Kathy Hamilton

Family Business Succession: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

I hope everyone had a happy Valentine’s Day. For the last several years, I spent most of my Valentine’s Days speaking to advisors in Midland, Texas. The same was to happen this year, but my speech was rescheduled (from my wife’s perspective, a happy postponement, for as much as I enjoy my connection with the terrific Midland planning community, I admit that being there on Cupid’s day without Laurie is not the most romantic way to celebrate). However, I was in Midland recently for a presentation on a topic I describe as the most neglected (and potentially dramatic) area of estate planning, Business Succession Planning.

What makes succession planning so challenging? There are no easy answers or fill-in-the-blank forms. In my Midland presentation on “Business Succession Planning,” I dive into the many technical and psychological aspects, including buy/sell agreements, life insurance solutions, squeeze & freeze tools, and charitable planning ideas. Click here to read the PowerPoint.

The TV Series “Succession” has certainly made business transition a sexier topic. On top of that fictional account of family power struggle to take over a family enterprise, the media coverage is replete with real-life examples of succession intrigue. Over the coming weeks, I’ll share a number of sensational true stories so we can learn the “do’s and don’ts” from them.

The Blum family has its own example of business transition “don’ts” which I’ve confessed before. I’ve readily admitted that this cobbler at times needs to take better care of my own shoes. This month marks seven years since my brother Irwin’s sudden death at age 65 from pancreatic cancer. Irwin was running our family’s meat-packing supply business, handling every important aspect of the business by himself. He was a business whiz, but his style was to keep most data in his head and fly solo. When he left us suddenly, we had a miracle solution. Our mother Elsie (now 93 and still 100% sharp and a business whiz herself) emerged from retirement to manage the business transition. However, our way is not the safe way, for as I wrote in my March 1, 2022 post, “Not Every Family Has an Elsie.”

The Blum family lesson for business leaders is to train successors and, hard as it is, delegate important tasks to them so they can learn. Let’s observe more real world “do’s and don’ts” from three other recent stories of succession. Here is my version of “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.”

The Good: H-E-B grocery is a multiple recipient of the Dunnhumby award as the top U.S. grocery retailer, named for owner Howard E. Butt. In the article, “That Time I Met the Owner of H-E-B, and Drove Through a River,” Christopher de Vinck credits H-E-B’s succession win with the strong culture the Butt family instilled in their Texas grocery chain (DallasNews.com). Originally founded by Florence Butt, the business passed from her to son Howard Sr., then to Howard Jr., and now to other Butt family members. Howard Jr. challenged his team with this question: “Is our work a paycheck or a calling?” As a leader, Butt lived by his motto “The High Calling of Our Daily Work” and taught “the difference between a company that only cares about money and a company that cares about the customers.” Butt passed down that “spiritual beauty of the best entrepreneurial practices.” Crediting Butt’s values-based leadership for H-E-B grocery’s business continuity, de Vinck sums up the reason for their success: “What a leader says at the top filters throughout the system.”

The Bad: Three months before French fashion designer Pierre Cardin died at 98 of Covid, he boasted to a reporter: “After my death? I don’t think about it. I didn’t organize anything. NOTHING.” The result: a notorious legal battle among 22 family members claiming to be heirs. Cardin, who never had children, left behind an UNSIGNED will designating one nephew Rodrigo to take over his 99.999% ownership. Unsurprisingly, a Paris court ruled the will invalid. As Dana Thomas quotes in “A Tale of Family Intrigue and Inheritance” (New York Times, Sept. 25, 2023), “He didn’t want to hand over his power. He wanted to keep it until the end.” Worse yet, Pierre Cardin refused to create a legally binding succession plan for his family: “Every time we said, ‘Let’s go to the notary and put it down on paper,’ he canceled at the last minute. He couldn’t imagine someone replacing him.” He saw himself as indispensable, bringing to mind another famous Frenchman Charles de Gaulle who wisely admonished: “Cemeteries are full of indispensable people.” Cardin is in one of those graves now while his family feuds over the mega-mess he left behind, three wanting to continue the legacy and 19 wanting to sell and cash out.

The Ugly: Can it get worse? Consider the drama playing out in real time in the Hermes luxury fashion house. Nicolas Puech, also childless like Cardin, is a fifth-generation billionaire owner who has ignited a bitter succession war within the Hermes dynasty. Observe this real-life story where truth is stranger than fiction. The Hermes descendant is adopting his 51-year-old gardener and designating this “‘handyman’ from a ‘modest Moroccan family’ as his rightful heir” (Mary K. Jacob, “Hermes Heir Awarding 51-Year-Old Gardener $11B Fortune, $5.9M in Properties,” New York Post, Dec. 11, 2023). His actions have triggered “an acrimonious battle within the family…[and] irreparable discord with his kin.” Puech had previously pledged his fortune to the Isocrates Foundation, who “opposes any unilateral cancellation of the inheritance contract.” Was it a “contract” or a revocable pledge? Let’s watch to see how this ugly showdown unfolds.

Perhaps script writers are already busy writing a sequel to “Succession.” There’s certainly plenty of material for it here, and even more to come in my upcoming posts.

Marvin Blum speaking in Midland on Business Succession Planning, the most neglected (and potentially dramatic) area of estate planning.

 

Podcast: Introduction to Corporate Trustees in Texas

The Blum Firm attorneys Keith Morris and Stacy Kelly have released the next episode of their “Before You Go…” podcast. In this episode, Stacy and Keith are joined by Beth Owens, Trust Officer at American National Bank & Trust.

The trio dive deep into the role of a trustee, discussing their responsibilities and how they can manage a trust effectively. Tune in to hear Beth’s insightful observations about corporate trustees and their ability to manage complex situations. The conversation also discusses the importance of keeping accurate records, the necessity of clear communication with beneficiaries, protection of beneficiaries from scammers, and the benefits of appointing a co-trustee or corporate trustee as agent.

Check it out here on Youtube.

What I Learned from Presidents Bush and Clinton

I had a mountaintop experience a few days ago. Attending the 25th Anniversary Conference for TIGER 21, the highlight was a candid conversation with President Bush and President Clinton. Without getting deeply political, I’ll share a few presidential takeaways that apply to my efforts to help families create a lasting legacy and thrive from generation to generation.

First and foremost is the example they set as close friends in spite of their political differences. Only 44 days apart in age, Bush described Clinton as a “brother from another mother.” They are role models for civility. When we disagree with family members or others, look to Bush and Clinton for inspiration on how to maintain civil discourse in spite of differing viewpoints.

Here’s a case in point. Clinton ran an aggressive campaign and deprived Bush’s father, George H.W. Bush, of a second term. Moderator Michael Sonnenfeldt asked Bush if he held any resentment over Clinton beating his dad. Bush answered absolutely not. Coming from political families, “we understand losing elections.” He elaborated that his dad had lost multiple elections, never winning a statewide election in Texas. Yet the Bush family respected the process and held no remorse.

Eight years later, Bush defeated Clinton’s Vice President Al Gore in a hotly contested presidential race, yet Bush and Clinton continued to get along. In the first term of his presidency, Bush called upon his dad and Clinton to work together to help him. He appointed them to head up the American response to the disastrous Indian Ocean tsunami. A year later, Bush again called upon them to team up to help address the Hurricane Katrina crisis. Given today’s political polarization, it’s astounding to observe such high-minded behavior. As my wife Laurie would say, “it’s always best to take the high road.” Bush and Clinton certainly took the high road.

Another takeaway that I recommend for families wrestling with tension is to preserve a sense of humor. Though the topics were serious and potentially contentious, Bush and Clinton found connection by sharing humor. A light-hearted comment can help us restore perspective that the relationship we share is what is paramount. Once, Bush jumped in with an answer before the notoriously long-winded Clinton could respond, chiding Clinton for always “talking too long,” so this time Bush wanted to have the floor first. When Clinton’s Apple watch went off, interrupting the flow, Bush joked: “Tell Hillary hi.” A further humorous tribute to their family connection was Bush kidding that Clinton visited his elderly “HW” dad at their Kennebunkport home even more than son “W” did.

My favorite example of humor came in their opening lines. Sonnenfeldt began with the observation that half the attendees at the conference likely voted for Bush and half likely voted for Clinton. Bush’s quick retort: “All of you would vote for either one of us today.” To which Clinton added: “Except we’re too young.” That humor opened the door for a very relaxed and revealing program.

A final observation that applies to family conflict is to find common ground. With Bush and Clinton, there was plenty of common ground. Both expressed concern over those in America who are advocating for isolationism. They were emphatically aligned on their unwavering support for Israel, doing “whatever it takes” to protect Israel and insure its survival. They also expressed fervent support for Ukraine, saying the world would long regret it if Putin won.

Both are champions for bipartisan cooperation. Bush praised Clinton for repeatedly reaching consensus with House Speaker Newt Gingrich, whom Clinton would frequently call to the White House. Per Clinton, Gingrich’s staff started discouraging Gingrich from attending those meetings, aware that Clinton had a way of convincing Gingrich to cave in.

The conversation ended with optimism for America’s future, citing advancements in technology, healthcare, education, and entrepreneurship. They believe the strength of our institutions will withstand whatever happens in the next election and the following four years. Let’s hope they’re right.

The program was an inspiring reminder to cling to values of decency and civility in spite of our disagreements. Families striving for harmony can draw valuable lessons from these leaders. The session ended with Bush planting a big kiss on Clinton’s right temple, which was very warmly received. That kiss served as yet another lesson to battling relatives—follow mother’s advice to put aside differences “and now kiss and make up.”

Marvin E. Blum

Marvin Blum was honored to meet Presidents Bush and Clinton, role models for civility and decency despite their differences. May their example inspire families to do the same.

What I Learned From My Brother-in-Law’s T-Shirt

I have a brother-in-law Barry Wilen (married to Laurie’s sister Diane) who is one of those super-smart, walking encyclopedia kind of guys. Normally, his wisdom deals with academic topics and world events. But on a recent visit to their home in Hollywood, Florida, Barry waxed eloquent on a softer topic—the benefits of walking. To be more specific, it was actually Barry’s T-shirt that did the talking.

Laurie and I joined Barry and Diane on their morning ritual, a three-mile walk in Topeekeegee Yugnee Park. As the photo of the front of Barry’s T-shirt attests, they’ve passed the 10,000-mile mark. But even more impressive is the back of Barry’s T-shirt that touts some of the many benefits of walking.

Barry’s wisdom on walking brought to mind my post of August 22, 2023, entitled “Take a Walk– Alone, No Phone.” That post promoted the benefit of walks in nature, particularly silent walking and moments of stillness. Although the Wilen hikes aren’t silent, the experience is still inspirational and restorative.

Reflecting on that post, I recalled the powerful reaction that it generated. As we contemplate the immense physical and spiritual benefits of taking walks, I’ll share some of the profound comments readers of that post sent me.

  • “YES, Marvin! YES! This is gold. Wonderful post and stillness, to me, is the new busy. Somewhere along the way we culturally accepted busy (often rushed) as the norm. That if you weren’t ‘crazy busy’ you weren’t DOING enough. We are after all a productivity culture. Creativity or vision or ideas come in the stillness. Stillness makes way for gratitude, which is the ultimate state in which to receive. Connection to G-d is found in the stillness. Meditation changed my life 2 years ago. I just love this post.”
  • I do my best thinking when I am alone walking. I do my walk around the TCU campus and intentionally do not listen to a podcast or call anyone on the phone. It is so nourishing.”
  • “Today’s article resonated with me. I am actually planning on walking the El Camino trail across Portugal and Spain and plan to only use my cell in an emergency. Like you discovered on your walk around Lady Bird Lake, I am excited by the prospect to be completely detached from technology and have a couple of hundred miles or so to calm that ‘hurricane’ that constantly occupies my mind.”
  • “Quoting from an article “Walking” in The Atlantic, ‘I have met with but one or two persons in the course of my life who understood the art of Walking, that is, of taking walks—who had a genius, so to speak, for sauntering: …under pretense of going ‘a la Sainte Terre, to the Holy Land…. For every walk is a sort of crusade [to the] …Holy Land.”
  • “I have tried (sometimes more successfully than other times) to add thinking time to my day.” The reader attached an article about President Eisenhower, perfectly on point, from The New York Times (Jan. 19, 1954), “President Has Only Hour a Day to Think and Had to Beg for That.” “’The President’s main complaint is that we don’t give him enough time to think,’ Mr. Shanley said. ‘Finally, we had to set aside a half hour in the morning and the same time in the afternoon, in order to give the President the time he requires.’”
  • “Regarding ‘Take a Walk,’ I’m a huge proponent and have been all my life. My grandfather was a locally known ‘naturalist’ in Southwestern Wisconsin and has a trail named after him. He and my father taught me that part of the time should be spent silently, listening to sounds and seeing sights.”

This last piece of wisdom came with a link to a brilliant article on Today.com by Daryl Austin (Aug. 25, 2023) called “What Is Silent Walking?” advocating silent walking “to disconnect from all the noise and chaos that is part of our busy world.” The article offers tips on how to do it, warning it’s easier said than done. Benefits include reduced anxiety levels, improved sleep, lower blood pressure and heart rate, improved blood glucose levels, and a boost to the immune system.

I hope you’re as inspired as I am to take time for some meditative walks. Who knows what meaningful revelations may emerge!

(1) Marvin Blum with brother-in-law Barry Wilen, a walking enthusiast who has logged more than 10,000 miles on the trails of Topeekeegee Yugnee Park in Hollywood, Florida. (2) The back of Barry Wilen’s T-shirt waxes eloquent on the benefits of walking. Here’s to your physical and mental wellbeing!

 

Podcast Episode 2: Understanding Guardianships in Texas

The Blum Firm attorneys Keith Morris and Stacy Kelly have released the second episode of their “Before You Go…” podcast. Episode 2 is “Understanding Guardianships in Texas: What You Need to Know.”

In this episode, Stacy and Keith discuss the basics of a guardianship in Texas, the difference between a guardianship of the person and a guardianship of the estate, and the different situations that can lead to litigation involving guardianships. They also share real-life examples, including a high-profile case involving the owner of the Houston Texans, to illustrate how complex and costly these situations can be.

Check it out here on YouTube.

Welcome Attorney Anna Rose St. Martin

Attorney Anna Rose St. Martin

We’re proud to announce that Anna Rose St. Martin has joined The Blum Firm as an Associate Attorney in our Fort Worth office.

Anna Rose earned her J.D. cum laude from Texas A&M University School of Law in 2022.

While in law school, Anna Rose was a Teaching Assistant for the Academic Support Program and Professor Fortney’s Legal Ethics Research Assistant. She also participated with the Alternative Dispute Resolution Competition Team in Mediation and served as Vice President of the Longhorn Law Student Association.

Anna Rose earned her undergraduate degree—a Bachelor of Science in Communication Studies with a McCombs Business Foundation Minor—from the University of Texas at Austin with High Honors. While at the University of Texas, she earned a Certificate in Ethics and Leadership in Law, Politics, and Government as part of the Bridging Disciplines Program.

Anna Rose’s contact information can be found here.

Please join us in welcoming Anna Rose to The Blum Firm team!

More Wisdom from “Frugal” Warren Buffett (Including His Wife’s Reaction to a $4 Coffee)

Last week’s post was dedicated to the wisdom of Warren Buffett’s longtime sidekick Charlie Munger who died in late 2023 at age 99. Today’s post looks ahead to 2024 and the next annual meeting without Munger. Although Charlie is irreplaceable and we’ll miss his sharp intellect and wit, the show must go on. Our family has already booked our annual pilgrimage to Omaha for this year’s annual meeting on May 3-5. Come join us!

In anticipation of the upcoming “Woodstock for Capitalists” (as the annual meeting is commonly dubbed), I’ll share a few tidbits of wisdom from the Oracle of Omaha. Previous posts have described much of Warren’s estate planning philosophy. Today, let’s dive deeper into Buffett’s estate plan, as many join me in finding it to be instructive.

The Oracle of Omaha revealed in his 2020 annual letter to shareholders that his Will directs his executors “not to sell any Berkshire shares.” Furthermore, after the estate closes and the shares transfer to trusts, the trustees are likewise directed to sell no Berkshire stock. Over the 12 to 15 years following his death, they are to gradually convert portions of A shares into B shares and distribute them all to various foundations.

Buffett acknowledges that absent such explicit direction, state law would require his fiduciaries to diversify assets. Accordingly, “my Will also absolves both the executors and the trustees from liability from maintaining what obviously will be an extreme concentration of assets.”

Buffett believes that holding Berkshire stock during the 12 to 15 years disposal period will enrich his estate better than an upfront sale and reinvestment in US Treasury bonds. Although perhaps not the “safe” course, “there is a high probability that [his] directive will deliver substantially greater resources to society.” As he later expounds in a Nov. 2023 Berkshire news release, “Berkshire’s advantage is that it has been built to last.”

Here’s the lesson from Buffett’s “Berkshire-only” instructions. If you own a family business, real estate, or certain other investments that you want preserved in your trust, spell it out in your estate plan. Otherwise, state law will likely force your trustees to liquidate and diversify.

Interestingly, Buffett’s estate plan doesn’t delay making charitable gifts until his death. In a Berkshire news release in June 2023, Buffett announced that over the last 17 years, he has gifted about $50 billion of Berkshire stock to five foundations as part of a plan for annual grants he adopted in 2006. By far the largest recipient is the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Buffett confirmed that the plan will continue after his death: “My Will provides that more than 99% of my estate is destined for philanthropic usage.” In the Nov. 2023 news release, he offers further wisdom on the reason for his philanthropy at death: “My children, along with their father, have a common belief that dynastic wealth, though both legal and common in much of the world including the United States, is not desirable….Private philanthropy will always have an important place in America.”

As previously reported, I’ve had the privilege of asking Buffett estate planning questions at three Berkshire Hathaway annual meetings. Each time, Buffett stresses the importance of raising kids, especially affluent kids, with solid values. Per Buffett, the best way for parents to build a lasting legacy is being role models who live those values themselves. He advises that kids are watching their parents more than they are listening to them.

Since the kids are watching, Buffett cautions against living an extravagant lifestyle, even if there’s great wealth. Worth about $115 billion as the world’s seventh richest person, Buffett takes that value to the extreme, to the point of being considered “frugal.” According to a Business Insider article last July 14th, “Bill Gates, a longtime friend of the 92-year-old, once recalled the billionaire pulling out a handful of coupons to pay for a McDonald’s meal.” Moreover, Buffett still lives in the same Omaha house he bought for $31,500 in 1958.

That frugality spills over to Buffett’s family. That same Business Insider article reported that at a summer summit for billionaires in Sun Valley, Idaho, Warren’s wife Astrid Buffett was overheard griping to resort employees about having to pay $4 for a cup of coffee. She complained that she could buy a whole pound of coffee for that price. Astrid was working as a waitress at the French Café in Omaha when she first met Warren. They married in 2006, and it’s evident she embraces her husband’s views on conservative spending.

For all those who cling to every story and piece of advice we can glean from the Oracle, Buffett is certainly a gift that keeps on giving.

Marvin E. Blum

Estate planning attorney Marvin Blum with son Adam and a cutout of Warren Buffett

Marvin Blum (left) with son Adam, part of the “Warren Buffett Fan Club” that welcomes all tidbits of wisdom from the Oracle of Omaha. 

New Podcast: “Before You Go…”

Attorneys Keith Morris and Stacy Kelly have launched a new podcast!

The podcast is called “Before you Go…,” and their first episode is available now—“Unraveling the Texas Probate, Trust, and Guardianship Landscape.”

Death is one of life’s certainties. Yet, it’s not easy to contemplate a world that moves on without us. It’s common to feel anxious and have questions. Attorneys Keith Morris and Stacy Kelly provide practical insights, simplify complex legal topics, and empower you in navigating Texas probate, trust, and guardianship issues.

It’s available on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and YouTube. Be sure to subscribe in your favorite podcast app so you don’t miss out on what you need to know before you go.

Check it out here on YouTube.

Fiduciary litigators attorneys Keith Morris and Stacy Kelly

A Role Model for Philanthropy with Strings: Rest in Peace, Charlie Munger

While I’m still reflecting on 2023, I lament the passing of Charlie Munger at age 99, Warren Buffett’s sidekick at Berkshire-Hathaway for nearly 50 years. All of us in Charlie’s fan club knew the day would come, though we kept hoping it’d be later. He was the kind of guy who just seemed like he might live forever—brilliant and quick-witted all the way till the end. We can learn a lot from Charlie’s life. He was a voracious reader who committed the bulk of every day to learning. He was a genius investor who freely shared his advice, such as buying quality companies with good upside potential, paying a good (even though not bargain) price, rather than buying cheaper damaged goods. But the lessons from Charlie Munger’s life I want to focus on today is his philanthropy.

Per Karen Langley’s Wall Street Journal article “Charlie Munger’s Donations Came with Plans Down to the Details,” (Dec. 4, 2023), he gave more than $500 million to universities, hospitals, and other institutions. But “Munger didn’t just write checks.” He was a generous donor, but his gifts came with strings. He had specific ideas for the use of philanthropic dollars, and he attached conditions to his gifts. When he funded campus projects, the money came with blueprints for the design. For example, “he pushed for high ceilings and plentiful common areas and expressed his dislike for buildings with curves.”

Munger was especially interested in the design of student housing, seeing it as “a component of education…. It’s where young people meet and learn to exchange ideas and form business relationships that they’ll then have for the rest of their lives.” I can personally attest to the value of student interaction, as I consider the lifelong impact of my law school classmates on my law practice. To facilitate such interaction, Munger insisted that hallways should be wider “such that when people see each other they are comfortable interacting whenever they bump into each other.” Munger Hall at UC Santa Barbara was a residence hall so large that it even contained interior bedrooms in order to house thousands more students. Munger eliminated bedroom windows, opting for “artificial windows with LED lighting that would mimic natural daylight.” One architect was so offended by the omission of bedroom windows that he resigned, but Munger refused to budge.

Recent media coverage highlights many major donors who have been disappointed by the way their funds are being spent by universities, often the donor’s own alma mater that the donor believes has gone off course. Munger’s approach is instructive. His advice would be to carefully design the gift, so it is contractual. Make the donation pursuant to an agreement that spells out detailed conditions where, if violated, the gift is revoked.

As generous as he was, the billionaire Munger refused to join his partner Buffett in signing Bill Gates’ Giving Pledge to donate at least half of your net worth to charity. The reason? He’d already given more than half of his wealth to his kids. (Sounds like Charlie did some very effective estate planning!) Unwilling to sign the pledge, he explained, “I’ve already given more than half of it to my children. So I can’t join them. It’s like coming back from the dead. I can’t do it.”

As we look to Munger as a role model, it’s interesting that Munger’s philanthropic views were inspired by one of his role models. “I’ve patterned my life after [Benjamin] Franklin. I stopped trying to make more money when I had enough. He did the same damn thing. He didn’t try to die with all his money, he gave away a lot of it…I’ve done the same thing.”

In the second of my three opportunities to ask a question at Berkshire annual meetings, I had the privilege of asking Warren & Charlie about their charitable giving. In their answer to me, Warren echoed Charlie’s sentiments about giving it away before you die, joking: “As Charlie said the other day, where he’s going, it won’t do him much good anyway. There’s no Forbes 400 in the graveyard.” Sadly, Charlie now lies in that graveyard, but his legacy lives on in millions of dollars of gifts designed exactly the way he wanted that money spent. And if those recipients ever go against Charlie’s wishes, I’m sure he’ll figure out a way to come back and haunt them.

Marvin E. Blum

Charlie Munger and Adam Blum

Marvin Blum’s son Adam with the irreplaceable and no-nonsense Charlie Munger, a role model for carefully structuring charitable gifts to meet the donor’s specifications.

 

How My Work and Workout Communities Enrich My Life (and Maybe Will Help Propel Me to 98 Like Anna Stucker)

In last week’s post, I told of a joyful holiday visit from our kids and five rambunctious grandkids (even though a shattered porcelain pot means one less thing in our estate sale when we die). Reflecting on last month’s holidays brings many happy thoughts, all associated with meaningful interactions with family and friends. As I think about those holiday gatherings, here’s what hit me. Our lives are richly blessed by being a part of some wonderful communities. I began to count those communities, and in doing so, I count my blessings.

Research shows that being a part of a community does more than make you feel happier. It also actually makes you feel healthier. Indeed, the research goes so far as to show that it contributes to our longevity. More than that, of the top ten factors that help us live longer, the top two have to do with human interaction and relationships.

My post from June 14, 2022, on Ten Keys to a Long (and Good) Life listed ten factors (in reverse order of importance) which I’ll repeat here:

10. Clean air
9. Hypertension medication
8. Staying lean
7. Exercise
6. Cardiac rehab
5. Flu vaccine
4. Quit drinking
3. Quit smoking
2. Close relationships
1. Social integration

Being a member of a community feeds the top two reasons people live long and good lives. The human connection is food for the soul, which in turn contributes to a healthy body, mind, and spirit. It’s all connected.

The holidays brought me interactions with so many meaningful communities: my family, Canoe Brothers, TIGER 21 colleagues, neighbors, friends, civic organizations, fellow Longhorn boosters at the Sugar Bowl (we almost did it!), and others. But I want to shine a light on two that especially enrich my life: my work community and my workout community. These two in particular work together to give my life balance.

I typically refer to my work community as The Blum Firm “family.” I use the word family very sincerely. I shared in prior posts that my first lawyer job was in the Big Law world, which was not a happy fit for me. When I left to form The Blum Firm, I made a vow to create a caring environment where people would be surrounded by co-workers who support each other and care about each other. When I’m asked about my greatest professional accomplishment, the answer is easy: it’s the team I’ve assembled. We share a commitment to our clients and each other, and we strive for excellence in everything we do. No one here is flying solo. We know we can rely on the strengths of everyone in the firm to always be there to help, making each of us a better professional and a happier worker. When I left the big law firm, my father-in-law wisely said, “Don’t be mad at them. Send them a thank-you note.” Boy was Abe Kriger right! I am grateful every day that I get to spend my work hours with a wonderful work family.

The old adage to avoid an “all work and no play” life certainly speaks to my efforts to build a balanced life. Part of how I aim for balance is to spend a part of each day working out. As I got older, I discovered that my workout experience is far better if I do it with a group. Laurie and I are members of a fitness center where we do almost all our workouts in classes. Our workout group has become another meaningful community. We encourage each other and enjoy the camaraderie. As each other’s accountability partners, we are much more inclined to show up and give it our all. For those whose new year’s resolution list includes more regular exercise, I strongly urge you to join a fitness group.

I’ll close with a tribute to one of the stars of our workout community, 98-years-young Anna Stucker. Anna is our role model. I joined an aquatics class and Anna shows up every day to not only swim but also serve as the class cheerleader. It turns out that she had perfect training for that role. When she attended college at the University of Kansas, she was a Jayhawks cheerleader. Anna graduated with a geology degree, moved to Texas for work as a geologist, married and raised three outstanding kids, and never stopped being physically active. Anna is a perfect example of the longevity benefits of both staying active and also staying connected with people. Her mind is as sharp as ever. And on top of that, she still fits in her Kansas cheerleader uniform! Anna inspires us all.

As we embark on 2024, may we all find the fulfillment of becoming connected with communities. We’ll be happier and healthier for it, and maybe even at 98, we can be like Anna Stucker!

Marvin E. Blum

Estate planning attorney Marvin Blum in pool exercise class

(1) Laurie and Marvin Blum celebrating Anna Stucker’s 98th birthday. (2) Marvin Blum (far right) and his aquatics colleagues, with role model Anna Stucker (age 98) in the center. (3-Photo Below) Building a superstar team at The Blum Firm is Marvin Blum’s greatest professional achievement. Here they are celebrating the 2023 holiday season.

Group of employees and family of The Blum Firm

Welcome Attorney Lynn Waller Kelly

We’re proud to welcome Lynn Waller Kelly, former Associate Judge of Tarrant County Probate Court 2, to The Blum Firm! She joins us as Partner in our Fort Worth office.

Lynn’s practice focuses on both contested and uncontested probate matters, including estates and guardianships, throughout North Texas. As Associate Judge for Tarrant County Probate Court 2 for six years, she presided over more than 6,000 probate hearings. An experienced litigator, Lynn has tried over 100 cases to North Texas juries.

Lynn is a member of the College of the State Bar of Texas. She earned her Juris Doctor at Pepperdine University School of Law. She has practiced in Dallas-Fort Worth since 1989. She has been a featured speaker for Texas Guardianship Association, Baylor Law School, Texas A&M Law School, Tarrant County Bar Association, North Texas Probate Bar Association, and support groups for parents of children with special needs.

Welcome to the team, Lynn!

One Less Thing for Our Estate Sale When We Die

I’ve always been a big advocate of bedtime reading to kids. As Adam and Lizzy were growing up, we built a collection of children’s books and I’d read one (or more likely, several) to them every night. I credit that ritual with the fact that Adam and Lizzy both grew up to be voracious readers. I’ve continued that nightly practice now with our five grandkids. An interesting thing about kids’ books is that there’s actually a lot of grown-up wisdom in them. I recalled a piece of that wisdom over the holidays to help me through a challenging episode in our home. The source of that wisdom was a Sesame Street book entitled Bert and the Broken Teapot.

Here’s what happened. During the last week of the year, we went from a home of two to a home of 11, plus a dog. It was a joy to have our kids and grandkids (ages 11-3) with us over the holidays. But as any honest person will tell you, it’s also a hectic experience. One Friday night we made it even more hectic by inviting nine more to join us for Shabbat dinner, including 3 more munchkins. As you can imagine, eight little ones running around is a fun scene, but a recipe for chaos. Soon there was a CRASH! Stella, the biggest of the bunch, collided into a table and the breakable contents went flying. One casualty was a beautiful porcelain pot.

I remained calm on the outside, but my insides were in turmoil. Then my mind went back to Bert and the Broken Teapot, and I quickly began to heal. In that story, Bert was minding the soda fountain for David when he accidentally knocked over the special teapot that Mr. Hooper had given David years ago. Like my porcelain pot, it was now in a million pieces. Bert felt terrible about it and fought back tears to say “I’m sorry,” as Stella did to me. Here’s how David responded: “My friend Bert is more important to me than any teapot.” Those words were ringing in my ears. My granddaughter Stella is more important to me than any porcelain pot.

From her reading, Lizzy also came to my rescue and waxed yet more philosophical. She explained that Viktor Frankl, an Austrian psychiatrist who survived the Nazi concentration camps, taught that “between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” We cannot control what happens. The only thing we can control is how we respond to it. The crash happened. Now I was in that space where I had the freedom to choose how to respond. I chose to prioritize my love for my granddaughter (and my understanding that this kind of thing happens when you have a house full of kids) over some THING. Lizzy went on to explain that Frankl’s wisdom applies well beyond broken pots. In her words, here’s how she uses it to handle life’s challenges: “I say, ‘ok, this is the situation. I can either fall apart, refuse to acknowledge it and build up anger, or deal with it the best way I can and hand the rest over to G-d.’” That night, the tables turned and the father learned a lesson from the daughter.

My wife Laurie chimed in with her own good wisdom to help everyone feel better: “Who cares about a pot? So there’ll be one less thing in the estate sale when we die.” So simple, yet so profound, and so true!

And as if all that wisdom from Sesame Street, Viktor Frankl, Lizzy Savetsky, and Laurie Blum wasn’t enough, a session of restorative yoga helped get my headspace right too. In these hectic times, we need all the help we can get!

As I’ve often emphasized in this blog, we have to be intentional to create family “glue” that helps keep a family connected over the generations. Let’s learn from the actions of those 10% of families who do it best. They have family meetings, teach meaningful lessons to their kids, engage in philanthropy, take family trips, preserve stories of their heritage, and very importantly, they gather as a family for special occasions and holidays and keep alive family traditions, just as we were doing at that Shabbat dinner. Don’t let a broken pot spoil the beauty of your family time together.

Marvin E. Blum

(1) When rambunctious kids like Marvin Blum’s five grandkids invade your home and maybe even break a pot, keep perspective about what really matters. (2) Restorative yoga also helps Marvin, daughter Lizzy, and granddaughter Stella keep their headspace right.

New Year’s Resolution: Don’t Be Like Scarlett O’Hara

Here’s to a new year and all the promise it holds for a brighter 2024! In the spirit of new year’s resolutions, let’s tackle the number one obstacle to estate planning: procrastination. In Gone with the Wind, Scarlett O’Hara famously dodged today’s problems by declaring, “I’ll worry about that tomorrow.” Scarlett’s decision to violate Thomas Jefferson’s proverb and “put off until tomorrow that which could be done today” may have helped her cope with Civil War devastation, but it’s not a wise strategy for estate planning. The most obvious reason is our mortality. We have no guarantee of living until tomorrow. But there’s another reason not to tarry. There’s about to be a mad rush to do “use it or lose it” planning by December 31, 2025.

As Hayley Cuccinello warns in a recent Business Insider article, “In the next two years, estate planning will rev up into high gear as the end to the Trump tax cuts approaches.” In particular, a person’s unused lifetime estate and gift tax exemption will decline by about $7 million as the clock strikes midnight on December 31, 2025. I call it the “Cinderella” effect—when her coach suddenly turns back into a pumpkin. Go to bed with a $14 million exemption. Wake up with a $7 million exemption. Poof—$7 million exemption is gone ($14 million for a couple).

Here’s another reason to examine your estate plan in the new year. On January 1, 2024, the lifetime exemption rose by $690,000 to $13,610,000 per person. Even if a married couple fully utilized their exemptions through prior planning, they now have an additional $1,380,000, half of which will go to waste in not locked in by December 31, 2025. In addition, the annual exclusion for gifts rose from $17,000 per donee to $18,000 per donee, so a couple can now give each child (or any other donee) $36,000 free of estate and gift tax.

By using certain squeeze & freeze tools like DGTs, SLATs, and GRATs, you can lock in the doubled lifetime exemption before it sunsets in half. However, you must act soon, lest you awaken with remorse on New Year’s Day, two years from now.

Through creative trust planning, you can lock in the exemption but retain access, control, and flexibility over your assets. As Cuccinello points out, “Some of these tax avoidance techniques might be eyebrow-raising, yet they are perfectly legal.”

In addition to the above-mentioned squeeze & freeze ideas, Cuccinello touts Qualified Personal Residence Trusts (QPRTs), Charitable Remainder Trusts (CRTs), Private Placement Life Insurance (PPLI), and Dynasty Trusts that last up to 1,000 years (note that Texas now allows 300-year trusts). She also advocates doing planning before the economy fully recovers. “The down market has one silver lining…. It is an optimal time to create new trusts as people can transfer depressed assets” at a lower valuation. Pre-recovery planning beats post-recovery planning.

Two years may seem far off. But if your experience is like mine, two years will fly by in a flash. The older I get, the more time seems to speed up. Moreover, waiting until 2025 to plan is also a risky idea. Estate Planning lawyers will be swamped. My colleagues and I learned in 2012 and 2021 how challenging it is to handle the expanded workflow from impending law changes.

As we move into 2024, now’s the ideal time to start the planning process. I urge all who want to lock in the Trump tax cuts to get in front of the work crunch that’s coming. The clock is ticking. Make it a goal to start estate planning soon and wrap it up during 2024. Years from now, you’ll celebrate the work you did to set up your family for success.

Marvin E. Blum

The Blum Family wishes you all the best for 2024!

678 Trusts (also called Beneficiary Defective Irrevocable Trust)

Typically, when a client is considering options to help reduce estate taxes, the client must consider techniques that require the client to part with assets he or she has accumulated over the years. For example, many estate planning techniques involve gifting and/or selling the client’s assets to trusts that benefit the client’s children. As a result, the client permanently parts with the assets, as well as all of the future appreciation and the income stream from the assets. However, use of a “678 Trust” (sometimes also called a Beneficiary Defective Irrevocable Trust or “BDIT”) allows the client to combine asset protection, estate tax savings associated with “estate freeze” techniques, and the continued ability to benefit from assets he or she has accumulated over the years.

Paper: 678 Trusts – Planning Strategies and Pitfalls (2024)

Paper: Squeeze, Freeze, and Burn with 678 Trusts (2024)

Slide Deck: Squeeze, Freeze, & Burn – Estate Planning with 678 Trusts (2018)

Math Class on How to Achieve Happiness

As we close out 2023, I remain hopeful for a happier 2024. When it comes to finding “Happiness,” Arthur Brooks has the formula. Laurie and I recently learned “The Science of Happiness” at a stimulating lecture by this best-selling author of 12 books. Brooks just released yet another book, this one co-authored with Oprah Winfrey, entitled Build the Life You Want: The Art and Science of Getting Happier. Brooks’ Harvard business school course on Happiness is always jam-packed with a long waiting list. In his lecture, Brooks identified a mathematical path to finding happiness. Let’s go back to algebra class and learn the happiness formula from Professor Brooks.

To define happiness, Brooks starts with this equation: Happiness = Enjoyment + Satisfaction + Purpose.

Happiness is not just a “feeling” you get; it is more lasting than that. Enjoyment includes a conscious awareness of pleasure in your life. Satisfaction is the joy of accomplishing a goal with effort. Purpose comes from living a life with meaning. There is so much more to happiness than just feeling joy.

Brooks takes issue with Mick Jagger’s song lyrics, “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction.” With work, you can get it, but the problem is, you can’t keep it. Once you find satisfaction, your body soon returns to equilibrium, and you lose the buzz. To sustain satisfaction, the answer isn’t to increase what you have. Instead, preserving satisfaction comes from increasing this fraction: Satisfaction = Haves ÷ Wants.

Back to math class, there are two ways to increase a fraction. One way is to increase the numerator. The other way is to decrease the denominator. Brooks favors the second way. To increase satisfaction, don’t try to increase your “haves;” better to decrease your “wants.”

Now to the third element of happiness: purpose. To achieve purpose, you must find meaning in your life. Per Brooks, “you can’t get along for even one day without meaning; you will be depressed.” To discover meaning, you need to know that you are alive for a reason. Your life matters. You have significance. To learn your “why,” Brooks poses two questions:

  • Why are you alive?
  • For what are you willing to die?

To illustrate, Brooks tells his son’s story. Not a strong student, he found his “why” in the military as a sniper. Brooks is justifiably proud of his son’s answer to question two: “my faith, my family, and the United States of America.”

Why are some people happier than others? Yet again, Brooks resorts to math: Happiness = 50% Genes + 25% Circumstances + 25% Habits.

Even if your genetics predispose you to being unhappy, you can counteract it with good habits. The next component depends on your circumstances at the time, which of course, isn’t permanent. So, the key to fighting challenging genetics and circumstances comes down to the one component you can control: habits.

My greatest takeaway from Brooks’ lecture is to actively pursue four good habits. Here’s his final equation: Faith + Family + Friends + Work = Habits for a Meaningful Happy Life.

Faith: Faith provides a way to “zoom out of yourself,” transcending your reality into a realm of spirituality. To Brooks, it is his Roman Catholic faith, but the path to spirituality doesn’t have to be through religion.

Family: This is a love you didn’t choose. It was chosen for you. Don’t disconnect from your family (except in cases of abuse). Brooks laments that one in six people in the U.S. don’t talk to their family because of politics.

Friends: There are two kinds of friends: “real” friends and “deal” friends. A deal friendship is transactional: “What can you do for me?” Deal friends are “useful.” However, the goal is to cultivate real friends—those whom you love even though they are “useless” to you.

Work: Work is essential to happiness, but only if it checks two boxes: (1) Your success was earned, not given to you; and (2) Your work serves the needs of others.

In my work of holistic (“head and heart”) estate planning, I take a much broader view of helping families. I’m still driven to help families save tax and protect assets, but I get great satisfaction from also helping families live fulfilling lives, connected with each other. I’m honored to share Arthur Brooks’ math lesson for happiness, so we need not live a life where we “can’t get no satisfaction.” Now that Professor Brooks has taught us how, here’s to getting happier in 2024!

Marvin E. Blum

Marvin and Laure Blum went back to math class and learned the key to happiness from Harvard professor and author Arthur Brooks.

ATTENTION: Uncle Sam Wants Your Information! Act Now to Save $500 Per Day!

All U.S. entities need to know this! A new law goes into effect in less than two weeks. This law will require most business entities to file an information report on or before December 31, 2024. Failure to timely file may result in civil penalties of $500 per day. In some cases, criminal prosecution could result in a fine of up to $10,000 and/or imprisonment of up to 2 years.

The law is called the Corporate Transparency Act (“CTA”), and it goes into effect January 1, 2024. It is aimed at combatting money laundering. The CTA requires that certain entities submit information about their owners and any other individuals who have substantial control of the company in a report called a Beneficial Ownership Information Report (“BOI Report”). The information will be maintained by the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (“FinCEN”) and will not be publicly available.

New entities created in 2024 must file initial BOI Reports within 90 calendar days of formation. Beginning January 1, 2025, new entities will have just 30 calendar days to file their initial BOI Report. For existing entities—companies existing prior to January 1, 2024, they must submit their beneficial owner information by January 1, 2025.

This law applies to all entity types that are formed by filing a document with a Secretary of State unless an exception is met. (A Texas trust and a Texas general partnership are examples of entity types that are not subject to the CTA because no filing with a Secretary of State is required for formation.)

There are 23 categories of entities that are exempt from the requirements of the CTA. Tax-exempt entities are exempt from the reporting requirements of the CTA. Most other exemptions apply to companies already subject to government oversight such as securities brokers, bank holding companies, and insurance companies. Large operating companies are also exempt because the principal targets of the CTA are shell companies used for illicit purposes. Therefore, legal entities that have at least 20 full-time employees in the U.S. and at least $5 million in gross receipts are generally not subject to the CTA.

For more information, read “Understanding the New Corporate Transparency Act” HERE.

Gifts that Keep on Giving

In the holiday spirit of giving and sharing, I’d like to share with you a surprise I received from Kasia Flanagan. She brought me truly one of the best gifts I’ve ever received. Kasia owns Everyday Legacies, a company that helps families document and record their stories, whether by producing books, videos, or audio recordings. Kasia appeared at my office with a 300-page book she compiled containing my first 150 Family Legacy Planning blog posts. I am blown away by this amazing gift. It starts with my first post three years ago and proceeds week-by-week, concluding with the series I just wrote about our family’s recent trip to Israel. Reading these planning tips and Blum family highlights, I feel as if my life is flashing before my eyes. It’s very powerful to see it all pulled together in one place. I will treasure this gift forever and will pass down copies to future generations so they can also know the essence of their ancestor Marvin.

I had heard of Kasia’s excellent work, and I knew we share a passion for helping families succeed. Kasia and her team specialize in recording stories—a life story, a love story, special memories of a person, place, event, or experience. They are even running a holiday special on their 2-Hour Memoir Package if you reach out to them at www.everydaylegacies.com by the end of the year. Kasia describes a 2-hour memoir they did for a man who had just started on hospice. His story was preserved just in time. Kasia writes how touched she was by a note from the man’s son: “My mom loves the work. . . . Thanks so much—I think this really means a lot to her, more than she expected.” Kasia continues: “That message encapsulates everything we strive for—to provide connection to a family and something that they can treasure and hold on to when their loved one is gone.”

I am so honored that Kasia recognizes that I share her mission. I was moved by Kasia’s description of The Blum Firm: “More than just helping clients save money on their taxes and plan the distribution of their valuables, Marvin and his team pride themselves on providing service ‘with heart’ – helping clients see their personal legacy in a holistic way to preserve not only their material but their non-material assets as well.” Kasia’s endorsement means the world to me.

The goal of The Blum Firm’s Family Legacy Planning initiative is to help families achieve multi-generational connection. It’s so gratifying when we see the results in action. Here’s another “gift” of recognition I received a few days ago. This endorsement came from a long-time client, Janie: “Our family will be congregating for our Christmas celebration—25 adults from G1, G2, and G3, plus 10 G4’s. I can’t help but think Bill would be very pleased. I am so grateful that they all enjoy being together and because of Bill’s hard work and planning, we have the resources to make it happen. Thank you for your part in that as well.” Now I call that a multi-generational success story!

Shifting gears to the other side of the gifting equation, from receiving to giving, another gift that keeps on giving is family philanthropy. As I reflect on the highlights of 2023, one that stands out is joining with my daughter Lizzy to sign the “Jewish Future Pledge.” It’s a dark time for the Jews as we fight both a war in Israel as well as a war against skyrocketing antisemitism. One way to bring light into that darkness, as well as create some powerful family glue, is to support causes that help secure the Jewish future. The Talmud teaches: “I found a fruitful world because my ancestors planted it for me. Likewise, I am planting for my children.”

During this season of gift-giving, I urge us all to create meaningful gifts, like the one Kasia gave me and the one I am giving to my family by giving back. These are truly gifts that will keep on giving.

Wishing you all happy holidays and a brighter 2024.

Marvin E. Blum

(1) Marvin Blum is honored to receive a book compiling his first 150 blog posts from Kasia Flanagan of Everyday Legacies, truly a gift that will keep on giving! (2) For another gift that will keep on giving, Marvin Blum joins his daughter Lizzy Savetsky in signing the “Jewish Future Pledge” to help secure the future of the Jewish people.

Will Your Grandchildren Love Their Grandchildren?

In this holiday season, our thoughts turn to our family. The goal of this Family Legacy Planning blog is to help families pass down a meaningful legacy, a heritage that connects the generations to each other. My uncle, Rabbi Leonard Oberstein, said it so beautifully 14 years ago when he presided at our daughter Lizzy’s wedding: “You and Ira are another link in the unbroken chain of our family that goes all the way back to Mount Sinai.” Each generation is a link in an unbroken chain. We pass down not just our valuables, but more importantly, our values.

My mission is to help families achieve multi-generational success. How do you measure success? My esteemed colleague Ron Aucutt offers this profound measuring tool: “You have been a success if your grandchildren love their grandchildren.” Having spent last weekend celebrating Chanukah with our five grandkids at our niece Aimee’s wedding in New Orleans, Ron’s words speak loud and clear to me. Laurie and I are giving our all to pass down our values to those precious little ones. Chief among those values is to love and care for one another. We won’t be here physically to witness if our grandchildren love their grandchildren, but our aim is to be with them spiritually as they carry on a family legacy of love, l’dor vador, from generation to generation.

Speaking of Ron Aucutt, in the estate planning profession, there are a handful of lawyers widely acknowledged as rockstars by the legal community. Without question, Ron is one of these, greatly respected for his brilliant mind and technical proficiency. Last year, Aucutt delivered the Trachtman Lecture at the Annual Meeting of ACTEC (American College of Trusts & Estate Counsel) Fellows. Aucutt’s lecture “The Calling of the Counselor in Counseling Families” was recently published in the ACTEC Law Journal (Summer 2023 edition). Aucutt’s article is a wake-up call that the estate planning lawyer’s role has expanded beyond tax planning to counseling clients on passing down a meaningful legacy. It gratifies me that a man of Ron’s stature is embracing my mission.

Aucutt urges attorneys to become caring counselors. He issues a challenge with a quote attributed to Theodore Roosevelt: “Clients want to know how much you care before they care how much you know.” It’s time to address the “heart” side of estate planning, sometimes called the “soft” side (ironic, because as Aucutt points out, it’s really the “hard” part of planning).

In a very meaningful shout-out to my own passion for this cause, Aucutt continues: “Many of our colleagues are giving emphasis to those issues, and many share their insights with the rest of us through blogs, emails, and the like. A good example is Marvin Blum in Fort Worth. He publishes by email a ‘Family Legacy Planning series’ with titles like ‘What Are Your Rose and Thorn This Week?’ And ‘What Keeps This Family Connected? The Answer May Surprise You.’”

I’m deeply honored that my weekly blog got Aucutt’s attention. When I emailed Ron to thank him, he responded: “I definitely regard the emails you regularly send out as a good model and encouragement to our colleagues to ‘see the big picture.’ Keep it up. The responses I’ve received to my lecture have reassured me that this awareness is catching on.” That’s music to my ears.

In addressing how a lawyer can go about counseling with care, Aucutt suggests we encourage regular family meetings, with the cost funded by a long-term trust (what I call a FAST Trust). Aucutt advocates for family governance, mission statements, storytelling, traditions, and philanthropy. Finally, to help a family identify and transfer a legacy of values, Aucutt distills it down to these five recommendations:

  • Spending time together,
  • Shedding tears together,
  • Sharing joys together,
  • Serving others together, and
  • Sustaining values together.

Aucutt offers tips on how to do each of these activities. Moreover, he stresses that this process applies to any family, no matter their net worth. “Shouldn’t any family, regardless of material resources, be encouraged to develop a legacy of family values?”

Thank you, Ron Aucutt, for advancing the cause of caring estate planning where we counsel clients to nourish a legacy of family values. I pledge to continue giving this initiative my best effort. And here’s praying that my grandchildren will love their grandchildren.

Marvin E. Blum

Marvin and Laurie Blum are working to pass down a legacy of love to these five precious grandkids, praying that the day comes when these grandchildren will love their grandchildren.

 

Nine Blum Firm Attorneys Voted Top Fort Worth Attorneys

Fort Worth magazine’s annual Top Attorneys list is out for 2023. Join us in congratulating our Top Attorneys!

Pick up a copy of the December issue of Fort Worth magazine or check out the online list here.

R. Dyann McCully – Probate, Estates, & Trust
Julie A. Plemons – Probate, Estates, & Trust
Kandice R. Damiano – Probate, Estates, & Trust
David Bakutis – Probate, Estates, & Trust
Beth Hampton – Probate, Estates, & Trust
Len Woodard – Tax
Marvin E. Blum – Probate, Estates, & Trust
Amanda L. Holliday – Probate, Estates, & Trust
John R. Hunter – Tax

Attorneys Parisa Azalli, Ryan Vayner, and Adriana Lopez Join The Blum Firm

Please join us in welcoming Parisa Azalli, Ryan E. Vayner, and Adriana I. Lopez to The Blum Firm!

Parisa Azalli, J.D., LL.M. joins our Austin office as an Associate Attorney. Parisa earned both a J.D. and an LL.M. with a concentration in Corporate Law and Taxation at Southern Methodist University Dedman School of Law. She is also a Texas A&M alumnus, having earned a Bachelor of Arts at Texas A&M University – Corpus Christi. Parisa recently moved to Austin with her fiancé, Scott. She is a lifelong supporter of the Manchester United Football Club and stays active with barre and pilates exercise classes.

Ryan E. Vayner, J.D. joins our Dallas office as an Associate Attorney. She earned her J.D. at Southern Methodist University School of Law this year and recently passed the Bar. Before entering law school, Ryan worked as a dental hygienist. Ryan earned her Bachelor of Science in Dental Hygiene from Texas A&M College of Dentistry. Ryan and her husband Brian live in Dallas. For fun, Ryan enjoys board games, video games, and true crime documentaries.

Adriana I. Lopez, J.D. joins our Fort Worth office as an Associate Attorney. She earned her J.D. at the University of Utah Quinney College of Law earlier this year and recently passed the Texas Bar! Adriana earned her bachelor’s degree at the University of Texas at Austin with a double major in Philosophy and Rhetoric/Writing. Before entering law school, she taught high school English in Grand Prairie.

Welcome to the team, Parisa, Ryan, and Adriana!

Elderly Parents: The Difficult Conversation

In last week’s post, I explored the challenge of aging with dignity and making the most of our final innings. I concluded with the story of my mother Elsie and her successful transition from living alone in her own home to living in a beautiful community at The Stayton in Fort Worth. She would be the first to tell you what a gift it is to be free of the stresses of home maintenance, living among new friends in an elegant and welcoming environment.

When I started writing these weekly posts almost 3 years ago, I focused mostly on tips for estate planning and creating a family legacy. When I happened to share a personal story, I was surprised to learn that my readers craved more of it. In that vein, I’ll shoot straight with you and tell you that Elsie’s move wasn’t all easy. I offer this candid account to help those of you who may also be dealing with “the difficult conversation” about parents moving out of their home.

So, in the spirit of keeping it real, here’s how it went down. A few years ago, my mom fell and broke her pelvis. During the early days of her convalescence, we arranged around-the-clock care in her home. Let’s just say the experience with home caregivers was less than satisfying. Managing the frequent no-shows, weekly payments, medication rituals, etc. proved to be a nightmare. But Elsie (along with my wife Laurie and me) weathered through it. The recovery took about a year, but my mom bounced back 100%.

Then, a couple of years later, Elsie fell in her kitchen and broke her hip. During her stay in rehab, my mom once again expressed the desire to return to her home with around-the-clock caregivers. Laurie and I knew that returning to her four-level home with home healthcare was a bad idea.

I have always adored my mother and never wanted to disappoint her by telling her something she didn’t want to hear. On the other hand, a loving daughter-in-law was not as conflicted. I had to leave her rehab room and go sit outside on a bench while Laurie did the heavy lifting. My sweet but firm wife had the strength to flat-out tell her: “You can’t go home. We tried that before, and it didn’t work well.” Lesson: It’s important to have an objective third-party on the team to deliver unwelcome news, whether a daughter-in-law or an independent consultant.

Elsie’s response: “Well, if I’m not going home, then I’m moving to The Stayton.” Ironically, she’d never been there before, but she heard it was Fort Worth’s finest senior living facility. Laurie found me outside on the bench and gave me the report. In typical fashion, Laurie wasted no time. We had an appointment the following morning to go check out The Stayton. My sister-in-law Lea Ann (wife of my deceased brother Irwin) accompanied us, along with our interior designer Brad Alford (including Brad was another wise decision by Laurie).

The following morning, we convened in my mom’s rehab room before going to The Stayton. Before entering, Lea Ann hit me with a message I needed to hear: “If your brother Irwin were here, he’d just take care of this, and it would be done.” I knew she was right. Irwin was the more decisive and practical one. We loved my mom equally, but he was a more “get it done” kind of guy.

Elsie’s parting words as we left for The Stayton: “Don’t sign or commit to anything. Let’s take our time on this.” I looked at her and responded: “This is Irwin talking now. Since he’s not here to say this, I’m channeling him. If we find the right apartment, we’re going to buy it today before someone else snatches it up.” Then we left.

Lo and behold, that’s just what happened. We found the perfect apartment in the “independent living” section. Brad described it as a “jewel box.” We bought it on the spot. Brad immediately proceeded to turn it into a showplace, using the best of Elsie’s own furniture and art. A few weeks later, when my mom first saw it, it took her breath away.

Within days, Elsie’s hesitation about the move evaporated. She fell in love with her new luxurious environment, new friends, terrific food, and stimulating programming. On top of that, she certainly doesn’t miss home and yard maintenance.

Again, in the interest of full disclosure, I’ll share a comment Elsie made to Laurie after her first week: “I’m 90 years old and all my life, my only friends have been Jewish. For the first time, I’ve become friends with non-Jews, and they’re actually quite wonderful.” I already knew that, but way to go Elsie for branching out!

Okay, there you have the real story of Elsie’s move. It’s been over two years, and she’s loved every moment. The Stayton is a gift that keeps on giving, both to Elsie, and to us! I hope this story inspires others to have “difficult conversations” with your loved ones. You’re actually giving them a valuable gift.

Marvin E. Blum

(1) Marvin and Laurie Blum with Marvin’s mother Elsie, photographed in the Stayton’s fine dining room. (2) Elsie Blum’s “jewel box” apartment at The Stayton, her elegant new home.

Making the Most of Growing Older: Don’t Waste Your Remaining Cherries

Last week, I gave thanks for the 93rd birthday of my mother Elsie, a role model for aging with dignity. As we are about to wrap up yet another calendar year, I am contemplating how fast time flies. I know I sound old saying that, but please indulge me as I continue to explore the best approach to growing older.

I’ve written often of my admiration of Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger, the dynamic duo who lead Berkshire Hathaway, still going strong at ages 93 and 99. On the flip side of the aging story, a couple of my recent posts tell the story of the painful decline of Senator Dianne Feinstein, who recently died at age 90. Whether our final innings resemble Elsie and Buffett/Munger or Feinstein is largely out of our control. But, as we age, there are quality of life aspects that are within our power. What’s the playbook for making the most of our final years?

I wrote last week of The Book of Charlie by David Von Drehle, recounting the story of his neighbor Charlie Smith who lived to 109. As I explained in that post, Charlie found contentment by moving from stage one of life (when he was a “complexifier”) to stage two (when he was a “simplifier”). By simplifying his playbook, Charlie let go of things not in his power, and focused on things he could control: “his own actions, his own emotions, his outlook, his grit.” Charlie’s philosophy boiled down to making good decisions. “For all the books on all the shelves of all the world’s libraries, life must be lived as a series of discrete moments and individual decisions. What we face might be complicated, but what we do about it is simple.” Per Charlie, it’s this simple: “Do the right thing.”

Former Major League Baseball Commissioner Fay Vincent echoes this theme of making good decisions in his essay “Old Age Is Like a Debenture” in The Wall Street Journal. Vincent teaches the importance of knowing “when and how to leave each stage of life.” Baseball legends Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams (whose final at-bat was a home run) knew how to “do the right thing.” Willie Mays and Yogi Berra didn’t—they kept trying to play after their skills had declined. Opera singer Beverly Sills got it right: “I know that to continue would not be worthy of what my audience deserved.” By knowing when to fold ’em, we can move elegantly into that second stage where we simplify life, as we ”surrender those things that are risky, silly, or just plain stupid.” DiMaggio, Williams, and Sills are role models for making a graceful transition from stage one to stage two.

An essential element of living an enriched life during the second stage is to cultivate quality relationships. Studies show that those who enjoy socialization and meaningful relationships live lives that are longer and healthier (both physically and mentally). I’ve written before of my close connection with about 20 of my law school classmates who travel together regularly and are in touch with each other daily. Because of our annual canoe outings, we call ourselves the “Canoe Brothers.” My dear friend (and fellow Canoe Brother) Bill Parrish shared a poem with me that puts an exclamation point on the goals of spending time with quality people and simplifying our lives as we age. It’s titled “The Valuable Time of Maturity.”

“…I have more past than future.
I feel like that boy who got a bowl of cherries—
At first, he gobbled them,
But when he realized there were only a few left,
He began to taste them intensely.
I no longer have time to deal with mediocrity.

I do not want to be in meetings where flamed egos parade.
…I want to live close to human people, very human, away from those filled with self-importance.
…I’m in a hurry to live with the intensity that only maturity can give.
I do not intend to waste any of the remaining cherries.”

For those of us aiming to enjoy intensely our remaining cherries, Elizabeth O’Brien offers more words of wisdom in a Barron’s article earlier this year. She says to continue to find your life’s purpose. “Having a reason to get out of bed in the morning is key for emotional and physical health.” Some do this by continuing to work well into their 80’s. But if staying on the job into your octogenarian years isn’t right for you, I reiterate the example of my 93-year-old mother Elsie. Elsie is taking more of the Charlie Smith approach to fulfillment, simplifying her life and focusing on relationships and human interaction. By taking the step to move from living alone in her home to a beautiful community at The Stayton in Fort Worth, she has made many new friends, participates in stimulating programs, and never dines alone. By staying engaged and interactive, Elsie looks and feels decades younger than 93.

As we age, I invite you to join the Canoe Brothers and Elsie in making the most of our senior years and intensely enjoying each remaining cherry.

One more thing: Over the Thanksgiving holiday, a dear family friend, age 44, was tragically killed in a car accident along with his two kids. We are heartbroken. Let’s start savoring life’s cherries even before we grow old. We never know what tomorrow brings. Life is precious and fragile.

Marvin E. Blum

Pictured above: Marvin Blum (shortest) and Bill Parrish (tallest) intensely enjoying life’s cherries on a recent Canoe Brothers trip. Thanks to Bill for sharing the poem “The Valuable Time of Maturity” about tasting intensely each of life’s remaining cherries.

 

Thanksgiving Blessing: Elsie’s 93rd

Thanksgiving is a perfect time to count our blessings. Doing that is easy for me this week, as yesterday marked the 93rd birthday of my remarkable mother Elsie. Thankfully, Elsie is going strong at 93 and a role model for how to age with dignity. I’ll draw from the example of my mom in reflecting on the gifts that old age can bring.

In The Book of Charlie, David Von Drehle draws wisdom from his neighbor Charlie Smith who lived to 109. One aspect of aging successfully is to transition gracefully from stage one of life to stage two. Per Drehle, “a life well-led consists of two parts. In the first, we are complexifiers. We take the simple world of childhood and discover its complications. . . . Then, if we live long enough, we might soften into the second stage and become simplifiers.” Charlie Smith found contentment by simplifying his playbook to these four words from his mother: “Do the right thing.”

Charlie indeed lived by that simple motto, but he elaborated. When he died, Charlie left behind a single sheet of paper on which he boiled down 109 years into an “operating code of life,” as summarized in an opinion piece in The Washington Post on May 28, 2023.

  • As Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl taught, “everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances.” Charlie chose to be positive. He “didn’t have time to be sad.”
  • “Smile often. Forgive and seek forgiveness. Feel deeply. Tell loved ones how you feel.”
  • “Be soft sometimes. Cry when you need to. Observe miracles.”

Elsie’s approach to old age comes straight out of Charlie Smith’s playbook. Here’s how Elsie exemplifies the above three points in Charlie’s operating code:

  1. As a first-generation American, Elsie was raised by survivors like Viktor Frankl who trained her to approach life with a positive attitude. Rather than wallowing in self-pity that Hitler deprived them of their youth and murdered many of their loved ones, Elsie and her family counted their blessings for their life in America. Her Uncle Joe lived an enormously difficult life but always had a smile on his face, a song on his lips, and repeatedly said: “I never had a bad day in America.” Elsie lost a son, Irwin, to cancer when he was only 65, endured many other hardships, but she chooses to have a positive attitude every day. It’s a choice.
  2. Like Charlie, Elsie indeed smiles often, feels deeply, and tells us daily how much she loves us. Spoken in her deep southern accent, one of her favorite lines to me is “You are loved.” She told me she got that line from Lady Bird Johnson, and Elsie sounds just like Lady Bird when she says it.
  3. Observe miracles. Well, indeed the very fact that Elsie is alive is a miracle. The same Uncle Joe mentioned above is the patriarch of our family and the one who saved us from the Nazis. As a young boy, Joe (“Yossi”) Weinstock, made the courageous journey alone to America. He pushed a fruit cart from house-to-house in Montgomery, Alabama, saving enough to get a visa to bring over his parents and younger siblings, including Elsie’s mother Pauline. He couldn’t get his two older siblings on the family visa because they were married, so Hitler got them instead. But rescuing Pauline brought into the world the miracle of Elsie, now age 93! Elsie’s family tree now includes a spirited group of descendants who are giving our all to fight (once again) for the survival of the Jewish people.

So as generations of our family sit around the Thanksgiving table this year, it will be easy for us to be thankful for the miracle of our 93-years-young matriarch Elsie.

Marvin E. Blum

(1) Marvin Blum’s mother Elsie, celebrating her 93rd birthday this week, is a beautiful Thanksgiving blessing to the Blum family. (2) At the head of the table is Eliezer Weinstock, Marvin Blum’s “Zaidy.” To the right is Uncle Joe Weinstock (and his wife Rose), the patriarch who rescued his family from the Holocaust. Far right is Elsie Blum (now 93), her baby son Irwin, and her little brother Leonard (now Rabbi Oberstein). To the left is Elsie’s mother Pauline, Elsie’s father Meyer, and two more of Elsie’s brothers. This picture tells a miraculous story of survival.

Business Succession Planning

Marvin Blum spoke at the 2023 TXCPA Permian Basin CPE Expo on Business Succession Planning, a topic he describes as the most neglected area of estate planning.

Slide Deck here: Marvin Blum at the 2023 TXCPA Permian Basin CPE Expo on November 16, 2023 for “Business Succession Planning.”

Slide Deck here: Marvin Blum at the Purposeful Planning Institute Symposium on February 9, 2023 for “Business Succession Planning.”

The “New” IRS: No Longer “Kinder and Gentler”

Ever since the Inflation Reduction Act passed allocating $80 billion to the IRS, we’ve wondered what the impact would be. I can still hear President George H. W. Bush promising a “kinder and gentler” IRS a few years ago. That’s no longer what the government is promising us. When Congress struck a debt ceiling deal in June, Republicans succeeded in stripping away $20 billion of the $80 billion. That still leaves $60 billion to beef up the IRS. How will they spend it?

On September 8, 2023, we learned the plan. Here are some highlights:

  • Increased scrutiny of those earning over $1 million or owing tax of over $250,000.
  • Full audits of the 75 largest partnerships in the U.S., as well as other large partnerships with balance sheet discrepancies, or where asset valuations appear inflated or deflated.
  • Sending compliance letters to about 500 other partnerships (hedge funds, real estate, large law firms, publicly traded partnerships) and auditing those with unsatisfactory responses.
  • Special attention to digital assets and currency exchanges through the “Virtual Currency Compliance Campaign.”
  • Added efforts to audit owners of foreign bank accounts (FBAR reports).
  • Hiring some 3,700 more auditors to do this work under a new unit for the audit of complex tax returns.
  • Using Artificial Intelligence to help select those most likely to be tax cheats (just imagine all the possibilities advanced technology provides the IRS).

The IRS is aiming to close a tax gap of $700 billion that it believes goes uncollected each year.

The Blum Firm is here for you if you are targeted by this beefed-up IRS. Indeed, we have likewise “beefed-up” our team of tax lawyers with the recent addition of Christopher Beck to our tax staff. Christopher joined us from Boston with over 15 years of experience in tax controversy work.

So, if you are contacted by someone who says, “I’m from the government, and I’m here to help you,” please know that The Blum Firm also stands ready to really help you.

Marvin E. Blum

In preparing this post, Marvin acknowledges the help of Susan Lipp’s Wealth Management article “IRS Targets Large Partnerships and Millionaires” as well as Barron’s article “IRS Steps Up Audits of Partnerships, Wealthy Individuals.” 

With the October 15 tax deadline just behind us, Marvin Blum warns that dealing with the “new” beefed-up IRS is about to get even more complicated.

Israel Wrap-up: Discovering Our Roots

I was listening to an interview of my daughter Lizzy Savetsky when she was asked: “What keeps you from blowing away when the winds of misfortune come your way?” Lizzy’s answer: “It’s our deep roots. We get those roots from knowing about our ancestors and the stories of how they survived adversity.” Each of us will be an ancestor; but more importantly, each of us is also a descendant. Those roots give us, as descendants, the strength to not only survive, but to thrive. We owe it to our ancestors. In this series on Family Legacy Planning, I have often stressed the importance of knowing our ancestors and their stories. Families that know where they come from have stronger family glue. Research shows that the more we know about our ancestors, the higher our self-esteem and the better equipped we are to overcome adversity. Indeed, it’s our roots that ground us and keep us from blowing away.

For the Blum family, our trip to Israel provided us a deeper connection to our roots than I’d ever imagined. As Jews, Israel is our ancestral homeland going back to biblical times. I knew the stories of King David capturing Jerusalem 3,000 years ago, and the continuous presence of the Jews in the Land of Israel since that time. What blew my mind on this trip was a visit to the City of David. When I saw that on our agenda, I questioned why I’d never been there before on previous trips. What I learned is that the archeological discovery of King David’s palace in Jerusalem is fairly new. It’s only in recent years that we now have new physical evidence that further proves the biblical connection of King David to Jerusalem. That tour didn’t exist on my prior trips to Israel.

Just south of the site where King Solomon’s Temple stood is now the City of David, the location of King David’s palace. It is an active archaeological dig. In recent years, they discovered a wall that is 15 feet wide. Given the width of the wall, it was clear it wasn’t surrounding an ordinary home. Then archaeologists located a corner of the wall, where the wall shifted from north-south to east-west. Within that wall, they discovered evidence of palace life. Then a monumental discovery occurred to identify the palace’s origins as belonging to King David and his descendants. They found a signet ring bearing the seal of King Hezekiah, a direct descendant of King David. By connecting dots, a whole history of King David’s palace was unearthed. They found a great pool (a “mikvah”) at the bottom of the hill where travelers would cleanse themselves before journeying up the road, past the palace, to the steps leading to the Holy Temple. The road is fully revealed now, as are the steps. The step heights are uneven, making it hard to scale up them at a fast pace. The teaching is that the uneven steps forced the worshippers to slow down and contemplate the significance of their ascent to the Holy Temple.

At the site of the Holy Temple, we studied stone ruins thousands of years old inscribed with Hebrew letters. The Hebrew language of that inscription is the same language spoken by our people today, a thread that connects Jews of today to Jews of the Bible. As the attached photo shows, our granddaughter Stella was able to read to us those Hebrew words, telling of the sounding of the shofar (trumpet) blasts to call Jews to Sabbath worship on Friday afternoons. Each of us could feel our roots growing deeper into that ancestral homeland as Stella read those ancient Hebrew words aloud to us.

Since the time of King David, there have been a series of conquerors who attempted to destroy the Jewish people and rob us of our homeland, but none prevailed. Even after the efforts of Ancient Egyptians, Philistines, Assyrians, Babylonians, Ancient Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Crusaders, and even today, Hamas, we’re still here. We’re a small people but with a powerful will to survive. We must survive. This is our home, and as Golda Meir reminded us, we have nowhere else to go. Our roots are here, and those roots run very deep. The Israel national anthem Hatikvah (a song of Hope) concludes with the hope of more than 2,000 years: “Lih-yot am chofshi b’ar-tzeinu, Eretz Tziyyon v’Yerushalyaim – To be a free people in our land, the land of Zion and Jerusalem.”

This post wraps up my five-part series on our trip to Israel. It was life changing. We will never be the same. But now more than ever, our family knows our roots and the responsibility of carrying on the heritage our ancestors bequeathed to us. We come from an unbroken chain that goes all the way back to King David and the children of Israel. Laurie and I feel that responsibility, but more importantly, so do our children and grandchildren.

With the world now in a very dark place, it’s our prayer that we look upwards and find the Light that will bring us to a brighter future.

Marvin E. Blum

(1) Ira, Stella, and Lizzy Savetsky and Laurie and Marvin Blum standing at the site of King David’s palace, looking out at the south wall that surrounded King Solomon’s Holy Temple. (2) Ira, Stella, and Lizzy Savetsky, Laurie and Marvin Blum, and tour guide Yoni Zierler at the Jerusalem Archaeological Park learning about the Jews’ biblical roots in the Land of Israel. (3) Marvin Blum’s granddaughter Stella reading the ancient Hebrew inscription on archaeological ruins thousands of years old, with tour guide Yoni Zierler teaching the significance of these findings. (4) The Blum family’s tour guide Yoni Zierler today, having traded in his tour book for weaponry as he protects our homeland of Israel from yet another force that seeks to destroy us.

 

Update on Lizzy: Life Is Precious & Fragile

Those of you who are regular readers of my weekly posts are aware that my daughter Lizzy Savetsky is an outspoken activist supporting Israel and the Jews. Laurie and I are very proud of her advocacy and courage, and we applaud the hard work she does to get out the truth.

Earlier this week, Lizzy was returning from a meeting as the cab pulled up to let her out in front of her apartment. Lizzy stepped out of the cab into a bike lane, looked both ways, and seeing no bikes coming, she exited the cab. She was on the phone at that point with my wife Laurie when Laurie suddenly heard a scream. Lizzy had been hit by a fast-driving car that had swerved into the bike lane and accidentally hit her. Laurie screamed back “Are you ok?” Lizzy’s answer: “No! I’ve been hit by a car!”

Laurie immediately called Lizzy’s husband Ira who rushed down to the scene. By then, people were gathering who feared she was dead. The collision was that bad. An ambulance rushed Lizzy to nearby Cornell Hospital. She received excellent emergency care there, and six long hours later, Laurie and I finally got word about her condition. Lizzy suffered a concussion and scalp laceration requiring staples, a broken ankle, and other injuries. But the bottom line is that she is now on the mend and will be fine. We are beyond relieved and grateful.

As those who know Lizzy might suspect, this accident is doing nothing to slow her down. She got right back on social media to tell the world the information we need to know about what is happening in Israel. You can’t keep her down. Some suggested she cancel speeches next week in Greenwich and Baltimore, but she refuses to let this accident stop her. Lizzy is a soldier on a mission, and she has work to do!

We are living in turbulent times. May we all embrace the importance of having our affairs in order, as life is uncertain.

Marvin E. Blum

(1) Marvin Blum’s daughter Lizzy Savetsky now on the mend after being hit by a car. Nothing stops Lizzy from spreading the message on her shirt: “Am Yisrael Chai”—the people of Israel live! (2) Ever mindful of the cause, Lizzy chose Israel blue for the color of her cast!

Our Week in Israel: A Family on a Mission

In this weekly Family Legacy Planning series, I have often stressed the importance of a Family Mission Statement. Knowing who you are and what you stand for anchors a family. A succinct and memorable mission statement gives family members a core and connects them with each other.

In past posts, I have shared that the Blum Family Mission Statement includes the values of relationships, memorable moments, and spirituality. Our trip to Israel a few weeks ago checked every one of those boxes. We connected with family & friends who live in Israel. We made lifetime memories with our daughter Lizzy, her husband Ira, and their 3 kids. But today I want to focus on the spiritual aspect of the trip.

In the article “How to Make Life More Transcendent” in The Atlantic, Arthur Brooks endorses the importance of building spiritual moments into our lives. “Spiritual experiences—traditionally religious or otherwise—give us unique insights into life and positive benefits we simply can’t get elsewhere . . . . People often engage in religious and spiritual behaviors because they want to understand life’s meaning in a confusing world.” Given that our wondrous trip ended with a vicious attack aimed at destroying Israel, Brooks’ words ring truer than ever. Indeed, I look back on the spiritual insights we gained to try to make some sense of this very confusing world we now inhabit. I refuse to allow terrorists to rob me of the spiritual “sense of awe, a feeling of oneness with others or the divine” that Brooks describes.

We were in Israel during the week of Sukkot, the Feast of Tabernacles, a holiday celebrating the harvest and the miraculous protection G-d provided the children of Israel when we escaped slavery in Egypt. Sukkot begins five days after Yom Kippur. It culminates with Simchat Torah, the day when we complete the one-year cycle of reading the Torah. This time of year is the holiest few weeks in the Jewish calendar. Sukkot is the most popular time of year to be in Israel. The country is literally packed with visitors from around the world. Celebrating while feeling a physical connection to the land of our Biblical roots heightens the spiritual experience.

For Jews, the holiest site in the world is at the Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem, a section of the wall that surrounded the Holy Temple. That portion of the wall remains after the Temple was destroyed in the year 70 C.E. Prior to Israel’s victory in the Six Day War of 1967, Jews were deprived access to the Wall and the holiest areas of Jerusalem. Regaining access to those sites is one of the highlights of my lifetime. Upon reclaiming the holy city, Israel renamed the Wall from the “Wailing Wall” to the “Western Wall,” a tribute to the end of an era of wailing and longing for that return. A highlight of any Israel journey is to pray at the Western Wall. As the attached photo shows, we went to the Wall immediately after my 3-year-old grandson Ollie’s upsherin (first haircut) to praise G-d for this new chapter in Ollie’s life.

We returned to the Wall a couple of days later for another spiritual highlight. There are only two days each year when there is a mass gathering at the Wall called Birkat Kohanim (the Priestly Blessing), once during Sukkot and once during Passover. On those days, thousands upon thousands of Kohanim (Jews who descend from Moses’ brother Aaron, whose sons served as priests in the Holy Temple) congregate at the Wall to deliver the blessing. We were honored to witness the religious service from a rooftop balcony overlooking the Wall, a memory that is now forever woven into the fabric of our family.

It is not lost on me that Hamas’ surprise attack came on one of our most religious days of the year. The goal of catching Israel off-guard conjures up painful memories of the last surprise attack, 50 years ago to the day, the Yom Kippur War of 1973. I remember receiving the news while praying in our synagogue that Egypt and Syria invaded Israel on our holiest day of the year. It is also not lost on me that the October 7 attack came at a time when the country was jam-packed with visitors, the busiest tourist season of the year. The timing only adds to the brutality of the invasion. All airlines except the Israel-owned El Al immediately ceased operating. Many of those tourists are still trapped in Israel.

As part of my spirituality, I believe in miracles from heaven. Indeed, our trip brought us a series of miracles, both large and small. On the small end, the trip began with a miracle arrival at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem. Lizzy’s family flew to Israel a few days before Laurie and me so they could enjoy some time on the beach in Tel Aviv. We never discussed what time we hoped to arrive at the King David Hotel, aware that there were too many unknowns to predict an arrival time with any accuracy. Our car drove up to the hotel front door, and as I exited the car, a car pulled up behind me and I heard shouts of “Zaidy!” from my grandkids’ voices. Without any effort to coordinate, we arrived at exactly the same moment. Another miracle is that Laurie and I happened to leave Israel on one of the last American Airlines flights before air service ceased, arriving home only hours before the attack. Otherwise, we might still be there trying to get home. Miracle three is that Ira had booked their flights on El Al, even though more expensive, in order to support Israeli businesses. Because of that miracle, they were booked on a flight leaving two days after the attack on the only airline still operating. Otherwise, they might still be trying to get home.

But the biggest miracle of all is the way that Lizzy’s family managed to escape and return home safely. After spending time on-and-off in bomb shelters during their final two days, they made the harrowing journey from Jerusalem across Israel to Ben Gurion airport near Tel Aviv, risking terrorist attacks along the way. Laurie and I breathed a sigh of relief when Ira’s text arrived that they made it to the airport, got through security, and boarded the plane. Just then, news reports announced that Ben Gurion Airport was under attack, with missiles coming in from Gaza. The airport went into lockdown, but they were stuck on the plane, grounded. Laurie and I prayed and paced, then the biggest miracle occurred. We learned that the El Al pilots, trained in the Israel Air Force, turned off all lights outside and inside the plane, closed all window shades, shut down all internet communication, and took off just after midnight on a darkened runway, flying north to Haifa instead of west, and circling around until the plane was safely over the Mediterranean Sea. At that point, we received the best text of our lives from Lizzy, informing us the lights were back on and they were out over the water, safe from attack. How do you spell R-E-L-I-E-F? Laurie and I collapsed with thankfulness to G-d for this miracle.

In the Book of Esther, G-d placed Queen Esther in her role to save the Jews “for such a time as this: for if you remain silent at this time . . . you and your father’s family will perish.” When Lizzy’s plane landed, she was directed straight to a television studio for two live interviews on national news shows. She has since been on ten more national and international telecasts, along with giving numerous speeches in New York, as well as Montreal and St. Louis. More speeches and TV appearances are coming. Lizzy’s spirituality has generated a calling in her to become one of the strongest voices in the world to support Israel and fight against anti-semitism. It brings me immeasurable gratitude to see our family’s focus on spirituality carried on to the next generation, and we can already see that Generation Two is passing down that legacy to Generation Three. As we say in Hebrew, L’dor Vador, from one generation to another.

Marvin E. Blum

(For news coverage of the family’s escape from Israel, click on this link for a radio interview with Marvin Blum and on this or this link for an article in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.)

(1) Marvin and Laurie Blum with daughter Lizzy Savetsky and her family, enjoying a trip to Israel that mirrors the Blum Family Mission Statement to celebrate relationships, memorable moments, and spirituality. (2) Marvin Blum’s son-in-law Ira Savetsky with his son Ollie, praising G-d at the Western Wall for the new chapter in Ollie’s life after his upsherin (first haircut). (3) Marvin Blum’s daughter Lizzy Savetsky on a Jerusalem balcony overlooking the spiritual service of Birkat Kohanim (Priestly Blessing) at the Western Wall. (4) Marvin Blum’s daughter Lizzy Savetsky and her family arrive in Israel on El Al Airlines for a trip celebrating the holiday of Sukkot.

Pay Attention to the Signs: Learning Warning Signs from Vishniak’s Pre-Holocaust Europe

I wrote last week about our impactful visit to Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust Memorial, on our trip a couple of weeks ago to Israel. The night before that tour, we had a powerful prelude to set us up for the experience. We attended the world premier of a documentary produced by Nancy Spielberg, sister of Steven Spielberg, entitled “Vishniak.” The film tells the story of renowned scientist and photographer, Mark Vishniak. Vishniak’s gift to the world was a collection of photos documenting the propaganda campaign against the Jews in pre-Holocaust Europe.

Vishniak was born into an intellectual Jewish family in Russia in 1883. His family emigrated to Berlin in 1917 when the Bolshevik Revolution made it unsafe for Jews in Russia. At that time, Berlin was a haven for Jews. It was a center of art, scholarship, and culture that embraced and celebrated Jewish talents. However, Vishniak’s honeymoon period in Berlin began to wane as Adolph Hitler began a gradual campaign to convince the general populace of Germans that all their ills and misfortunes were the fault of the Jews. His message was that Jews controlled everything, and therefore any negatives in their lives were brought about by Jewish greed. Hitler’s venom spread slowly at first, starting in schools to indoctrinate the young against Jews, and growing into boycotting Jewish-owned enterprises. While this was happening, Vishniak had the foresight to begin photographing evidence of the growing hate. Signs were popping up condemning Jews, with caricatures exaggerating Jewish noses and making Jews look evil and ugly. When it became illegal for Vishniak to take pictures of those posters, he strategically posed his daughter in front, with the signs off to the side in the background, claiming he was photographing his little girl.

When Vishniak was in Eastern Europe photographing the growing horrors of life for Jews in ghettos, soldiers came to his Berlin home to arrest him. His wife got word to him not to return, and he re-routed to Paris. Kristallnacht, “the night of broken glass,” erupted in Germany and Austria on November 9-10, 1938, destroying Jewish businesses and burning sacred books. The family decided it was time to try to come to America. Though it was almost impossible to get a visa for the family, luck had it that his wife’s birth country was Latvia. She managed to obtain a Latvian visa to America that covered herself, her husband, and her son and daughter. The Vishniaks settled in New York, where he preserved his photographic collection revealing the horrors of pre-Holocaust life for Jews in Europe.

What is especially significant about the Vishniak story is that the Holocaust didn’t happen all-of-a-sudden. There was a gradual building up of hate. In all candor, that seems eerily familiar to today’s world. Anti-semitism is at an all-time high. The Anti-Defamation League reports that acts of anti-semitism in the U.S. rose 36% in 2022. The rise in attacks against visibly identifiable Orthodox Jews rose 69% in 2022. Since the outbreak of war in Israel, antisemitism is skyrocketing. Antisemitic posts online have increased 1200% since the October 7 attack on Israel by Hamas. College campuses across the U.S. are hotbeds for fomenting hate against Jews. Anti-Jewish speakers are welcomed on school campuses, making Jewish students feel unsafe. It’s happening at Harvard, Penn, NYU, Stanford, Berkeley, Michigan, Cornell, and likely in your own backyard, no matter where you live. Celebrities are asserting that Jews control the media, business, and the entertainment industry, blaming Jews for your misfortune. Rallies are even calling for the extermination of Jews. Is this beginning to sound familiar?

My son-in-law Ira Savetsky had a very wise uncle, Adolph Feuerstein (“Unkie”), a Holocaust survivor. Unkie warned repeatedly: “You say you’re comfortable in America. Well, let me tell you something. We were comfortable in Europe too.” Then look what happened.

We need to heed the warning signs. Hamas has been saying since its first charter in 1988 that its mission is to “obliterate” Israel. This vicious attack is not coming out-of-the-blue. We have been told over and over again that Hamas wants to kill all Jews. My wife Laurie had an intellectual Aunt Marjorie Cooper who lived in Haifa, Israel. I once asked Aunt Marjorie to explain the lesson of the Holocaust. Typically very erudite and poetic in her choice of words, she boiled down her answer to these few words: “The lesson of the Holocaust is that when someone says they want to kill you, you should believe them.” It’s as simple as that.

We are living in dangerous times. We must look out for each other and be vigilant. It’s time to pay attention to the signs.

Some might question what this post has to do with my “Family Legacy Planning” weekly series. Legacy planning is the process of creating a meaningful heritage to pass down to our descendants, leaving them an inheritance that’s more than money. Those of us who care feel we owe it to our future generations to leave them a tomorrow with hope, love, and family connection. I think this post fits right in.

Marvin E. Blum

Marvin Blum and son-in-law Ira Savetsky with Nancy Spielberg, Executive Producer of the documentary “Vishniak,” revealing the warning signs in pre-Holocaust Europe.

What I Learned at Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust Memorial

As promised last week, I will continue sharing highlights and lessons learned from our week in Israel, a glorious week that came to a horrifying end as Hamas began a terror campaign aimed at eliminating Israel. Realizing that the goal of Hamas is to wipe Israel off the map, I reflect on why Israel must win this war, indeed why the world NEEDS Israel. We spent a day at Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust Memorial. I’ll unpack some of the heart-wrenching revelations I learned there, but I’ll start with the overarching lesson from Yad Vashem: the six million Jews who were murdered had no place to go; other countries didn’t want them, and there was no Israel to take them in. Most say Israel exists now because the Holocaust happened. The reality is that the Holocaust happened because Israel didn’t exist.

The day began with my 10-year-old granddaughter Stella interviewing Rena Quint, a Holocaust survivor. Stella is embarking on a mission to teach the world, and young people in particular, about the Holocaust. She was alarmed to learn of the multitudes that either (1) believe the Holocaust is a hoax that never really happened or (2) have never heard of it and have no idea what it is. Unless we learn from history, we are doomed to repeat it.

Stella discovered that when Rena was Stella’s age, she had spent most of her childhood in a ghetto, a work camp, concentration camps, and a death march. Born in 1935 in Poland, Rena’s early years were spent in a loving home with her mother, father, and two brothers. Her entire family was murdered in the Holocaust; only she survived. She remembers the day her mother let go of her hand and told her to run. That day, the rest of her family went to their deaths. Rena was ultimately imprisoned in Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in April 1945. She managed to stay alive until the camp was liberated by the British. But there she was, a little girl Stella’s age, all alone in the world. Hearing Rena’s story of survival, strength, and faith propels Stella in her quest to educate us on where unchecked evil can lead. Indeed, after Stella ended her stay in Israel in a bomb shelter, her mission has become more critical than ever.

At Yad Vashem, we learned of another little girl Stella’s age. The story was told to us as we looked in a display case at a beautiful long braid of blonde hair that had once belonged to that little girl. As Nazis were coming for the family, the little girl’s mother convinced her daughter that where they were going, her long golden hair would become infected with lice. Her mother cut off the long braid, gave it to their neighbor (along with all their precious possessions) to hold until someday they’d return to retrieve them. The only family member to survive was the little girl’s brother. Years later, he returned to the neighbor to ask for his sister’s hair. They wouldn’t let him in, as they didn’t want to turn over the family’s silver, china, jewelry, and other precious items. The boy stood at the door and begged; he only wanted his sister’s hair. They could keep the rest. They slipped the braid through the door and then shut him out. He left with a priceless memory of his sister that he later donated to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Memorial.

The tour then became very personal to Stella as she learned the fate of her father Ira’s family from Czechoslovakia. Ira’s ancestors were part of a desperation campaign by Hitler to kill as many Jews, as quickly as possible, when it became evident that they were going to lose the war. Hitler appointed Adolph Eichmann to mastermind the murder of 500,000 Hungarian and Czechoslovakian Jews in only 56 days. A number of Ira’s relatives were sent in cattle cars to Auschwitz, including his grandmother Miriam. Her job at Auschwitz was to sort the clothing of those who were sent into gas chambers. Miriam survived to tell the horror that, in sorting the clothes, she discovered her mother’s monogrammed head scarf. That’s how she learned that her mother (Ira’s great grandmother) had been gassed to death.

Our tour ended with a search through the Book of Names of Holocaust Victims, Yad Vashem’s chronicle of every known victim of the Holocaust. In that book, my son-in-law Ira discovered the name of his great uncle Yaakov Yitzchok Feuerstein, the man for whom Ira (Yitzchok in Hebrew) was named. Ira’s uncle was murdered at Majdanek concentration camp, along with his wife and baby.

Why do we need Israel today? When Ira’s family was part of the 500,000 Jews killed late in the war, the world by then was well-aware of the concentration camp killings. Nothing was done to save them. As Hitler’s Jew-hatred was spreading and Jews wanted out, no country would take them, except in small numbers. Hitler killed 6 million of Europe’s 9 million Jews, and 1.5 million of those killed were children. England reluctantly agreed to take in 10,000 kids, who had to come without their parents (imagine the fears of those kids and agony of their parents having to tell them goodbye, never to see them again). Had there been an Israel, there would have been a place to go. Today, Jews have a place to go. Israel, our ancestral homeland dating back to early Biblical days, will take us in. Today, more than half of the world’s Jews live in Israel.

The most effective way to wipe out a race is to kill all the kids. Hitler tried to do that. It’s taking decades to rebuild the Jewish population. Even today, the number of Jews is still not yet restored to the pre-Holocaust level. For most of their lives, survivors like Rena Quint missed out on the experience of sitting at a Shabbat table with three generations of a family. We are just now getting back to that.

So here we are again with enemies whose stated goal is to push us into the sea. Our tour guide at Yad Vashem told Stella, three days before the attack, that she was living in the best of times, that she would never see something as horrible as a Holocaust. The guide was wrong. Stella’s week in Israel was followed by the greatest loss of Jewish life since the Holocaust. But, this time, we have an Israel that has the might and fight to prevail. Israel must win this war. We owe it to Stella to give her a better future than her ancestors had. I call this weekly email series a “Family Legacy Planning” series. Stella is doing her part to preserve the legacy of her ancestors. Now that’s what I call Family Legacy Planning!

Marvin E. Blum

(1) Marvin and Laurie Blum with daughter Lizzy, granddaughter Stella, and son-in-law Ira Savetsky at Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust Memorial. (2) Stella Savetsky interviewing Rena Quint, a Holocaust survivor. (3) Ira Savetsky discovering the name of his great uncle, a Holocaust victim for whom Ira was named. (4) Ira and Lizzy Savetsky entering “The Book of Names of Holocaust Victims” at Yad Vashem. The Savetsky family preserves the legacy of departed ancestors by leading an effort to fight anti-semitism.

A Week in Israel: From Highest Highs to Lowest Lows

I just returned from a dream week in Israel that ended in a nightmare. I am still wrapping my head around the highs and lows of this trip to the Holy Land. As my thoughts settle down, I’ll share more of the experiences and lessons learned. For today, I’ll sum it up by saying that my life, and the lives of so many, has been forever changed. I now see the world through a different lens.

The week began with a glorious rooftop celebration overlooking the holiest sites in the Old City of Jerusalem. The occasion was an “upsherin,” the Yiddish word for a Jewish boy’s first haircut upon reaching his third birthday. The boy is my grandson Ollie, son of my daughter and son-in-law, Lizzy and Ira Savetsky. As the attached photo reflects, it was a grand celebration.

Fast forward one week. The man playing guitar in the far left of the photo is now on the front lines as a soldier in the Israeli Defense Forces, protecting Israel from attacks coming in from the north. His name is Noam, and he’s still singing. This time, his music is aimed at lifting the spirits of those fighting to save Israel. But this time he has a guitar in front of his body and a gun on his back. What a juxtaposition. What a difference a week makes!

There are so many “highs” from the week celebrating the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, both literally and figuratively. We stood on the top of Mount Moriah and worshipped where our ancestors prayed at the site of King Solomon’s Holy Temple. We toured archaeological digs where they recently discovered King David’s palace. We visited with family members and friends who share our passion for the miracle of Israel.

There were also literal and figurative lows. We visited the Dead Sea, “the lowest place on earth.” We looked down at the valleys flanking either side of the City of David. But from a figurative standpoint, the lowest low for our family was in a basement bomb shelter at the King David Hotel. As the photo reflects, my son-in-law Ira was helping lead the prayers and singing, while my daughter and her kids prayed along fervently. But still they were singing. Singing provides us with hope. We have to find light in every dark moment.

I will continue to share more highlights in future posts, but today I wanted to share these quick heartfelt reflections. We are grateful that we all made it home safely, but our hearts are still with our brothers and sisters in Israel. We pray for their safety. We pray they will someday live in peace. Spending a week in a country that is so narrow you can drive from east to west in about an hour (15 minutes in some places), surrounded by enemies who want to eradicate you, certainly has made a permanent impact on me. Those of us who live in safety truly have no problems, as the things we consider to be a “problem” pale by comparison to the challenges faced by my family is Israel.

I’ll close with three Hebrew words from a favorite song we chant: “Am Yisroel Chai” – the People of Israel Live!

Marvin E. Blum

(1) Marvin Blum and his family celebrating grandson Ollie’s upsherin, his first haircut, overlooking the Holy City of Jerusalem. 
Middle Picture: Noam Buskila (the same singer at the far left of Ollie’s upsherin photo) now sings to bring hope to the Israel Defense Forces, guitar in his front and gun on his back. What a difference a week makes! (2) In a bomb shelter at the King David Hotel, Marvin Blum’s son-in-law Ira Savetsky (far right) leads worship services, while daughter Lizzy and granddaughters Stella & Juliet (lower left) join in the songs of prayer. 

Senator Feinstein’s Other Battle, Through the Eyes of President Reagan’s Daughter

Senator Dianne Feinstein, who died last week, was the longest serving woman in the U.S. Senate. Last week’s post told the story of her battle against her stepdaughters. Today’s post focuses on another battle she fought—a conflict not about money. This struggle dealt with Senator Feinstein’s health and the impact of declining health on both the afflicted person and the caregivers.

The story is told through the eyes of Patti Davis, daughter of another politician. From her own experience watching the decline of her father President Ronald Reagan, Davis wrote “Floating in the Deep End: How Caregivers Can See Beyond Alzheimer’s.” Most recently, Davis provides an introspective recap in a guest essay for The New York Times. In it, she gives a heartfelt overview of the challenges faced by both the one suffering from dementia as well as the one providing care to a loved one with that dreaded disease.

Although Senator Feinstein’s diagnosis has not been revealed, Davis recognizes familiar signs: “the looks, the behavior . . . When Senator Feinstein returned from her lengthy time away, it was painfully illuminating to see her tell a reporter that she hadn’t been away at all, that she had been right there the whole time.” Davis understands the desire to preserve dignity and control over their lives. “They want to go to work, drive a car, live on their own.” Yet “for people losing their cognition, terror can be a constant companion. Confusion nips at their heels, and they reach desperately for the person they once were.” Davis describes how a trip to the Reagan Ranch, once her dad’s favorite place on Earth, made him agitated and frightened by the expansive green miles he once loved. Dementia narrows the boundaries of one’s world.

Beyond the impact of dementia on the patient, Davis also laments the impact on the caregiver. “It unleashes a torrent of emotions in caregivers. There is a fear of the unknown, . . . and there is a haunting awareness that everything you once relied on is falling apart.” Davis describes “caregiver stress” and “caregiver burnout” to the point that their own health can be put at risk.

Aside from the emotional issues, loved ones must also address legal and financial matters. Davis speculates on the challenges Senator Feinstein may have confronted in giving her daughter a power of attorney to act on her behalf. “For a son or daughter to assume autonomy over a parent’s life and say, ‘I’m making the decisions now,’ is a role reversal for which there’s no preparation.”

In my work as an estate planning lawyer, I often counsel families dealing with that role reversal. When a child approaches a parent to address dementia issues, it can be a difficult conversation. It helps to have an objective person on the team to help the family navigate these potentially turbulent waters. For example, a longtime client held a family meeting in my conference room so I could break the news to the patriarch that he could no longer drive. Having that message come from me made it easier for the patriarch to accept it. As dementia progressed, the caregiving process gradually led to a move to a memory care facility.

Whether or not Senator Feinstein’s “untold story” parallels President Reagan’s situation remains to be seen. However, when health challenges arise, caregivers need to know they are not alone. There are excellent resources to help. The Blum Firm would be honored to help provide families in need with appropriate estate planning solutions and caregiving support.

Rest in peace, Senator Feinstein.

Marvin E. Blum

President Reagan’s daughter Patti Davis observes similarities between Senator Feinstein’s health decline and her father’s, highlighting the challenges faced by both the afflicted person and the caregivers.

Planning in the Perfect Storm

Marvin Blum and Frank Leffingwell spoke at Business Owners Conferences in April 2023 sponsored by Bank of America/Merrill Lynch on “Planning in a Perfect Storm.” Knowing that 50% of owners will sell their business over the next 10 years, Marvin and Frank focused on the goal of minimizing the tax bite to leave more in the family’s pocket at the end of the day.

Slide Deck: Planning in a Perfect Storm (Marvin Blum, 4-26-2023)
Slide Deck: Planning in a Perfect Storm (Frank Leffingwell, April 27 2023)

In Search of “Family Glue” – Improving the Odds of Multi-Generational Success

Marvin Blum spoke to the Dallas Council of Charitable Gift Planners on March 14, 2023, to present “In Search of ‘Family Glue’- Improving the Odds of Multi-Generational Success.” Every family deals with challenging family dynamics. When you throw an inheritance into that mix, it’s like adding fuel to the fire. 

The statistics are daunting, as 90% fall victim to the adage “shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in three generations.” In this speech, Marvin covers the “Best Practices” of the 10% who succeed.

Slide Deck: In Search of Family Glue (3-14-2023)

 

A Red File

After putting all the elements of the estate plan in place, what’s next? The final, and almost always overlooked step, is a Red File. A Red File is a roadmap containing critical information to guide the family through a loved one’s incapacity, estate administration, business succession, and creation or continuation of a lasting legacy. The Red File covers the items missing from even the most carefully crafted legal documents, such as key contacts, passwords, caregiving wishes, and heartfelt reflections.

The Blum Firm’s Red File Checklist available here 

Slide Deck here: Marvin Blum at the Midland-Odessa Business & Estate Council on February 14, 2023, for “A Red File- Putting a Bow on Top of Your Estate Plan”

Slide Deck here: Marvin Blum at the Lion Street Trusted Advisors Conference on July 13, 2021, for “The Final Wrap Up – A Red File. Putting a Bow on Top of Your Estate Plan”

Meet Attorney Christopher G. Beck

We’re proud to welcome Christopher G. Beck to The Blum Firm! Christopher is an experienced tax attorney, recently relocated to Texas from Boston. He joins us as Partner in our Fort Worth office.

Christopher’s practice focuses primarily on domestic and international tax planning, tax compliance, and tax controversy. He brings a broad range of experience representing clients on cross-border transactions, compliance issues related to foreign assets, and a wide variety of tax audits.

Christopher grew up in upstate New York as the youngest of four siblings. In addition to academics, his high school passions were baseball, soccer, and art. He was voted “most likely to succeed” and “most artistic.”

Christopher earned his law degree at New England School of Law in Boston and went on to complete a Master of Laws in Taxation at Boston University School of Law. He received his undergrad degree from the University of California at San Diego, majoring in philosophy. While enrolled at UCSD, he spent a year abroad in Bologna, Italy, immersed in great culture, art, and food.

Christopher thought about returning to California after law school, but he stayed in Massachusetts after meeting a lovely lady. They are now married with two children. Christopher says they greatly appreciate the warm welcome they have received from the wonderful people of Texas and are excited for this next chapter.

Please join us in welcoming Christopher!

The Blum Firm

The Blum Firm Expanding Tax Offerings to Help Clients Respond to New IRS Challenges

You may have already heard the IRS will be receiving an additional $80 billion over the next decade due to the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act. Over $40 billion is earmarked for tax enforcement. As a result, the number of IRS auditors could double to over 30,000 by 2031.

In response to the expected IRS expansion, The Blum Firm is hiring a new Partner, Christopher Beck. Christopher is a skilled tax attorney with 15 years of experience assisting clients with domestic and international controversy, compliance, and tax planning. He has represented clients in a variety of civil and criminal tax examinations and audits, collection matters, and tax controversies.

Christopher routinely advises clients on tax controversy matters connected to both income tax and gift/estate tax. He also advises businesses and individuals on the tax consequences of cross-border transactions, advises expatriate clients on compliance issues relating to tax and information reporting, represents clients facing state and local tax audits, and represents clients entering into the IRS offshore voluntary disclosure programs with respect to previously undisclosed foreign assets.

Even before hiring Christopher, The Blum Firm had an active tax controversy practice, successfully representing clients in front of the IRS and United States Tax Court. Christopher will add depth in those areas and broaden the firm’s ability to help our clients as they navigate the more difficult tax challenges they will face in the coming years.

The Blum Firm, P.C.

Last Chance Tax Planning

Paper here and Slide Deck here: Marvin Blum at TXCPA East Texas CPE Expo on May 18, 2022, for “Last Chance Tax Planning – The Golden Age of Estate Planning Won’t Last Forever (If You’re Not Doing Estate Planning Now, What Are You Waiting For?) 

Slide Deck here: Marvin Blum at TXCPA Permian Basin CPE Expo on November 3, 2021, for “‘Last Chance’ Tax Planning- The Golden Age of Estate Planning Won’t Last Forever”

Video here and Paper here: Marvin Blum joined Scott Bishop at the Financial Planning Association’s June 2021 Tax & Estate Planning Knowledge Circle for “A Conversation with Marvin Blum” 

Hot Topics for 2022 from The Blum Firm

Each year, The Blum Firm prepares an annual newsletter covering current topics in the estate planning, probate, and tax world. Our “Hot Topics for 2022” newsletter is now hitting mailboxes, and we’d like to share with you the headlines for the top ten we selected:

  • Is a Grantor Trust Right for You?
  • Win-Win-Lose: Trusts That Benefit Charity While Sticking it to the IRS
  • Wouldn’t You Like a $100 Million IRA Like Mitt Romney?
  • Do You Own Anything in Your Name Other Than Retirement Accounts?
  • I Want My Fair Share– Litigation in Time of Financial Uncertainty
  • Check Your Probate Knowledge
  • Family Legacy Planning
  • Could Forgotten Checklist Items Derail Your Estate Plan?
  • Estate & Gift Tax Numbers to Know in 2022
  • Guardianship Prevention Planning

About five years ago, we expanded our services at The Blum Firm beyond estate and tax planning. We have an outstanding team at the firm with substantial expertise in trust and estate litigation, as well as guardianship. As the above topics show, there are some hot developments in those areas. One ramification of the current tumultuous economy is that some family members are tapping every source for financial security during times of financial uncertainty. Those receiving less than they feel they should receive are increasingly turning to litigation, often over smaller amounts than would typically be litigated. It’s important to review your estate plan for potential disgruntled parties and consider taking extra steps to mitigate the risk of later litigation. At the same time, review the individuals you have named as executors, trustees, and powers of attorney to ensure that they are people you absolutely trust to act in accordance with your wishes.

In the guardianship area, we are working actively on “guardianship prevention” planning. This has become an especially hot topic with so many baby boomers reaching the age of potential cognitive decline.

Other highlights in our newsletter warn you to watch for assets that pass outside of a will to make sure they don’t derail your estate plan. We also alert you on how to avoid probate to maintain privacy for your estate and your heirs, especially critical in this age of open information. And there’s so much more.

If you’re not on our mailing list, please contact us with your mailing address so we can add you to our list. A digital version of our newsletter is available here.

WE INTERRUPT THIS PROGRAM: Important Newsflash

We interrupt our regularly scheduled program on Family Legacy Planning to alert you to pending tax law developments.

The US House of Representatives has revealed a series of tax increases it is proposing in order to pay for President Biden’s $3.5 trillion Build Back Better spending plan. Democrats are working on a compromise that could get the approval of all Democratic legislators. If such a bill passes the House and Senate, it goes to President Biden for signature and could soon be enacted into law. There is much focus on certain provisions of this proposal (such as increases in the ordinary income tax rate and capital gains tax rate), but there are other provisions that get less attention. Some of those provisions would have a dramatic impact on estate planning, and it’s those provisions we want to highlight for you.

In a nutshell, for some time now, we have been warning that the “Golden Age of Estate Planning” may soon end. If these provisions are part of the new tax law, it will mark an end to many tools we’ve been using for the last 3 decades. These provisions are drafted to take effect on the “date of enactment” (presumably, the date President Biden signs the new law). The legislation grandfathers planning that was done with these tools before the “date of enactment.” There is a potentially closing window of time to wrap up planning and get in under the wire. If this law passes, then after the date of enactment, it will be too late.

Specifically, the new law would target tools we often describe as “squeeze & freeze” planning. The “squeeze” step involves transfer of assets to an entity like a Family Limited Partnership (FLP) and obtaining an appraisal of the FLP units that is discounted for lack of control and lack of marketability. The “freeze” step involves transfer of assets (such as the FLP units and other assets) to Grantor Trusts so that future appreciation is removed from the estate. Popular Grantor Trusts that would be impacted are Spousal Lifetime Access Trusts (SLATs), 678 Trusts (also called Beneficiary Defective Trusts or BDTs), Intentionally Defective Grantor Trusts (IDGTs), Grantor Retained Annuity Trusts (GRATs), and Irrevocable Life Insurance Trusts (ILITs). Assets funded into these trusts before the date of enactment would be grandfathered, but any transfers after that date cause estate tax problems.

In addition, the current $11.7 million lifetime estate and gift tax exemption would cut in half on January 1, 2022. To lock in the benefit of the current exemption, assets need to be transferred out of the estate this year. As pointed out above, if the transfer is to a Grantor Trust, the funding would need to be completed before the date of enactment.

We were also concerned that stepped-up basis could be under attack, but the current legislative proposal preserves step-up at death. Accordingly, we are still advocating tools to help generate a basis step-up, such as “upstream planning” (transferring assets to an elderly relative and then receiving them back with a stepped-up basis after the loved one dies). Special planning is required to avoid losing the step-up if the assets come back to you within one year.

If legislation passes in the coming weeks, there is still a narrow window of opportunity to create and fund a Grantor Trust and benefit from the current rules. Stay tuned for further developments on the new tax law.

Marvin E. Blum