots in common, so they got married and have been living with us for the past five years.”

One couple grew up in the same county, but never knew each other. When they met here they had lots in common, so they got married.

— Burdett Stilwell, Somerby Senior Living

Tom Giuliana, ‎who works in operations and business development at Meridian Senior Living in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., echoes Stilwell’s sentiment. “Alex P. and Alice B. are a couple who met at the community about a year ago,” he says. “He plays guitar for her every day, and they are always laughing and spending their time together.”


Searching for Another Chance at Love

“Senior living communities are one place where dating has blossomed,” writes A Place for Mom’s Jeff Anderson. “Men and women who had once resigned themselves to isolation have been able to rebuild intimacy with a new companion, in a new place, and in new ways.”

For some widows and widowers, the communities offer a chance to experience love again and the new lease on life that those feelings bring.

Stilwell shared a story of one man at Somerby who was a caring and kind caregiver dedicated to his wife. Several months after she died, he found a girlfriend and staff saw him doing things they hadn’t seen him do before — having carefree fun and going out on excursions.

A long-term relationship is not always a priority in these facilities, of course. And when it comes to dating,  men have an advantage in most senior living communities, simply because there are fewer of them there.

“Among older adults who move into senior living alone, there are over two-and-a-half times as many women as men,” Hanowell says, “and the gap is wider for older age groups.” Among those age 65 to 70, there are 57 percent more women who move in alone than men. Compare that to ages 90 to 99, where more than three times as many single women than men move into senior living.

Wisdom for Your Kids and Grandkids

With the Trump administration now sworn in, there are numerous debates on whether the estate tax will be repealed. The focus of the debates is often what a person has a right to pass on to his or her kids and grandkids and whether family fortunes can remain within the family regardless of who earned them.

These debates are necessary ones. However, when people are given a choice between passing onto their kids their money and possessions or their wisdom and life lessons, they overwhelmingly choose wisdom and life lessons. In other words, would you rather be remembered for being financially better off than those around you or for being a person of uncommon kindness, wisdom and strength of character?

As a professional in the areas of grief, loss and transition, I have heard from many people about what they want to pass along to their loved ones.


Your Legacy: More Than Dollars

Certainly, money is important. But significance does not necessarily come with wealth. It comes from making a difference in the lives of others, having an impact, leaving the world a better place and creating a living legacy that survives our physical absence.

He ended with his most important message, that although he was imperfect, he loved them deeply and always did his best to show it.

Some people are able to do this in public and prominent ways. For most of us, though, it is accomplished in our personal relationships, and especially within our families. We pass on who we are, what we believe in and what we dream for our descendants.

This passing on of a legacy can be enhanced as we hear the eulogies, stories and memories that are told when a person dies. However, the deceased has no control over what will be said and those words are often forgotten before long. You may wish to create a legacy in a more conscious fashion, by taking purposeful actions now to pass on the wisdom and lessons that are most important to you.

Grandparents Raising Grandchildren

There are nearly three million grandparents in the United States who have legal custody of their grandchildren. A sizable share of them (18 percent) live below the poverty line. One of their many vexations is where to live. While there is subsidized housing for the elderly, children are usually not allowed. Overnight, a grandmother might have to take in five kids, in which case she would be forced to move.

I learned about this problem in 2009, when I did a story with two of my favorite 60 Minutes producers, Shari Finkelstein and Jennie Held, about a free after-school program in Harlem called Gospel for Teens. We started the shoot by going to auditions for the year’s 46 slots. The majority of the kids who tried out were African-Americans, living in rough neighborhoods.

Grandparents become guardians for a variety of reasons, none of them pretty.

At Gospel for Teens, the kids have to shout out their names and where they live. Rhonda Rodriguez was so withdrawn she could barely whisper, and yet, because she sang This Little Light of Mine with riveting plaintiveness, she made the cut. We decided to focus on her in our story.

Interviewing her hurt. At 14, she exhaled dejection. In her forsaken little voice, she told us that she lived in the South Bronx in a very special building. When I asked why it was special, she said, “It’s just for grandparents who are raising their grandchildren.”

“Are you being raised by your grandparents?” I asked.

“I’m being raised by my great-grandmother.” Her great-grandmother. That meant neither her mother nor her father, nor any of her grandparents, had stepped in.

Learned Corresponding

Otto Frank, the father of Anne Frank, was my beloved friend and mentor for nearly 20 years. We began writing to each other when I was 12 years old, after I’d auditioned for the role of Anne in the 1959 movie version of The Diary of Anne Frank. Otto Frank lived in Basel, Switzerland, and his gentle guidance of my life was transformative.

During the Sixties, when our country was broiling with the unfathomable —the Kennedy and King assassinations; the Vietnam War; horrific race riots; Native American occupation at Alcatraz and so on — I wrote to my dear Otto and declared that I would never bring a child into a world this cruel. His answer to me was profound: “Even if you believe the end of the world would be imminent, you still must plant a tree today.”

Never give up hope, he told me. This man who lost his entire family in the Holocaust was encouraging me to believe in tomorrow. He had two trees planted in Israel in my name to punctuate this message of endurance and life.

I witnessed a troubling discussion Otto and his family had about the rise neo-Nazi movement, a replica of the hate and fear being stirred up today.

Trees of Hope

“Though the situation is far from satisfactory, you must not be desperate,” he wrote to me in a letter dated June 16, 1968. “Never give up!

“I remember to have once read a sentence , ‘If the end of the world would be imminent, I still would plant a tree today.’ When we lived in the secret annex we had the advice ‘Fac et spera’ which means: ‘Work and hope.’ I do not know if I ever wrote this to you.

“So you should not ask if you should bring a child into this world. Life goes on and perhaps your child will bring the world one step further. Anne who died as a victim of injustice and hatred, achieved something for mankind in her short life. Perhaps the new generation will live under quite different circumstances than we can imagine now and will have a quite different feeling of happiness.

“You are right that at certain periods  of my existence the world around me collapsed. When most of the people of my country, Germany, turned into hordes of nationalistic, cruel anti-Semitic criminals, I had to face the consequences and though this did hurt me deeply I realized that Germany was no the world and I left forever.

“When I returned from the concentration camp alone, I saw that a tragedy of inexpressible extent had hit the Jews, my people, and I was spared as one of them to testify, one of those who had lost his dear ones.

“It was not in my nature to sit down and mourn. I had good people around me and Anne’s diary helped me a great deal to gain again a positive outlook on life. I hoped by publishing it to help many people in the same way and this turned out to be true.”


Troubled Times

After 20 years of exchanging letters, I traveled to Europe in 1977 to meet Otto Frank, who was 88 by then. During the visit, I witnessed a troubling discussion that he and his family had about the rise of the neo-Nazi movement, which is very much a replica of the hate and fear being stirred up today.

These days, I talk to audiences about how Otto Frank tried desperately from 1940 to 1941 to escape to Switzerland, Cuba and the United States. He had tremendous and influential connections in America who were doing all they could to get the Franks into the country, since he had worked for the co-owners of Macy’s, the Strauss family, when he was a young man living in America. The Strausses begged our government to help get them here, but to no avail.

He had relatives here, too. The family of his wife, Edith, already lived in the States and they, too, did everything they could to pull strings. But President Roosevelt and Ambassador Joseph Kennedy turned them away. Anne Frank would probably be alive today and thriving in America if she and her family weren’t considered refugees not to be permitted entry here.

If Otto Frank were still alive, I know that he would be devastated over the growing waves of anti-Semitism happening in America. But I also know that he would still believe in love and hope and unity among all people. And he would say that together — no matter what our races or religions or sexual identities or political perspectives — we must plant trees of hope for a far more loving tomorrow.