Blum’s Blog

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.

 

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!

 

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. 

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

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!

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.

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.

 

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.

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.

Inheritance in a Blended Family: Senator Feinstein vs. the Blum Girls

For 50% of today’s wedding couples, it’s not their first trip to the altar. Moreover, 65% of those remarriages involve children from a prior marriage. Even in the best of blended families, it sets the stage for potential conflicts. As an estate planning attorney, my advice is to get in front of it. Plan ahead and be specific, reducing the risk of later friction among family members.

One such high profile battle involves Senator Dianne Feinstein. A recent New York Times article describes it as a “bitter legal and financial conflict that pits her and her daughter, Katherine Feinstein, against the three daughters of her late [third] husband Richard Blum” (no relation to me). Though Feinstein and Blum were both rich in their own right, that still doesn’t prevent fights over money. Feinstein’s daughter has filed two lawsuits on her mother’s behalf against trustees of trusts established by Blum: (1) to force the sale of a beach house, being used by Blum’s daughters at Feinstein’s expense; and (2) to compel distributions from Blum’s life insurance proceeds to pay Feinstein’s significant medical expenses. Blum’s trustees dispute the lawsuits as “a stepdaughter engaging in some kind of misguided attempt to gain control over trust assets to which she is not entitled.” They attribute this feud to a “long-standing animosity” between Feinstein’s daughter and the daughter’s three stepsisters.

At issue is how to interpret language in a marital trust established by Blum for his wife of 40 years. At Feinstein’s death, the assets will pass to Blum’s three daughters. That creates a natural tension, as anything spent now will reduce what the Blum daughters inherit later. As Dustin Gardiner discusses in a recent Politico article, questions arise: Does Feinstein need to spend her own money before she can access money in the trust? Does Feinstein’s “medical care” include paying for a security guard and a caretaker? When the trust is silent on questions like these, the trustees are left trying to determine what Blum intended. The more explicit the trust language is, the better. Don’t make the trustees have to guess which sets the stage for an ugly blended family feud like this one.

Unfortunately, such family feuds in today’s modern family are not uncommon. The perils of inheritance are especially acute in a blended family. In addition to friction involving stepchildren and stepsiblings, the spouses themselves are at higher risk. Consider this sobering statistic: 60% of remarriages end in divorce. As an estate planner, I urge couples about to marry again to cover as many hard questions as possible in a prenup, and to be explicit in drafting trust provisions.

Many of the solutions involve life insurance. In a recent speech I gave on Life Insurance Planning Opportunities, I included a section called “Blended Families Require Extra Considerations” addressing five scenarios:

  1. Don’t Pit Stepchild Versus Stepparent
  2. My Spouse Would Never Cut Out My Kids (Right)?
  3. Equal or Equitable Between Sets of Children?
  4. Use of Life Insurance and Prenup Planning
  5. Quandary Over IRA Beneficiary

Click here to review that PowerPoint.

The Blum Firm is committed to helping families thrive from generation to generation. Our family legacy planning initiative is especially critical in helping non-nuclear families navigate the challenges. We would be honored to help your family protect its most precious assets—not just your financial capital but also your human capital.

Marvin E. Blum

Senator Dianne Feinstein’s public battle with her third husband’s daughters highlights the perils of inheritance in a blended family.

Out of the Mouths of Babes: Lessons from My Granddaughter Stella

Stella Savetsky is the first born of our five grandkids. Each is equally precious, but for several reasons our 10-year-old granddaughter Stella is truly a special soul. Laurie and I are grateful for having recently spent lots of quality time over the summer with Stella, during which time she taught us many important life lessons.

Let me roll the clock back to the significance of Stella’s birth. In the family tree that starts with my mother’s parents, Meyer and Pauline Oberstein, I fall in generation three (G-3), along with 17 others. Our daughter Lizzy is one of 62 descendants in G-4, a number that will surely grow much larger as the 12 G-3 kids of my uncle Rabbi Leonard Oberstein continue to have a lot more babies. G-5 will one day likely be filled with hundreds of cousins, but the fact will always remain that the very first member of G-5 was Stella.

To appreciate the significance of a G-5 with hundreds of Jewish cousins, you have to realize that it’s a miracle there’s a G-1 with Meyer and Pauline at all. They both barely escaped Hitler when they came to America in some of the final waves of Jewish immigration before World War II. Hitler’s plan was to wipe out the world’s Jews, and indeed he killed one-third of us, including some of our relatives who weren’t as fortunate as my grandparents. In the words of my son-in-law’s “Unkie” (a Holocaust survivor) upon seeing Stella, her birth proves that “We beat Hitler.”

Last week in New York, I attended a profound Sabbath class by Rabbi Shlomo Farhi of the Safra Synagogue. Amplifying the significance of Stella’s birth, Rabbi Farhi taught that, while marching to their death, Jewish Holocaust victims sang in Yiddish: “mir veln zey iberlebn,” which translates to “we will outlive them.” Nazis stole those marchers’ lives but not their spirit. Five generations later, Stella is living proof that indeed “we DID outlive them.”

As the leader of her generation, Stella bears a heavy responsibility. I’m proud to say she’s setting quite an example. Each week on Instagram she posts “Stella’s Torah Corner.” In that short video, Stella teaches that week’s Torah portion, in her own creative way with her own dramatic flair. She reaches thousands each week who would otherwise miss out on important Torah teachings. If you haven’t seen it, check out Lizzy Savetsky on Instagram and learn along with me from “Stella’s Torah Corner” every Friday. I had to substitute teach for her once, and let me tell you, it’s a lot harder than it looks!

Stella makes it a point to open her heart to everyone she meets. She once told me that at school she pays special attention to those who are alone, seeking out the kid who has no one with whom to talk. She is a very loving and devoted friend.

On the final day of her last visit to Fort Worth, she said to us “Let’s make it count.” I asked what she wanted to do, expecting some kid entertainment activity. Her answer: “I want to go see Bobbie,” the name we call my mother Elsie, her 92-year-old great grandmother. Visiting her great grandmother was Stella’s idea of making the day count.

Stella is growing up way too fast for us. She recently reminded us that her childhood is mostly in the rearview mirror when she no longer needed her lovey “Ray Ray,” from whom she used to be inseparable. Her words “I don’t need Ray Ray anymore” still sting in my heart and bring tears to my eyes.

In Jewish tradition, a girl takes on adult Jewish responsibilities at age 12 at her Bat Mitzvah. Boys do the same at age 13 at a Bar Mitzvah. Stella’s Bat Mitzvah is only about a year away. The date is already set—November 10, 2024. No doubt her Bat Mitzvah year will be filled with meaningful moments and lessons. Stay tuned. I’ll keep you posted.

Yes, Stella is growing up fast, but what a caring and beautiful young lady she’s becoming. Laurie and I are a very proud and grateful Mimi and Zaidy. We look forward to continuing to learn from Stella’s gigantic heart as we watch her future unfold. Little ones can teach us very big life lessons.

Marvin E. Blum

Marvin and Laurie Blum’s granddaughter Stella teaches important life lessons through her words and actions, such as her weekly “Stella’s Torah Corner.” This episode received 56,500 views.

Family Travel Opportunity? Say Yes!

Laurie and I were invited to a cousin’s wedding in Baltimore and debated whether to go. You know the narrative: we’re so busy; we’ve been doing so much traveling lately. It’s easy to talk yourself into saying no. Then a friend said, “You’d go if this were a funeral. The groom is the grandson of your uncle Rabbi Leonard Oberstein, your mother Elsie’s brother. Go and visit with your family. This is a no-brainer.” The practical voice in my head succumbed to the passionate voice in my heart. We went to the wedding, and I’m so glad we did.

The rewards of going began immediately upon entering the synagogue. Arriving early, I grabbed a visit with Uncle Leonard, an Orthodox Rabbi with 12 kids. I asked: “How many grandkids do you have now?” His answer: “I think it’s 52.” His wife Feigi confirmed the number, but no doubt that number will continue to grow as his kids keep having more kids. Great grandkids were also actively arriving. Every person in this growing multitude is my cousin.

As my dozens of cousins began arriving, I began catching up with them. There were so many meaningful updates, but I’ll share one that really grabs my heart. A first cousin, Eliezer, one of the world’s leading oncologists who is researching early detection of pancreatic cancer at NYU, has an eight-year-old daughter battling cancer in her neck. The family has been consumed with prayer and efforts to save her. Talking with another first cousin, Chaya, the mother of the groom, we learned of her own efforts to pray for her niece’s recovery. Only weeks before her son’s wedding, Chaya donated a kidney to a stranger, praying that G-d would hear her prayers and heal her niece. Soon thereafter, the family received word that the cancer is in remission. Here’s to medical wonders and the power of prayer!

There were so many more stories, including my visit with another first cousin now seven years sober after battling addiction. Every Saturday night he hosts a gathering in his home of men struggling with all forms of addiction, so they can provide each other with some group support.

The wedding was off-the-charts festive. This branch of my family is very religiously observant, preserving the traditions of my grandparents from Eastern Europe. Men and women were seated separately at both the ceremony and the dinner, followed by energetic circle dancing (men dancing with men and, on the other side of a high curtain, women dancing with women).

Upon leaving, my uncle invited us to his home the next morning for bagels and schmears, “immediate family only.” Laurie and I arrived to dozens and dozens of bagels and dozens and dozens of cousins. We spent three hours gathered around the kitchen table with revolving waves of bagel-eating relatives. I huddled with my uncle and learned family heritage stories I’d never heard before.

I knew that all my grandparents came to America before World War II, barely escaping Hitler. What I didn’t know is that Leonard found my grandmother Pauline’s passport and the story it revealed. Pauline’s passport claimed she was a citizen of Poland, even showing her name is Pola to sound more Polish. But Pauline lived in Ukraine; she never lived in Poland. When Ukraine wouldn’t allow them to leave, the family smuggled across the border into Poland and paid bribes to get Polish passports so they could come to America. Moreover, they got in under the wire as one of the last waves of immigration before the borders closed. It’s a miracle my family and I are alive. This heritage of miracles brings me so much perspective and gratitude.

I’ve previously written that author Mitzi Perdue says the number one most important contributor to family connection (and even successful business succession) is family travel. I’m a believer. With my loud internal practical voice, I almost missed out. Yet by going, I came away enriched by strengthened family ties and an expanded awareness of my heritage.

So now my daughter Lizzy is asking Laurie and me to join her family later this month on a trip to Israel to celebrate her son Ollie’s third birthday and first haircut (“upsherin”). The answer is an enthusiastic “yes!” Stay tuned. I’m sure I’ll have some lessons to share.

Marvin E. Blum

Left: Marvin and Laurie Blum with Rabbi Leonard Oberstein (Marvin’s uncle) at the wedding of one of Rabbi Leonard’s grandsons. Right: Rabbi Leonard and Feigi Oberstein with some of their 12 kids, 52 grandkids, and 6 great-grandkids (so far).

Estate Sale Leftovers Become Another Person’s Treasures

Last week’s post, “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff,” addressed the challenges of dividing personal effects among the heirs and concluded that in a Will, there’s no “small stuff.” Even mixing bowls and fishing poles can become precious family heirlooms. However, after all the precious items have been claimed by one heir or another, what becomes of the leftovers? Solution: An estate sale.

Don’t jump to the conclusion that estate sales are a bunch of junk. Indeed, stories abound how one man’s “junk” becomes another man’s “treasure.” Such are the revelations from Janelle Stone in “The Opulent World of the Estate-Sale Queen of Dallas” (Rachel Monroe, The New Yorker, Nov. 4, 2022). For Janelle Stone’s estate sales, people have been known to camp out for four days to be first in line. “Her sales typically last two days, during which she might sell more than a million dollars’ worth of antiques, vintage couture, and tchotchkes.”

Stone admonishes that there are no more “garage sales.” She describes her work as “treasure hunting.” In her second sale, she actually found a long-lost diamond in a sock. Stone even discovered an 18-karat pocket watch in the back of a drawer and $10,000 tucked between the pages of a book. “The most scandalous things that she has found are, alas off the record.” (That has my imagination in overdrive.)

Boston art dealer David Kantrowitz describes more “‘Antiques Roadshow’-type moments” where tchotchkes turned out to be treasures: “a $15,000 gold cuff bracelet that a son almost threw away, a $20,000 pair of midcentury armchairs from an attic home office, and a $25,000 silver-plated box on a hall shelf. One of his latest finds: A tchotchke on a kitchen counter in an apartment of a 98-year-old man turned out to be a sculpture appraised at $4,250.” His daughter didn’t even like it, and was happy to sell it and buy a pair of earrings, “something meaningful to her to remember her dad by. ‘They’ll be from him,’ she said.” Kantrowitz also found a diamond wedding ring and band in a hazardous-waste bag in the back of a closet. (Ashlea Ebeling, “Pass On Your Heirlooms, Not Family Drama,” Wall Street Journal, July 30, 2023).

I have my own estate sale stories. When I served as an executor of an estate, my law firm had a similar treasure hunt as we prepared for the estate sale. There was a massive book collection requiring us to turn through each page, as we regularly discovered money hidden between the pages. We even found a folded piece of paper that looked like a kid’s “fold, cut here, and paste” project from school. It turns out that “art project” was the real deal, a piece of “art” valued at $400,000!

A word of advice: Prepare a “Red File” revealing information your executor needs to know, such as valuable art objects and where you hide your buried treasure.

Proceeds from the estate sale pass to heirs under the residency clause of the Will. As for the final items that no one buys, donate the leftovers to charity. No doubt, someone will later discover yet more treasures at the local Goodwill or Salvation Army store.

Marvin E. Blum

Marvin Blum’s wife Laurie displays some estate sale treasures (antique chest, cloisonne horses, and china) acquired over the years by the Blum family.

Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff? There’s No “Small Stuff” in a Will

Grandma’s mixing bowl. Grandpa’s fishing pole. We’ve all been told: “Don’t sweat the small stuff.” Isn’t this just “small stuff?” Wrong! According to Kansas attorney Tim O’Sullivan, when someone dies, the disposition of personal effects is the “second greatest risk to family harmony,” second only to choosing the right fiduciary. (“Why Family Harmony is a Frequent Casualty of Most Estate Plans,” The Journal of the Kansas Bar Association, Feb. 2020). Stories abound of heirs fighting mercilessly over how to divide nostalgic possessions like bowls and poles.

O’Sullivan’s article offers a treasure trove of advice about handling a decedent’s personal treasures. Here’s a “baker’s dozen” of the best tips:

  1. Create a “Personal Effects List” with detailed instructions. My mother-in-law had quite a collection of family heirlooms with sentimental value. We’re grateful she left a detailed list to allocate them among Laurie and her three sisters. Unfortunately, in spite of good intentions, most never get around to preparing such a list. When you do make the list, be sure to update it periodically.
  2. Send a copy of the list to your estate planning attorney and keep the original in a sealed envelope with your other original documents. Otherwise, such lists “sometimes have a habit of coincidentally ‘disappearing.’“ If more assurance is desired, the list can be formalized as a Codicil to a Will or as an Addendum to a Living Trust.
  3. Even better than a list (or in addition to it), consider making a video of such items for identification purposes and tell the provenance and family heritage of such items in the audio portion of the video.
  4. The executor should change the locks on the residence soon after death. If not, “a child may ‘jump the gun’ and employ ‘self-help’ by surreptitiously taking items from the parent’s residence.” O’Sullivan’s partner calls this the “pickup doctrine,” referring to the pickup truck that is commonly used in this “pick up” process.
  5. Avoid an overly broad definition of tangible personal items that pass outright to your loved ones, limiting the definition to items of personal usage or those with sentimental value. “Big ticket” items, especially those with little emotional attachment (such as “cars, airplanes, and boats, as well as valuable paintings, artworks and collections”), are usually best distributed under the residuary clause.
  6. Ask each child for a list of items they want, in order of preference, with the understanding that honoring such requests is not assured. Parents can take such preferences into account in preparing their Personal Effects List.
  7. Create a distribution procedure for items not on the list. First, give the children 90 days to reach a division by agreement among themselves. Failing such agreement, or for the leftovers, consider one of the following procedures.
  8. For undistributed items, one option is the “random sequential lottery method, with the sequence being reversed in each subsequent round having the same participants.” One by one, each participant selects one item. Make sure a minor child is represented by a trustee or guardian. If the parent desires financial equality, have an estate salesperson put a value on all such items, and any overall differential among the children in the value each received can be adjusted out of the children’s shares of the residuary estate.
  9. Another option is distribution by auction, either public or (more likely) private. Consider giving each child an equal amount of “virtual money” to use in bidding on items. Bidding can either be an open process or done by sealed bids.
  10. Appoint an independent fiduciary to make the division. Although “probably the most protective of family harmony, …independent financial fiduciaries would not be expected to welcome being burdened with this degree of discretion.” I describe this method as appointing a “King Solomon” to divide the personal effect “babies.”
  11. Second marriages create especially delicate situations for children and a stepparent dividing the personal assets. If dad leaves his estate to his kids, the surviving stepmom may have a homestead right to reside in an empty house if the furniture in it went to his kids.
  12. Clarify in the Will if the estate is expected to bear the cost of packing and shipping such items to the child. If silent, the child should be required to pick up the items within, say, 45 days or else either (i) the child would bear the cost of packing and shipping or (ii) the fiduciary can sell the items and distribute the proceeds to the child.
  13. Authorize the executor to electronically duplicate family pictures, videos, letters, and personal records and disseminate among all heirs who want them, with costs borne by the estate.

There are no perfect solutions, but following O’Sullivan’s tips improves the odds of avoiding sibling warfare over that mixing bowl or fishing pole.

Marvin E. Blum

Marvin Blum’s wife Laurie with her grandmother’s silver tea service. Laurie’s mother left explicit instructions for the disposition of her personal effects among her four daughters. Let’s follow her example.

Take a Walk – Alone, No Phone

On a recent Austin weekend to babysit our grandkids Lucy and Grey, I took a walk along Lady Bird Lake while they were napping. Remarkably, a simple thing like an afternoon walk, alone with no phone, opened my mind to powerful revelations. I highly recommend it.

Our lives are busy and hectic. We rarely take a moment to be in the moment, to just “be” and not “do.” My afternoon stroll calmed my ever-racing mind.

During the pandemic, I heard a virtual presentation “Mind in Motion” by psychologist, Leigh Weinraub that resonated with me. She said, “The mind is a hurricane, always racing forward and backward.” It requires intention to stop the racing and be in the moment. Being present in the “now” is comforting. We are free from worrying about the future “might be’s” and free from regret over past “might have been’s.” On my walk, I found that peace of being totally in the present. My mind slowed down.

Author Ryan Holiday echoes this theme in his book, Stillness Is The Key. Coincidentally, he recommends taking a walk, without a phone and without music, to find the stillness. Per Holiday, epiphanies only come when you are quiet. The most meaningful thoughts come to us when we’re in silence. Songwriters Hank Williams and Vince Gill both expressed how their creative juices ignited in stillness; they could just sit down and let the pen flow.

Holiday also advocates how a deep appreciation for nature’s beauty nourishes us: “Drink it in, and achieve stillness for the soul.” Walking along Lady Bird Lake, I found that nourishment. I noticed the purple wildflowers and thought of Alice Walker’s line, in The Color Purple: “I think it pisses G-d off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don’t notice it.” I noticed.

What else did I notice? I noticed the calm that came over me, accompanied by abundant gratitude. Looking at the Austin skyline, I reflected on all the good in my life associated with that city. Austin is where:

  • I met my wife Laurie, the love of my life.
  • I forged a lifelong best friendship with Talmage Boston.
  • I connected with wonderful friends who still are a part of my daily life.
  • I received a superior education in law and accounting.
  • With that education, I embarked on a dream career as an estate planning attorney.
  • My son Adam and his family live a beautiful life in Austin.
  • Laurie and I have the privilege of enjoying two precious grandchildren here – Lucy (4) and Grey (2).
  • The Blum Firm opened an office in Austin that is vibrant and thriving, thanks to a stellar team running it and the terrific support of the Austin community.

I am filled with gratitude for the blessings that came to my mind in the stillness of my walk. One final expression of gratitude came to my mind: my thanks to Lady Bird Johnson for her commitment to beautifying America, in whose memory Town Lake was renamed Lady Bird Lake. Her spirit lives in every wildflower that blooms along that trail. Lady Bird’s legacy is forever a gift to us. May we all search for a way to leave behind a legacy that will be a gift to future generations.

Marvin E. Blum

Left: Marvin and Laurie Blum are grateful for all that Austin offers, especially the privilege of babysitting grandkids, Lucy, Grey (and Basil!). Right: A walk along Lady Bird Lake provides Marvin with the stillness to soak up all the blessings that Austin represents to him.

Rock Star Fiascos: Lessons from Elvis Presley, Prince, & Michael Jackson

Celebrities captivate us. Some are good role models who live exemplary lives and inspire us to emulate them. But unfortunately, big fame often leads to self-destructive behavior. The self-destruction of rock stars is nothing new. In fact, it was the subject of my daughter Lizzy’s thesis at New York University titled “Archetypes and Antecedents of the Rock Star.” Lizzy studied cases of famous lives who imploded over the centuries, and she drew parallels about fame contributing to their downfalls. The estate planning world is replete with rock stars whose messy lives carried on after their deaths, leaving behind messy estates. Let’s turn their sad stories into teachable moments.

I recently posted about the Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin’s estate planning disaster. After five years of battling by her four sons, a Michigan court declared Aretha Franklin’s notebook scribbles (found months after her death, buried under couch cushions) to be her Will. In leaving behind a mega-sized mess, Franklin is in the company of many of her entertainment colleagues. Let’s learn lessons from the estate fiascos of three other rock stars: Elvis Presley, Prince, and Michael Jackson.

I’ll begin with “The King,” Elvis Presley, truly a gift that keeps on giving us estate planning lessons. At his death in 1977, Elvis left an estate of roughly $5 million. “His spending had drained his earnings, which had long been limited by his business arrangement with this longtime manager Col. Tom Parker.” In desperation, Elvis had even sold future royalty rights from his recordings to RCA for $5.4 million, half of which went to Colonel Parker. Elvis’s estate went into a trust for daughter Lisa Marie, with her mother Priscilla Presley as a trustee. Lisa Marie began what “her lawyers have called her ‘11-year odyssey to financial ruin.’” Co-trustee Barry Siegel explains that “‘Lisa’s continuous, excessive spending and reliance on credit’ drove it into significant debt.” Consequently, the family today owns only 15% of Elvis Presley Enterprises, which operates Graceland (Elvis’s Memphis home).

Lisa Marie died on January 12, 2023, at age 54, estranged from her mother. Following her daughter’s death, Priscilla discovered that in a 2016 document Lisa Marie removed Priscilla (as well as Siegel) as co-trustees, replacing them with Lisa Marie’s daughter Riley Keough (age 33), son Benjamin Keough (who died by suicide in 2020 at age 27), and twin girls Finley and Harper Lockwood (age 14). Priscilla filed a petition challenging the 2016 amendment, as she failed to receive notice while Lisa Marie was alive (as required by the trust), her name is misspelled, it was neither witnessed nor notarized, and she questions the authenticity of Lisa Marie’s signature. Just recently, Priscilla and her granddaughter Riley have reached a settlement whereby Riley will serve as sole trustee and Priscilla will be a “special adviser” to the trust for an undisclosed annual amount. Although the Elvis brand takes in more than $100 million a year, the Presley family receives only 15%. It’s a shame that Elvis’s music legacy continues to be marred by financial disasters, even decades after his death. Lesson: it’s critical to select the right trustee. Imagine if Elvis had named a professional trustee with the skills to manage this situation prudently.

Let’s turn now to another “King,” the “King of Pop.” Michael Jackson’s popularity has soared since his death in 2009 from a fatal overdose of propofol and lorazepam. Based on his rising post-mortem fame, the IRS challenged his estate’s claim that at the time of his death, Jackson’s name and likeness was worth only $2,105. The IRS asserted the publicity rights associated with Jackson’s image were worth $434 million. On this issue, the Tax Court largely sided with the estate, valuing that asset at only $4.15 million. The court held that post-death success was irrelevant, as the value depended on Jackson’s reputation at the time of his death, when he was at a career low. The estate asserted “that his image had been rendered all but worthless by stories about skin bleaching, his obsession with plastic surgery, prescription drug abuse, odd parenting choices—such as covering his children’s faces in black veils or Spider-Man masks in public—and allegations that he molested young boys who visited [his home] Neverland.” Furthermore, he owed $500 million, was on the verge of bankruptcy, hadn’t filed personal income taxes in three years, and more than 60 creditors surfaced claiming he owed them money.

The Michael Jackson IRS tax case hung over the heads of his children until it was finally resolved in 2021, some 12 years after death. In a 271-page opinion, Tax Court Judge Mark Holmes grappled with the issues. “At the peak of his career, Jackson was one of the most famous people on Earth, with some of the most popular records ever released. And since his death, he has been one of the world’s top earning celebrities…. But the tax case turned on the value of Jackson’s public image at the time of his death. His reputation had been badly damaged, and since 1993, Judge Holmes noted, Jackson had no endorsements or merchandise deals unrelated to a musical tour or album.”

Although Jackson’s estate prevailed on the value of his image rights, other famous people should take note. In doing their estate plans, celebrities need to pay attention to Jackson’s “name-and-likeness fight” and recognize that his case “has tax-planning consequences for any actor, musician, politician, or athlete famous enough to earn beyond the grave.” Such is the “toughest issue” in the estate of Prince. “Estate-tax attorneys for Prince…must attempt to put a precise financial value on his name, image, and likeness…. The estate-tax challenge is setting a cumulative value on Prince’s profit potential on the day he died.” Indeed, Prince’s estate went to war with the IRS, as the government asserted that his estate was worth double what the estate’s administrator reported ($163.2 million vs. $82.3 million). They finally settled on a $156 million valuation.

Prince died in 2016 from a fentanyl overdose, setting up not just the IRS war, but also a six-year battle over who would inherit his estate. Why? Because, remarkably, Prince died without a Will. More than 45 people reportedly came forward as potential heirs to the estate, with many claiming to be a wife, child, sibling, half-sibling, or other relative. Suffice it to say it’s been a circus at the courthouse.

In stereotypical fashion, Prince lived a turbulent life. “Like his character in Purple Rain, ‘The Kid,’ Prince clashed with his father.” A young Prince even had to move out of his family home and live with a friend, to get away from his father. “Prince’s relationship with his family was never simple. His parents had children from several marriages, and over the years these eight brothers and sisters fell in and out of favor with their famous family member.” By leaving no Will, it’s highly unlikely Prince’s wealth passed into the hands he intended.

The obvious lesson from Prince’s death is to create a Will. In her Washington Post article “Don’t Do Your People Like Prince Did. Leave a Will,” Michelle Singletary puts it bluntly: “If you don’t have a will, you are being selfish and irresponsible. I know. I’m being harsh. And I mean to be.” She continues: “But get over your misgivings and stop procrastinating. This isn’t just about you…. Prince opens [“Purple Rain”] by saying, ‘I never meant to cause you any sorrow. I never meant to cause you any pain.’ Well, what do you expect will happen when you die not having taken care of your business? Your love song to your family should be your own will.”

Singletary says it so well and persuasively, I won’t even try to improve on her words. Let’s learn from the mistakes of these rock stars and get our estate plans in order.

Marvin E. Blum

Sources:

  • Matt Stevens, As a Film Revives Elvis’s Legacy, the Presleys Fight Over His Estate, N.Y. TIMES, Mar. 9, 2023.
  • Devin Leonard, Michael Jackson Is Worth More Than Ever, and the IRS Wants Its Cut, BLOOMBERG, Feb. 1, 2017.
  • Ben Sisario, Michael Jackson’s Estate Is Winner in Tax Judge’s Ruling, N.Y. TIMES, May 3, 2021.
  • Richard Rubin, What Is Prince’s Legacy Worth? The Tax Man Wants to Know, WALL STREET JOURNAL, Apr. 27, 2016.
  • Keith Harris, Prince’s Heirs Apparent: A Look at the Siblings Who Stand to Inherit His Fortune, BILLBOARD, May 11, 2016.
  • Michelle Singletary, Don’t Do Your People Like Prince Did. Leave a Will, WASHINGTON POST, May 3, 2016.
  • Matt Stevens, Riley Keough to Pay Priscilla Presley to End Family Trust Dispute, N.Y. TIMES, Jun. 13, 2023.
  • Chloe Melas and Alli Rosenbloom, Lisa Marie Presley Leaves Behind a Music Fortune and a Family Dispute, CNN, Feb. 3, 2023.
  • Anousha Sakoui, Priscilla Presley Agrees to Settlement in Dispute Over Lisa Marie Presley Estate, L.A. TIMES, May 16, 2023.
  • Ben Sisario, I.R.S. Says Prince’s Estate Worth Twice What Administrators Reported, N.Y. TIMES, Jan. 4, 2021.
  • Adrian Horton, Prince Family and Advisors Settle Distribution of Singer’s $156M Estate, THE GUARDIAN, Aug. 2, 2022.
  • Daniel Kreps, Prince Estate: Sister, Five Half-Siblings Named Heirs, ROLLING STONE, May 20, 2017.

Elvis Presley, Prince, and Michael Jackson lived messy lives and left behind messy estates. Let’s learn from their fiascos.

Retire? Not me!

Today is my 69th birthday. Growing up, I thought I would have retired by now. Everyone was supposed to retire at 65, right? It seems that almost every day someone asks me when I plan to retire. But as I celebrate this birthday today, I have no intention of retiring, ever!

Of course, I’m realistic. When the day comes that my mind or body gives out, I’ll hang it up. I have empowered my partners John Hunter and Amanda Holliday to make that call if I’m unaware. So far, so good. I’m hoping the gene pool I’ve inherited from my mom allows me to mimic her. Thankfully, my mom, Elsie, is 92 and still 100% sharp and going strong!

Since I know I won’t be here forever, I’m making sure my business has a succession plan in place, unlike Logan Roy of HBO’s “Succession” series that I’ve written about. Speaking of “Succession,” WealthManagmement.com ran a follow-up article I wrote about the succession planning failures in the show where I proposed the Mara family, owners of the New York Giants, as basis for the next succession drama. The family and the football franchise have certainly had plenty of sensational headline-worthy happenings to use as inspiration. To read the article, click here.

The U.S. retirement age was set at 65 in 1935. Of course, lifestyles and longevity in 2023 are a world away from 1935. My best friend, Talmage Boston, makes this point in his article, “Baby Boomers are Delaying Retirement, and it’s Not Just Because of Finances” (Dallas Morning News, Nov. 8, 2020). Talmage’s thesis is that “60 is the new 40.”

Furthermore, those fortunate enough to be engaged in a fulfilling career aren’t inclined to walk away while still healthy. Talmage cites examples: cellist Yo Yo Ma, Saturday Night Live producer Lorne Michaels, investment guru David Rubenstein, infectious disease specialist Dr. Anthony Fauci, media mogul Oprah Winfrey, and Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (who worked until her death at age 87).

Per Talmage, “deciding when to retire is an issue still on the table, though clarity about it has recently kicked in, thanks to my law school best friend Marvin Blum. Marvin has been one of the leading estate planning lawyers in the country for decades and has a thriving firm. He continues to love his work and enjoys warm-hearted fellowship with his colleagues at the office. Here’s his explanation for why retirement is not on his radar. ‘Staying present and engaged with my estate planning practice and law firm brings me energy and peace at the same time.’” I’m grateful to be able to keep doing what I love. Thanks, Talmage, for including me in such esteemed company and telling my story so generously.

The Wall Street Journal echoes this theme in “When Will I Retire? How About Never” (by Demetria Gallegos, April 20, 2023). Gallegos tells the stories of 16 people who have no intention of retiring, still finding meaning in their careers. I’ll add one more to the list: Stanley Johanson, my UT Law professor and mentor and the man responsible for my own fulfilling career.

It was 45 years ago that I had a “eureka” moment in Johanson’s class and discovered my destiny as an estate planning lawyer. Johanson, about to start his 61st year as a UT Law professor, is still as sharp and charismatic as ever. Like me, the word “retirement” isn’t in his vocabulary. Professor, thanks for turning me onto estate planning and thanks too for the inspiration to follow in your footsteps and wake up every day energized with a purpose.

Marvin E. Blum

Marvin Blum (front row, left of center) is following the example of his mentor, Professor Stanley Johanson, pictured at the celebration of Johanson’s 50th year on the University of Texas Law faculty. Ten years later, Johanson is still going strong and shows no intention of retiring.

Getting Real—My Daughter’s Sobriety Journey

One week from today is my 69th birthday. But today, August 1, 2023, marks another special family “birthday.” I’m proud to announce that today marks my daughter Lizzy Savetsky’s two-year sobriety birthday, 24 months since her last drop of alcohol. It may shock some for me to express this so openly, but I do so with my daughter’s blessing and encouragement. Lizzy publicly shares her sobriety journey in hopes of reaching and helping someone who also struggles with this disease.

For those who don’t know Lizzy, I urge you to check out her story on Instagram (@lizzysavetsky). Lizzy is an open book. She dedicates her life to speaking out on important causes, especially all things Jewish and all things Israel. She is known internationally as social media’s leading voice to fight antisemitism.

Lizzy even turned her own difficulties with infertility and pregnancy into a movement to destigmatize pregnancy loss. Fueled by her three miscarriages, Lizzy founded Real Love, Real Loss and raised funds to dedicate a Torah to Israel’s front-line soldiers in memory of all the lost souls that mothers carried but never got to meet.

While pursuing her activism, Lizzy became aware that alcohol was not her friend. Lizzy found the inner strength and courage to take up the fight against her demons. In typical Lizzy fashion, she uses her story to spread awareness. Hitting the speaking circuit, Lizzy’s openness is giving hope and saving lives.

In my estate planning work, I am aware that many families are dealing with addiction. I shared previously of a wake-up call I had while attending an annual conference for Family Office Exchange (“FOX”). In the day-long seminar on tax planning, estate planning, investing, and money management, the family office topic that attracted the most interest was addiction. Almost every family attending the conference was dealing with the problem of substance abuse at some level.

I was astounded by the revelation, and it contributed to me shifting my estate planning practice from “head” to “head and heart” planning. Families are hurting. Estate planners have a unique seat at the table to help. The estate planning process is more than a Will. My mission is to expand estate planning into legacy planning and use our tools to help strengthen families.

I join my daughter in being a champion to help families face issues and resist sweeping them under the rug. Lizzy’s courage helps me be a better lawyer. As a grateful dad, I salute you, Lizzy, for living a purposeful life. Your mom and I couldn’t be more proud.

Marvin E. Blum

Marvin Blum salutes his daughter Lizzy Savetsky, today two years into her courageous sobriety journey.

What I Learned from the Deaths of My Father and Brother

What positives could possibly come from losing both my father and my brother to pancreatic cancer? A recent column by acclaimed author Arthur Brooks poses an intriguing oxymoron: thinking about your death can actually increase your happiness. Per Brooks, “contemplating your mortality might sound morbid, but it’s actually a key to happiness.” How is that possible?

Brooks says, “Death is hard to think about. We tend to avoid the subject…But when we focus on death, that increases the stakes at play in the present, and clarifies what we should do with our time.” Realizing our days are limited makes us realize how precious they are. It helps us focus on filling our time with joy and meaning. Brooks promotes prioritizing “love and relationships.” He asks, “Are you neglecting your family life today? Your friendships? Your spiritual development?”

Brooks begins his column with the inspiring story of Randy Pausch, the Carnegie Mellon professor who taught his last class on September 18, 2007. In that last lecture, Professor Pausch announced his diagnosis with terminal pancreatic cancer. Although he would soon leave behind a wife and three young kids, his message was “a celebration of life and love…” Pausch was putting on a masterclass in happiness by leaning into the reality of his own death.”

Here’s another story of a 43-year-old who is turning his terminal cancer diagnosis into something positive. In his final weeks, Nick Hungerford, co-founder of Nutmeg which sold for $700 million, is creating the charity Elizabeth’s Smile (named for his young daughter) to support children who lose a parent to terminal illness. He described it as a “‘great privilege’ to ‘feel the love’ of his family and friends despite facing death.”

This gets very personal for me, given that my father and my brother Irwin also died too young from pancreatic cancer. As a parting gift to me, Irwin held onto life long enough to provide blood for genetic testing, dying only moments later. Thankfully, comparing my blood to Irwin’s revealed no known gene predisposing me to cancer. Nevertheless, losing two first-degree relatives to pancreatic cancer still puts me in the “high risk” category. I enrolled in an early detection program at UT Southwestern, and so far my seven annual MRIs have come out clean. As I approach my 69th birthday in two weeks, I don’t take my health or my life for granted. As Brooks teaches, I’m filled with gratitude, and my top priorities are spending time with loved ones and creating memorable moments.

At this year’s Berkshire Hathaway Annual Shareholders Meeting, I asked Warren Buffett to share estate planning advice, and his answer shows he and Arthur Brooks are aligned. Buffett suggests writing your own obituary now and “reverse engineering” to live life in a way that will make that obituary come true. As an assignment from my TIGER 21 group, I actually wrote my obituary. Like Buffett, I recommend it. It’ll set your priorities straight.

In writing my obituary, I was guided by another author by the name of Brooks—David Brooks—and his book The Road to Character. David Brooks helped me distinguish between “Resume Marvin” and “Eulogy Marvin.” The focus of my obituary is not on my resume lines, rather on what really matters in living a meaningful life. On their deathbed, people don’t say they wished they’d worked harder or had more things. According to Arthur Brooks, what they care about is “activities that yield meaning, such as practicing religion, appreciating beauty, or spending more time with loved ones.” I’ve also actually been told by clients on their deathbed that having their estate plan in order provided them peace of mind, the feeling of a parting gift to their family.

Being aware that each of us will one day be gone doesn’t have to be morbid. Let’s use that awareness to make the most of each day, get our affairs in order, and work on creating a lasting legacy. As Arthur Brooks concludes: “Look at the sapling you plant today, and imagine your great-granddaughter sitting under the mature tree.” Let’s go plant a tree that will one day yield fruit and shade for our loved ones, known in Hebrew as an “etz chaim”—a tree of life.

Marvin E. Blum

This old Blum family portrait shows Julius, Elsie, Irwin, and a very young Marvin Blum. Daddy and Irwin both died way too young from pancreatic cancer. Now it’s just Mama and me.

Does This Look Like a Will to You? A Jury Says It’s Aretha’s

It’s alarming how many people die without a Will. I’m particularly shocked how many people of high net worth put off estate planning. By failing to plan, they leave behind a mess for their family. Such is the case with the “Queen of Soul.” Aretha Franklin’s four sons have been battling over her estate since her death five years ago.

At issue is whether any of these were Franklin’s Will:
#1 – 2010 handwritten papers (signed on each page and notarized) found in a locked cabinet.
#2 – 2014 handwritten pages found in a spiral notebook under couch cushions, with multiple scrawlings, crossed-out words, and insertions.
#3 – A draft of a Will she was preparing with her estate lawyer, to which she referred in three voicemail messages months before she died.

If none qualifies as a legitimate Will, Michigan law would divide the estate equally among Franklin’s four sons.

The case went to trial last week. Jury verdict: the document behind “Door Number Two” wins—the 2014 scribbles which her niece discovered under the couch cushions (many months after Franklin’s death) is the official Will.

Now the work begins to decipher and interpret it. To get an idea of the task at hand, look at this excerpt:

The jury concluded that the smiley face paired with “Franklin” represents her signature. “The process of interpreting a deceased person’s intentions from the lines of a handwritten document can be a confusing, contentious process, one that made for a gripping story line in the HBO series ‘Succession.’ In the show’s final season, the family patriarch’s heirs struggled to decode penciled-in addendums to [patriarch Roy Logan’s] last wishes that were found locked in a safe.”1

The 2014 Will changes the outcome from what Michigan law would dictate if no Will were deemed legitimate. The 2014 Will excludes eldest son Clarence Franklin, suffering from a mental illness and under a legal guardianship (though a recent settlement provides him an undisclosed percentage of the estate.) Youngest son Kecalf Franklin is the big winner, receiving more of his mother’s personal assets, including two of her four houses and her cars. Furthermore, the 2014 document omitted a requirement from the 2010 version requiring that sons Kecalf and Edward “‘must take business classes and get a certificate or a degree’ to benefit from the estate.”2

Franklin’s third son Ted White II asserted that the 2010 document signed on each page, notarized, and kept under lock and key should take precedence over papers found in a couch. The jury disagreed. Unsurprisingly, Ted and Kecalf did not appear to speak to each other at the trial.

Consider the pain and disharmony that could have been avoided if only mom Aretha had left a clear expression of her wishes. Out of “R–E–S–P–E–C–T” for your heirs, please do thoughtful, legally-documented estate planning as a gift to your family.

Marvin E. Blum

1 Julia Jacobs, Is Aretha Franklin’s True Will the One Found in the Couch or a Cabinet?, N.Y. TIMES, Jul. 9, 2023.
2 Ed White, Jury Decides 2014 Document Found in Aretha Franklin’s Couch is a Valid Will, ASSOCIATED PRESS, Jul. 11, 2023.

Out of “R–E–S–P–E–C–T” for your family, learn from Aretha Franklin’s mistake and create a clear, legally-documented estate plan.

“I’m Leaving Nothing to My Kids” – Really?

In last week’s post, I conveyed my concerns about the upcoming $84 trillion transfer falling into unprepared hands. This topic was a particular focus of the legacy planning workshops Tom Rogerson and I recently presented in Detroit and Houston.

In those workshops I reported that many parents respond to the concern of wealth ruining their kids by saying they won’t leave anything to their kids. A recent example is a power couple from the entertainment world, Ashton Kutcher and Mila Kunis. Kutcher’s Twitter post that they don’t plan to leave any money to their children ignited a “nepo baby” stir. The debate is that nepo babies born to famous parents benefit from nepotism and get an unfair advantage, risking entitled behavior.

Accordingly, Kutcher “said he and Kunis plan to give their reported combined net worth of about $275 million away to charity rather than their children.” They “don’t want their children to become spoiled and entitled, and want them to be motivated to work hard.” (“Aston Kutcher and Mila Kunis’s plan to leave no money to their children is causing a stir on social media amid the ‘nepo baby’ debate,” available here).

Discussing the concept of disinheriting kids with the workshop attendees, here’s what I reported. I hear this statement from parents often. Though many parents profess that they’ll leave little or nothing to their kids, the reality is that when I read their Wills, it still leaves the bulk of their wealth to the kids. It appears easy for parents to say they’re leaving their kids nothing, but hard to actually pull the trigger. A case in point is Anderson Cooper saying over the years that his mother Gloria Vanderbilt was going to leave him nothing, yet Gloria’s Will said otherwise when she died. Even Warren Buffett admits he’s leaving his children a larger inheritance than he originally claimed.

Given that most parents indeed leave their wealth to their children, the focus needs to be how to prepare heirs for the inheritance coming their way. Leaving money to kids doesn’t have to disincentivize them and steal their drive, if you follow certain steps. Charlie Carr recommends these steps in “How to Avoid Entitlement” (available here).

  1. Help your kids develop a work ethic. Make them work, starting in their childhood, whether in the family business or doing the lawn.
  2. In order for the next generation to gain such a work ethic, they must first see it modeled in the older generations. Take them to work with you to see you have a real job and really work hard.
  3. Make your kids earn their way in the business, working their way up into senior positions.

The other aspect of battling entitlement is to pass down strong family values. I recently attended a Northern Trust Wealth Planning Symposium where Barbara Bush (granddaughter of Pres. George H. W. Bush and Barbara Bush) illustrated how the Bush family instilled values in their heirs. Although famous and powerful, the Bush grandparents modeled humility and service, as well as love of family and gratitude. In restaurants, granddaughter Barbara noticed that George and Barbara would stop and interact with each person on the waitstaff. She shared a powerful story that as children, twins Barbara and Jenna (daughters of Pres. George W. Bush and Laura Bush) were bowling in the White House bowling alley and called the kitchen to bring them two peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Grandmother (and First Lady) Barbara Bush soon appeared and said furiously, “This is not a hotel; it’s a home!” She made them go straight to the kitchen to apologize. Children of privilege don’t have to grow up spoiled.

For those of us who haven’t consistently delivered the Barbara Bush message to our children, Adrienne Penta offers words of encouragement for “Raising Kids With Wealth” (available here). Penta says it is never too late. “The question is: How do you stop a pattern and change course? The first step is acknowledging that we are on the wrong path. The second step is communicating course correction: ‘As your parents, we don’t think we have set the right tone for how we think money should be used. Let’s rethink it, starting with what matters most to us as a family.’ The conversation starts with values, which can then serve as a north star for a family’s financial plan, including allowances for young children, estate planning, and philanthropy.”

For those of you out there like me who haven’t always delivered the right message to our kids and grandkids, Penta’s words bring comfort. It’s never too late.

Marvin E. Blum

Marvin Blum and Tom Rogerson at Houston workshop, guiding parents on estate planning to create empowered, not entitled, heirs.

When It Comes to Your Family Legacy, Don’t Wish, Don’t Hope, Don’t Dream—PLAN!

Watching an Avis Car Rental television commercial, I heard these words that got my attention: “Don’t wish, Don’t hope, Don’t dream…PLAN!” Ironically, that message also applies perfectly to my initiative to work with families to plan a lasting legacy.

I recently teamed up with my colleague Tom Rogerson to present Family Legacy Planning workshops in Detroit and Houston. In researching and preparing to teach these workshops, I always become the student, learning even more in this vast landscape of helping families build a legacy.

My research focused on the massive wealth transfer that is coming. As members of two aging populations—the “Greatest Generation” and “Baby Boomers”—die over the next couple of decades, it’s projected that $84 trillion will pass down to the next generation. Statistics show that, by and large, this largesse is passing into unprepared hands.

For the first 35 years of my career, my primary focus was to help clients avoid paying the 40% estate tax. Indeed, the opportunities to do so are so effective that many dub the estate tax a “voluntary tax” paid only by those who volunteered to not plan around it. As I said in last week’s post, my poster child for this proposition has often been the Sam Walton family, founder of Walmart and Sam’s Club. If one of the world’s richest families can avoid estate tax, then so can a family of any size of wealth.

In all candor, The Blum Firm has become so good at helping families avoid estate tax that our planning has effectively almost doubled the sizes of inheritance. That’s a good thing as long as the inheritance is put to good use. But, I had some wake-up calls as all too often I witnessed inheritances tearing apart families. So, over the last decade, I have expanded my focus to helping strengthen families and prepare heirs for the inheritance coming their way, what I often call “head & heart” estate planning.

That focus was the driving force behind the Detroit and Houston workshops I taught with Tom Rogerson. I started by reflecting on how estate planning has evolved since I graduated from UT Law School 45 years ago. In illustrating that “It’s Not Your Daddy’s Estate Planning Anymore,” I stressed that estate planning is more than having a Will. Modern estate planning also includes:

  • Planning for incapacity
  • Protecting assets from creditors/divorce
  • Minimize tax (income tax and estate tax)
  • Business succession planning
  • Prenup planning
  • Special needs trusts
  • Charitable planning
  • Living Trust to preserve privacy and avoid probate
  • Ancillary documents (Powers of Attorney, Healthcare Proxy, Living Will, HIPAA Waiver, Declaration of Guardian, Beneficiary Designations)
  • Elder law
  • Red File

After describing how an Estate Plan has expanded, I built on that theme to illustrate how to “Supercharge Your Estate Plan into a Legacy Plan.” Just like an Estate Plan is more than a Will, a Legacy Plan is more than an Estate Plan. Legacy planning is a holistic process aimed at strengthening the family. Aspects of legacy planning include:

  • Identifying family values, purpose, and vision
  • Building the estate plan around the family purpose instead of around money
  • Creating trusts that mentor the beneficiaries to become empowered rather than entitled
  • Preparing heirs to be responsible inheritors
  • Engaging in family enrichment activities and education
  • Opening up communication channels and building trust
  • Establishing a family governance structure
  • Preserving family heritage and traditions
  • Onboarding in-laws and next generations
  • Creating a meaningful family legacy to pass from generation to generation

Legacy Planning recognizes that there’s more to family wealth than money.

Tom and I continued the workshop by offering practical solutions to help families build a Legacy Plan, sharing best practices from successful families. In upcoming posts, I’ll share some of those best practices, along with other highlights from our presentations.

I’ll close this post by sharing how gratifying it is to work with families and witness their success. With permission from a long-time valued client, I’ll share this message Jane sent me:

“Thanks to you, Marvin, for helping our family get off on the right track all those twenty plus years ago. I am so proud of our four children and how they are using their inheritance as well as their own resources to ‘do the most good’ in their own communities—with adult grandchildren following closely behind. My deceased husband would be blown away to know how many people, programs, and projects he has helped as we all used his resources to begin this journey. I especially realize how very fortunate we are to have benefitted from your counsel when I observe and hear the sad tales of others, who apparently received no preparation at all. Thank you for helping our family be a success story!”

Jane also shared that her family, now numbering 34 in size, conducts an annual family retreat each June with close to perfect attendance. Jane, this is music to my ears, and gives me the juice to propel me forward in this important work to help families succeed.

Marvin E. Blum

Marvin Blum with Tom and Cathy Rogerson of GenLeg Co., co-presenting workshops in Detroit and Houston on “Supercharging Your Estate Plan into a Legacy Plan.”

Learn All About Marvin and Estate Planning in One Hour Podcast

I was recently asked to be interviewed for a one-hour podcast, and I said yes. I’m glad I did. The interviewer is David Spray, a Houston CPA and fellow Longhorn, President of Export Advisors. David created a “get to know Marvin” experience, starting with my eureka moment at UT that directed me into estate planning, my early “big law” days when I saw a gap I wanted to fill, and the creation of The Blum Firm to fill that gap. The podcast tells the story of my career journey from solo practice to now, diving deep into the current “Golden Age of Estate Planning” with tips on how to create a lasting legacy. If you want a snapshot of who I am and what’s hot in the world of estate planning, take a listen at https://www.IC-DISCShow.com/043 or watch the video here.

David’s thoughtful questions gave me an opportunity to share my unique approach to estate planning that gets to the head and the heart of the matter. We talk about the impact of politics and policy, lessons learned from Congress’s recent efforts to empty out much of our toolbox, and the current two-year window before Trump tax cuts vanish. We discuss the “Use it or Lose it” deadline when the $12,920,000 exemption sunsets in half, and how you can “have your cake and eat it too” with trusts that preserve access, control, and flexibility. We make lemonade out of the rising interest rates by revealing tools that actually work better in a higher interest rate environment. We talk about the “win-win-win” world of philanthropy that benefits society, keeps a family connected, and saves taxes, using real-life stories to show how. I’m amazed how much territory we manage to cover in an hour; it’s really a crash course in estate planning.

David also pulls out some personal reflections and stories I rarely share. I reveal some communication challenges that surfaced in our own home during the pandemic, and how Tom Rogerson of GenLeg Co. came to our family’s rescue. Admittedly, I’m a cobbler who discovered my own shoes needed some repair.

David surprised me with this question: “What advice would you give to your 25-year-old self?” I would have told that Marvin to fight the temptation to let my mind race forward and invent lots of “what if’s” to worry about. I had lots of sleepless nights over “what if’s” that never happened. Think of all that wasted energy. And as to the challenges that I never anticipated but actually happened, I worked through all of them just fine. Maybe this hits home with some of you?

The final question is a profound one: “Barbeque or Tex-Mex?” Listen to my shout-out to Joe T. Garcia’s Mexican restaurant where we celebrate many Blum family special times.

I closed the podcast with a thought that I’ll use to close this post: Ten years from now, I hope you’ll look back on 2023 and be proud of the estate planning you did to set your family up for success. The opportunity has never been better. Let’s seize it!

Marvin E. Blum

Marvin Blum was honored to be interviewed on David Spray’s IC-DISC show, providing a heartfelt reveal about estate planning and his own career journey.

Make the Economic Downturn Work for You

When I spoke recently at a Business Owners Conference sponsored by Bank of America/Merrill Lynch, I learned that 50% of owners will sell their business over the next 10 years. Much of the conference was devoted to one primary goal: how to maximize the sales price. When it was my turn, I built on that with a corollary goal: how to minimize the tax bite. The two goals work together, as maximizing the sales price and minimizing tax both operate to leave more in the family’s pocket at the end of the day.

Minimizing tax is aimed at saving both income tax and estate tax. To reduce income tax: we explore Section 1202 Qualified Small Business Stock (QSBS), charitable remainder trusts (CRTs), installment sale techniques, transfers of business interests to charity prior to sale, investing proceeds in Qualified Opportunity Zone deals, and other tools. To reduce estate tax: we turn to “squeeze & freeze” planning. The “squeeze” comes from business entity structures that achieve valuation discounts. The “freeze” involves transferring discounted business interests to trusts, such as Defective Grantor Trusts (DGTs), Spousal Lifetime Access Trusts (SLATs), 678 Trusts, Grantor Retained Annuity Trusts (GRATs), and charitable trusts.

In my speech, I used the Walton family (founders of Walmart and Sam’s Club) as a poster child for avoiding estate tax. Because of the Walton family’s success, many dubbed the estate tax a “voluntary tax.” My thesis is that if the Waltons (one of the world’s richest families) can avoid estate tax, so can you. I followed up with examples of our own clients who erased millions of dollars of estate tax by “squeeze & freeze” planning. Moreover, several of the techniques allow you to: (1) retain control, (2) retain access, and (3) retain flexibility so you’re not locked into an estate disposition that you later wish to change.

In talking to business owners who own 100% of their company, I admonished that unless they engage in tax planning, they actually have a silent business partner who owns 40% or more of their company: the U.S. Government.

Other speakers lamented that we are in an economic downturn. It isn’t October 2021 anymore. With interest rates soaring, the market has cooled considerably. I turned that lament on its head with the counter-intuitive announcement that today’s economic downturn makes now the perfect time to do “squeeze & freeze” planning. The market cooling works to our advantage, as we can now transfer assets out of the estate at lower valuations. This works for not only a family business but indeed any package of investment assets. Instead of being distressed over market conditions, use this as an opportunity. Don’t wait until a recovery to engage in planning. Pre-recovery planning beats post-recovery planning. It is far more tax efficient to plan when values are lower.

Furthermore, there’s no guarantee the techniques we use will be available in the future. Congress came within two votes of shutting many of these tools down in 2021. Had Congress passed that law, those who had already planned would have been grandfathered. Act now and lock in the benefit of today’s tools.

In estate planning, time is not our friend. The earlier you plan, the better. I illustrated this point with the following timeline assuming a $10 million sale with a $1 million gift to charity:

The earlier on the timeline you plan, the bigger the valuation squeeze. Furthermore, making the charitable transfer before the sale, you report $9 million proceeds, less the charitable gift. If you make the gift after the sale, you report $10 million proceeds, less the charitable gift. If you do squeeze planning now, years from now you’ll give yourself a big pat on the back and be proud of the dollars you saved your family by planning early.

My mission is to help families who wish to pass down a business legacy to future generations beat the odds and achieve success. About 90% of U.S. businesses are family-owned, yet the survival of these businesses shrinks to 30% after Generation 2, 12% after Generation 3, and 3% after Generation 4.

For those families who opt to sell the business, I want to help them reach the finish line. The biggest obstacles are not financial, but psychological. It’s hard to part with your business “baby.” For that reason, I closed by urging all sellers of family businesses to focus not only on the transaction, but also on the owner’s transition. As I so often preach, there’s more at stake here than money.

To view a copy of my PowerPoint, “Planning in a Perfect Storm for Business Owners,” click here.

Marvin E. Blum

Marvin Blum’s recent speech at a Business Owners Conference (sponsored by Bank of America/Merrill Lynch) stressed why lower valuations make this the ideal time to do estate tax planning.

I’m Fort Worth Proud!

I’ve always been one of Fort Worth’s biggest champions. Even going back to my youth when we were known mostly as a “sleepy town,” I was full of local pride. Legend has it that around 1875, a Dallas attorney claimed this place was so quiet that he saw a panther asleep on a downtown Fort Worth street. We embraced that sleepy image and even adopted the panther as a local mascot.

Perusing the Summer 2023 issue of Fort Worth, Inc. magazine which recognizes “The 400 Most Influential People in Fort Worth,” it’s evident that times have changed. I’m honored and humbled to be among this group of community leaders. Fort Worth is now a dynamic, thriving hub of activity. Texas Monthly acknowledges our “gaudy 4 percent increase in population since 2020, bringing the population to 956,709 (number 13 on the list [of the nation’s largest cities]). This makes Cowtown the fastest-growing big city in the country by a wide margin.”

Many may need to read that line again or feel the need to check the article for themselves. In fact, a recent survey asked a focus group to guess Fort Worth’s rank, and the response came in that they thought of us as 50th in size, rather than 13th.

Many long-time residents prefer staying under the radar. Like it or not, the secret is out. We’re still Cowtown but also so much more. A recent marketing campaign dubbed us “Cowboys & Culture,” spotlighting the happy marriage here of rodeo and the arts. I recently completed a 42-year stint as Treasurer of the Fort Worth Symphony, a world-class orchestra. On top of that, we have the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition and fabulous art museums. The list goes on and on.

Even with our growth, Fort Worth remains a warm and welcoming community where we are here for each other. As an estate planning lawyer dedicated to helping clients live a fulfilling life, I stress the importance of being part of a supportive community. Research shows that being connected to others not only improves the quality of life but even our health and longevity. For me, Fort Wort is such a community.

Though some still think we’re just a suburb in Dallas’ shadow, this town “where the West begins” has its own prominent identity. The next time you hear the country tune “Does Fort Worth Ever Cross Your Mind?,” the answer will likely be “Yes!”

Marvin E. Blum

Marvin Blum is proud of his Fort Worth roots and honored to be among the 400 locals recognized by Fort Worth, Inc. magazine. Let’s celebrate all that Fort Worth has to offer!

Succession Planning Tips for Your Business and Your Family

Last week’s post addressed the challenge of transferring an enterprise’s leadership to a successor, whether that enterprise is a business, a royal family, or any family. I gave Queen Elizabeth high marks for doing a better job than Logan Roy of the HBO series “Succession.” I also praised Bernard Arnault (“the world’s richest person”) for his thoughtful process “to pass on the baton, dividing up key roles in the LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton empire among his five children.” (Andrew Ross Sorkin, “Family Drama,” The New York Times DealBook Newsletter, May 27, 2023.)

Now that HBO has aired the final episode of “Succession,” author Sorkin predicts that the search is on for the next family succession drama. Many speculate that the fictional Logan Roy was modeled after Rupert Murdoch. Sorkin suggests the aforementioned Arnault dynasty as a likely candidate for the next TV succession drama. He pictures a season finale “inspired by the glitzy reopening of Tiffany after LVMH bought the brand in a turbulent acquisition.” (See last week’s post where I hailed Arnault’s succession process as a role model approach.)

Per Sorkin, other real-life family dramas that could provide the needed dirt for a succession feud include:

  • •The Sacklers: Owners of Purdue Pharma which produced the painkiller OxyContin, who fell from grace for their role in the opioid crisis, even having the Sackler name stripped from a wing of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
  • The Maras: Owners of the New York Giants, whose split into two factions reached the point that a Venetian blind was installed to divide their stadium luxury suite.
  • The Safras: One of the world’s richest bankers, Joseph Safra cut out son Alberto from his Will, resulting in Alberto now suing his two brothers and his mother.
  • The Kushners: Real estate mogul Charles Kushner’s feud with his brother-in-law landed him in jail, while son Jared married Ivanka Trump and “then raised billions from the Saudis,” and son Joshua married a supermodel.

Speaking to the challenge of getting succession right, in his article “How to Do Succession Better Than Logan Roy,” Miles Nadal offers these tips to help the business leader pave the way:

  • Accept that a transition is inevitable.
  • There are no shortcuts; expect it to take at least three to five years.
  • Identify talent with a different skillset from the founder, as it’s different to maintain an empire than to create it.
  • Begin detaching and delegating.
  • Resist the temptation to intervene.
  • Let them fail; the learning process from solving problems is more valuable than being rescued and right.
  • Put more energy into strengthening the company culture than into teaching the nuts and bolts of running the business. (Remember, “culture eats strategy for breakfast” from my post of April 4th.

In closing, as an estate planner committed to not only helping businesses successfully transition but also helping families do the same, I submit that these same principles apply to every family. As family consultant Matt Wesley teaches, there comes a time when the patriarch and matriarch need to move from being quarterback to being coach.

Marvin E. Blum

Marvin Blum pays homage to Bernard Arnault, owner of Tiffany & Co. and other luxury brands, for Arnault’s thoughtful approach to succession planning.

Who Did “Succession” Better: Queen Elizabeth or Logan Roy?

Finding a successor to fill the business founder’s shoes is a challenge. In Texas, we often recommend choosing the heir apparent early and letting him “ride around in the truck” with the founder for several years. By the time the successor takes over the family “ranch,” he’s ready. Moreover, the rest of the stakeholders have been prepared to accept the successor in that key role.

The most compelling example of “riding around in the truck” is King Charles III. Then Prince Charles “rode around in the carriage” for more than 70 years, being groomed by Queen Elizabeth II for his role heading the monarchy.

Another family of business royalty also deserves praise for getting in front of the transition. It’s the family of Bernard Arnault, owner of Louis Vuitton, Christian Dior, Tiffany & Co., and other luxury brands. Arnault has been grooming his five kids since their early childhood. (“The World’s Richest Person Auditions His Five Children to Run LVMH, The Luxury Empire,” Nick Kostov and Stacy Meichtry, Wall Street Journal, Apr. 19, 2023.)

Arnault drilled the kids in math from early on, even himself studying a math textbook on a flight to Paris after a grueling trip to Asia. “I need to refresh my memory,” said Mr. Arnault to one of his top lieutenants.

The children were encouraged to attend top schools and study engineering. The goal was to develop a rational mindset allowing them to analyze a situation or problem very quickly. Arnault also pairs each of his children with executives who mentor them and keep an eye on their performance. The five kids watch Arnault in action, accompanying him on business trips and negotiations. Now that’s riding around in the truck (or jet)!

Arnault (age 74) is still in the driver’s seat in the truck. LVMH recently raised the retirement age for its chairman and CEO to 80. When the time comes to hand over the wheel, he will choose based on merit. The kids are expected to fall in line. They’ve been taught from a young age to work through disagreements and put the interests of the company first.

Here’s the status of Arnault’s five, each filing a key role:

  • Oldest child (and only daughter) Delphine (48) is CEO of Christian Dior.
  • Antoine (45) is CEO of the company that holds the family’s stake in LVMH.
  • Alexandre (30) is Executive Vice President of Tiffany & Co.
  • Frederic (28) runs Tag Heuer watch brand.
  • Jean (24) is Director of Marketing & Development at Louis Vuitton’s watches division.

Unfortunately, in the world of business succession, Arnault is an outlier. Most media accounts reveal stories of families in disarray after the founder dies, with no one designated or prepared to succeed. The HBO hit series “Succession” is a fictional case-in-point, which just aired its last episode on Sunday. Each week, millions tuned in “to watch the entire Roy family scheme, plot, and backstab their way to replacing the company’s patriarchal founder,” Logan Roy. (“How to Do Succession Better Than Logan Roy,” Miles S. Nadal, Quartz, Mar. 6, 2023.)

Author Nadal draws parallels to Shakespeare’s King Lear, Macbeth, Coriolanus, and Hamlet, other fictional examples of “the brutal realities of succession.” Perhaps Queen Elizabeth II learned lessons from fellow countryman Shakespeare and became determined to get it right. She was certainly a better role model for succession than “Succession’s” Logan Roy.

Marvin E. Blum

King Charles was groomed early on to be successor to the throne, shown here 54 years ago, following his investiture as Prince of Wales, riding around in the carriage (the royal version of a “truck”) next to Queen Elizabeth and her ever-watchful eye.

Grateful for My Strong Family “Stock”—The Story of My Uncle Joe Weinstock

My son Adam is a voracious reader. He often sends me articles that serve as inspiration for my own writings. One recent example was the obituary of an American immigrant success story, bringing me a rush of memories of another American immigrant success, my Uncle Joe Weinstock. May is Jewish American Heritage month. In honor of that observance, I write this tribute to a pillar of Jewish American Heritage, my Uncle Joe.

Uncle Joe had no kids, but without question, he was the patriarch of our family. My own success would not have been possible without my heritage from him. Indeed, I wouldn’t even be alive were it not for him.

The article Adam sent me was about the death of John Pappajohn, not the pizza guy but an insurance executive turned venture capitalist. Pappajohn emigrated to the US from Greece. “Showing an early entrepreneurial impulse, he scavenged for metal, rugs, building materials or other scrap he could sell,” (James R. Hagerty, “John Pappajohn, Iowa Venture Capitalist Who Focused on Medical Plays, Dies at 94,” Wall Street Journal, May 5, 2023.) His father died when John was 16, leaving John to support his mom and younger brothers Aristotle and Socrates. Pappajohn’s work ethic and ingenuity rewarded him with wealth, which he used for greater good by donating $100 million to philanthropic causes. In addition to Pappajohn’s immigrant work ethic and philanthropy, two more things about him conjure up Uncle Joe in my head: (1) Pappajohn wore a “PMA” lapel pin, standing for Positive Mental Attitude; and (2) he described himself as the “rah rah” guy, always inspiring and motivating others. In so many ways, Uncle Joe was the Jewish immigrant version of John Pappajohn.

Uncle Joe (actually Yosef, Hebrew for Joseph) was born around the turn of the 20th century in a tiny village in Ukraine called Polona, in the Volyn region, heartland of chasidic Judaism. He was the third of six children born to Eliezer and Leah Weinstock. It was a difficult time for Jews in Ukraine. After a pogrom roughing up the Jews and poking out Eliezer’s eye, Joe saw the handwriting on the wall and embarked on a ship for America. Instead of disembarking in Ellis Island, Uncle Joe’s ship was part of the “Galveston Movement,” funded by New York philanthropist Jacob Schiff to address overcrowding of immigrants in the Lower East Side and the resultant antisemitism. A young, penniless, Joe was met at the Galveston, Texas pier by Rabbi Henry Cohen and the Jewish Welfare, who placed him in Troy, Alabama. Imagine the challenges faced by a religious European Jew in Troy, Alabama, but Uncle Joe managed to remain an observant Jew his entire life. He got a horse and wagon, going from house-to-house peddling fruit. His “Positive Mental Attitude,” grit, and ever-present smile made him successful.

Ten years later, after World War I, Uncle Joe had saved up enough money to bring over his parents and three younger siblings (including my grandmother Pauline, my mother Elsie’s mother). He didn’t have enough money yet to bring over his two older siblings Elke and Enoch, by then married in Europe. Then it became too late. Although Joe’s mother Leah (who shared a bed with my mother Elsie) prayed nightly that Elke and Enoch were still alive, Hitler got to them before Joe could bring them to America.

Joe ran an ad for a wife in the Yiddish newspaper“Volyner yunger man zucht Voliner maidel,” (young man from the Volyn region seeks a young woman from the same area, in other words a religious wife). Rose Pass from Columbus, Ohio answered the ad. They married and settled in Montgomery. (While at it, they matched up Rose’s sister Ruth with Joe’s brother Moshe— two for the price of one ad!)

Joe started a furniture store and bought rent houses. He never worked on the Sabbath, and he opened and closed the synagogue every day. Uncle Joe always had a song in his heart and on his lips. He too was a “rah rah” guy, lifting up others everywhere he went. In my mind, I can hear him singing one of his favorites, “Adon Olam,” (Lord of the Universe). He was always happy, famously saying, “I never had a bad day in America.”

Beginning in the 1950s, Joe and Rose made an annual pilgrimage to Israel for the High Holidays. When the local newspaper, The Montgomery Advertiser, interviewed him about those trips, they asked, “Do you have family in Israel?” Joe’s answer: “Yes, all the children of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are my family.”

Joe supported Israeli businesses every chance he could. Once in Tel Aviv, he entered a tailor shop and asked the proprietor if he was a good tailor. The man rolled up his sleeve and showed his concentration camp number, answering that his tailoring skills were how he managed to survive the Holocaust. Joe bought a new suit from that tailor every year.

In 1967 at the outbreak of the Six Day War, Uncle Joe rallied the gathering at the country club in Montgomery. Uncle Joe’s pitch: “You all know the story of Joseph in the Bible. Joseph was a Jewish boy who went to Egypt and got rich. Did he forget his family in Israel? No, he took care of them. We, too, have to help our brothers and sisters in Israel.” Although Joe wasn’t rich, he started the pledging at $5,000 (a huge sum to him, especially in those days), and the crowd followed suit. They had to at least match Mr. Weinstock. He also regularly mailed small amounts to families all over Israel. “I want them to have a challah for Shabbos.” His favorite charity was the Jewish National Fund, site of a tree planting known as the Joseph and Rose Weinstock Grove in Israel. Joe was doing his part to make Israel’s desert bloom.

As part of my Family Legacy initiative at The Blum Firm, I speak often of the importance of preserving family heritage. Knowing stories of our ancestors’ resilience gives us strength to overcome adversity when it strikes in our lives. My daughter Lizzy Savetsky recently gave a speech with that message: “When heavy winds blow our way, it’s the deeply rooted who aren’t blown away. What does that mean to me? My deep roots come from my ancestors. That’s the source of my strength and survival, that I want to pass down to my three children.” Lizzy and I and our whole family are grateful to Uncle Joe for giving us deep roots. Our family has the roots to survive, because we know we come from “good stock,” WEINSTOCK.

Marvin E. Blum

Marvin Blum’s Uncle Joe Weinstock (left) was the family patriarch who passed down an empowering legacy to his heirs, seated here next to his father-in-law, Mr. Pass, and his wife Rose.

Winning the Lottery at “The Woodstock for Capitalists”

This past weekend, the Fort Worth Report published an article on my question for Warren Buffett at this year’s annual Berkshire Hathaway Shareholders’ Meeting—often called “The Woodstock for Capitalists,” according to reporter Bob Francis.

Francis equated my being chosen to ask a question—the first question, in fact—to winning the lottery. As soon as I was handed my numbered ticket for a chance to ask a question, I knew I would be lucky. I looked down at it and I told the guy right then, “This is my year.” I said, “I’ve got this.” And he looked at me and said, “How do you know that?” I said, “Because you just handed me my lucky number.” He’d handed me number 18.

My question for Buffett was about the problem of most parents failing to prepare their kids for the inheritance coming their way. In particular, if the estate includes a family business, most parents fail to do business succession planning to plan for who will run the business on the day when, not if, the founder is no longer there to run it.

The article, “Fort Worth attorney Blum draws a lucky number at ‘Woodstock for Capitalists,’” is here. My post upon returning from the meeting, with additional information, is available here.

Marvin E. Blum

Marvin Blum “won the lottery” at this year’s Berkshire Hathaway Shareholders’ Meeting.

Pearls of Wisdom from Omaha

For many years, our family has been enjoying an annual pilgrimage to worship at the altar of the Oracle of Omaha. Saturday is jam-packed with advice from Warren Buffett (92) and Charlie Munger (99), the sharp-minded and sharp-tongued duo. Each person attending draws his own pearls of wisdom. Here are a few of my golden nuggets.

The day begins with a hilarious video production. This year’s film featured Oscar-winning actress Jamie Lee Curtis, spoofing with Buffett about having a sexual obsession with Munger. Curtis chided that Berkshire Hathaway is a lousy name and should be re-dubbed “Mungeritaville.”

This year’s meeting was streamed live on CNBC. Buffett lamented that the telecast was airing alongside a competitive broadcast, the coronation of King Charles. As consolation, he anointed Berkshire Hathaway’s own royalty: “We’ve got our own King Charles,” the inimitable Charlie Munger.

As I wrote in last week’s post, I was honored with the opportunity to ask my third question, dealing with the importance of preparing heirs for the inheritance coming their way. Buffett delivered an answer I labeled a “Master Class in Family Legacy Planning.” See last week’s post for details (link).

In his typical sharp-edged tone, Munger opined that “a vast diversification of common stocks is an insane idea.” He considers it better to own your three best ideas, admonishing to “ignore advice that leads to the ‘de-worse-ification’ of portfolios.”

Continuing the theme of this year’s annual letter to shareholders, Buffett acknowledged he’s made a lot of investment mistakes, but got a few things right. “Try to get a few things right and sooner or later you’ll have a lollapalooza.” But try to avoid mistakes so big they take you out of the game. “Spend less than you earn, and practice deferred gratification.”

Speaking of making the right decision, Buffett announced my personal favorite of the day: “If you make the right decision on a spouse, you’ve won the game.” He also captured my heart with this investment advice: “Your best investment is always in yourself and in your own earning power.” Buffett added this advice for a meaningful life: “Write your own obituary and try to figure out how to live up to it.” He described the process as “reverse engineering,” writing your obituary now and then living so as to make your obituary come true.

Regarding artificial intelligence (“AI”), the duo acknowledged it’s good for searching all the legal opinions that have been issued over prior decades. But Buffett asserted that AI “can never replace Charlie” and can’t tell jokes (at least not as good as Charlie’s jokes).

Capitalism is a success story, versus an economy like Russia’s where, per Charlie, “they pretend to pay us and we pretend to work.” Moderate social safety nets are needed, but the growth from capitalism helps those at the bottom better than a wide social safety net.

Speaking almost as if directly aimed at me, Buffett warns that even if someone could sell their company at age 65 and make a lot of money, why would you want to retire at 65? Obviously, neither Buffett nor Munger ever wanted to retire, and neither do I!

I always enjoy their foray into lessons for living a meaningful life. Don’t do any unkind acts, or you’ll end up like plenty of people who die with money, but without friends. In being kind, “praise by name, criticize by category.” Avoid toxic people. “Get them the hell out of your life, and do it fast!” If the toxic person is in your family, “it’s a very tough problem,” but do your best to minimize them in your life.

Per Charlie, Elon Musk “likes taking on the impossible job. We’re different. We like taking on the easy job. We don’t want that much failure.” This was in response to a question quoting Charlie as saying he’d rather hire someone with an IQ of 130 who thinks it’s 120, than someone with an IQ of 150 who thinks it’s 170.

Discussing Berkshire’s investment in NetJets, Buffett teased about Munger’s frugality. Charlie used to fly coach from Los Angeles to Omaha for the annual meeting. He said he was surrounded by a lot of rich Berkshire shareholders also in coach, who would clap when Charlie entered the coach section. Warren joked that they couldn’t get Charlie to fly private on NetJets until they put a coach seat in the plane for him.

Charlie also quipped that he stopped practicing law in 1962. “The modern law practice in a big firm is like a pie-eating contest. If you win, you get to eat more pie.” He advised lawyers to stay away from that kind of law firm. I couldn’t agree more! That’s precisely why I created The Blum Firm, providing a quality of life and culture where our team can thrive.

This sampling gives you a taste of the quick wit and brilliance of the two geniuses. What a privilege to learn from them! Charlie turns 100 next year, and Warren will be 93. If you’ve ever considered going, I suggest you join us in Omaha next year. As my son Adam warns me whenever I’m tempted to skip a year, it could be the last one. I certainly hope not!

Marvin E. Blum

Marvin, Laurie, and Adam Blum with a cardboard cutout of Warren Buffett enjoying the 2023 Berkshire Hathaway Annual Meeting.

My Third Question to Warren Buffett and “King Charles” Munger

Our family’s annual pilgrimage to the Berkshire Hathaway Annual Meeting includes an early Saturday ritual. Those wishing to ask Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger a question head to a lottery drawing. The few holders of winning tickets get the opportunity. This year was my third time to get lucky and be chosen to ask a question.

Ten years ago, my son Adam convinced me to enter the lottery for the first time. I had beginner’s luck. My first question to Buffett was about his estate plan, seeking an answer to his famous thesis: “I want to leave my children enough so that they can do anything, but not so much that they can do nothing.” I asked: “How much is that?”

Buffett answered: “I think that more of our kids are ruined by the behavior of their parents than by amount of the inheritance. Your children are learning about the world through you and more through your actions than they are through your words. From the moment they’re born, you’re their natural teacher. And it is a very important and serious job, and I don’t actually think that the amount of money that a rich person leaves to their children is the determining factor at all. In terms of how children turn out, I think that the atmosphere, and what they see about them and how their parents behave are more important.”

Two years later at the 2015 Annual Meeting, I got lucky again. Sticking with the subject of estate planning, my second question to Buffett was about the role of philanthropy in his estate plan, including his decision to sign Bill Gates’ “Giving Pledge.” I said: “Today, I’d like to ask about your decision to sign The Giving Pledge, promising to give away at least one-half of your assets to charity. Can you talk about your views on philanthropy and how to balance leaving an inheritance to your family versus assets to charity?”

Buffett’s answer was: “Well, that depends very much on the individual situation, and actually I’ve promised to give over 99% in my case, but that still leaves plenty left over. …So the question is, ‘where does it do the most good?’ And, I think limited amounts do some real good for my children, so I’ll be sure that they have that or they already have it to a degree. And on the other hand, when I look at a bunch of stock certificates in a safe deposit box that were put there fifty years ago or so, they have absolutely no utility to me. Zero. They can’t do anything for me in life. …So, here these things are that have no utility to me, and they have enormous utility to some people in other parts of the world. They can save lives. They can provide vaccines. They can provide education. They have all kinds of utility. So why in the world should they sit there for me or for some fourth generation of great-grandchildren or something when they can do a lot of good now? So that’s my own philosophy on it. But I think everybody has to develop their own feelings about it and should follow where they go. I do think they might ask themselves ‘where will it do the most good?’”

At the following year’s Annual Meeting and each one after that, I continued entering the lottery with no success, until this year. This year, my ticket number was “18,” and I knew it was going to be my day. Eighteen is my lucky number. In Hebrew, the number 18 is represented by the letters Chet (8) and Yud (10), which spells the word “chai,” the Hebrew word for “life.” Upon receiving ticket 18, I thanked the lottery guy and assured him it was my year to win. As I predicted, the number drawn was indeed “18,” and my adrenaline started rushing.

It is intimidating to stand in the spotlight in a room of some 50,000 people, with cameras rolling on live CNBC TV coverage and hear your voice echoing and reverberating as you nervously power through your question. While asking, I was twice interrupted with applause, boosting my confidence. My question this year continued the estate planning theme, focusing on preparing heirs for an inheritance. Even before I finished my question, Buffett jumped in to answer, eager to weigh in. He and Munger then spoke eloquently for more than seven minutes, providing a master class in Family Legacy Planning, my estate planning passion. I am gratified and honored by their enthusiastic response.

Here’s a summary of Buffett’s response to this year’s question as reported by Yahoo Finance: “Responding to a question from an estate planning attorney [Marvin Blum], Buffett said it was imperative to include your heirs in your estate planning. According to Buffett, if the first time children are hearing about the thoughts and wishes of the deceased [parent] is when they read the will, the parents have made a terrible mistake. Buffett went on to suggest that if you intend your heirs to act responsibly and ethically with your bequest, it’s important that you live the ideals you want to pass on to them.”

This year’s “Woodstock for Capitalists” meeting coincided with the coronation of King Charles III, the new monarch of the United Kingdom. Buffett had earlier teased that we had our own King Charles—“King” Charlie Munger. I tied into the other King’s crowning, citing then Prince Charles’ tutelage as the ultimate example of preparing an heir to take over the family kingdom. To use a Texas idiom, Prince Charles “rode around in the truck” (or should I say “carriage”) with his “mum” for more than 70 years, observing and learning from Queen Elizabeth’s commitment to duty and service. Let’s draw inspiration from the British Royal Family and follow advice from Berkshire’s royalty to prepare our heirs for the inheritance coming their way. Long live the Kings, both King Charles III and “King” Charlie Munger, now 99 years old, going strong and as sharp as ever.

Each of my three questions at the Berkshire Hathaway Annual Meetings generated significant media coverage. The press is evidently eager to hear the “Oracle of Omaha’s” wisdom on estate planning, a welcome break from all the questions about investing.

  • Information on the media coverage of my questions to Warren Buffet over the years is available here.
  • A transcript of the Q&A for this year’s question, including Buffett’s complete answer, is available here.
  • CNBC was the exclusive host of this year’s meeting. My exchange with Buffett is available as part of CNBC’s recording of the morning session available here, beginning at the 56:24 mark.
  • A transcript of my 2015 question and Buffett’s complete answer is available here.
  • A transcript of my 2013 question, along with Buffett’s complete answer and the subsequent discussion is available here.

In the words of Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof and symbolic of my lucky “chai” 18, “To life, to life, l’chaim!”

Marvin E. Bum

All eyes were on Marvin Blum at the 2023 Berkshire Hathaway Annual Meeting as he poses a question to Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger, the third year Blum was selected as one of the attendees chosen to ask a question.

The Inspiring Story of Rose Blumkin

As our family embarks this week on our annual pilgrimage to Omaha for the Berkshire-Hathaway Annual Meeting, it brings to mind my all-time favorite example of a family business sale. In recent posts, I addressed the challenges owners face in selling their family business “baby.” Those are choppy waters to navigate. Not all ships complete the voyage successfully. The story of Rose Blumkin’s sale to Warren Buffett is especially legendary.

Tales abound how a small company with a quality product grew by mega proportions after acquisition by Berkshire-Hathaway. Mrs. See’s candy is a case-in-point. Today’s focus is on another business matriarch anointed by Buffett: Rose “Mrs. B” Blumkin.

Berkshire bought 90% of Mrs. B’s Nebraska Furniture Mart for about $55 million in 1983. Buffett declared that Mrs. B, an “89-year-old carpet sales woman would ‘run rings around’ the best corporate executives and business school graduates in America.” (Theron Mohamed, “Warren Buffett: Elderly Carpet Seller Better than America’s Best CEOs,” Business Insider, Dec. 26, 2022.) As usual, Buffett’s prophecy proved true.

Like my four grandparents, Mrs. B immigrated from Eastern Europe as a young child, just in time to escape the Holocaust. She arrived in America penniless and not knowing a word of English but loaded with wit, wisdom, and a tireless work ethic. Similar to my Uncle Joe who pushed a fruit cart to send money home to bring over his parents and siblings, young Rose did the same by selling second-hand clothing.

In 1937, Rose sold all her home furnishings and appliances to raise $500 to open Nebraska Furniture Mart. Over the years, her children and grandchildren joined her, growing the business to today’s sales of $1.6 billion and more than $80 million in after-tax profits.

Buffett saw the writing on the wall in 1983 and convinced Mrs. B to cash out. She reluctantly agreed to sell, citing two reasons: (1) to create liquidity to pay high estate taxes; and (2) to avoid having her kids squabble over the company after she was gone. Rose and her family stayed on to run the business.

The story gets better. After she retired at age 95, Mrs. B found she couldn’t stand retirement. (Is anyone surprised?) Only months later, she opened a competing store across the street called Mrs. B’s Clearance and Factory Outlet and quickly grew it to Omaha’s third largest carpet store. Buffett couldn’t resist—he bought her new store within five years and merged Mrs. B’s two companies. As author Mohamed points out, Buffett “joked that he wouldn’t let Mrs. B retire again without signing a non-compete agreement.”

Rose Blumkin worked until 103 and then died a year later in 1998. Retiring was probably a mistake. Her grandchildren and great-grandchildren now run Nebraska Furniture Mart.

As we now head to Omaha, I’m inspired to go pay tribute to Mrs. B’s legacy.

Marvin E. Blum

Rose Blumkin, pictured on her scooter in her Omaha carpet store, ran (or wheeled) rings around other CEOs, enticing Warren Buffett (right) to buy her store. Blumkin grew Nebraska Furniture Mart into the nation’s largest furniture store before retiring at 103.

Don’t Beat Yourself Up Over Investment Mistakes

When Warren Buffett’s annual letter to shareholders goes out, my son Adam is among the first to devour every word and send me highlights. As the Blum family prepares to leave next week for our annual pilgrimage to the Berkshire-Hathaway Annual Meeting, I want to share some of “Warren’s Wisdom” with you. We all make investment mistakes along the way. In Buffett’s annual letter, he owns up to his mistakes. I learned an important lesson: Don’t be hard on yourself.

Berkshire fans glorify the investment acumen of Buffett (92) and his partner Charlie Munger (now 99!). If only we had their investment skills! But Buffett humbly shares the reality in his annual letter: “Over the years, I have made many mistakes… In 58 years of Berkshire management, most of my capital-allocation decisions have been no better than 50-50.” The key is to be resilient. Stay the course, and continue taking measured risks. Don’t retreat to a “disappointing investment” like a “high-grade 30-year bond.”

Buffett modestly confesses that in those 58 years, he’s made only “about a dozen truly good decisions—that would be about one every five years.” So, for those of you (like me) who have made some bad investments over the years, don’t beat yourself up. Buffett concludes: “The lesson for investors: The weeds wither away in significance as the flowers bloom. Over time, it takes just a few minutes to work wonders. And, yes, it helps to start early and live into your 90’s as well.”

Consistent with this lesson, I learned that investment guru Richard Rainwater (the pride of Fort Worth, may he rest in peace) had a similar track record. Rainwater’s management of the Bass family money got off to a rocky start. Sid Bass revealed: “For the first two years, every single deal I did with them, I lost every single penny.” (Skip Hollandsworth, “Richard Rainwater—The Invisible Man Behind One of the Year’s Biggest Deals,” Texas Monthly, September 1996).

Rainwater ultimately grew the Bass’s $50 million oil inheritance into a $5 billion fortune (Hui-yong Yu, “Richard Rainwater, Billionaire Texas Investor with Foresight, Dies at 71,” The Washington Post, Sept. 28, 2015.) Yu discloses that those early losses ate up $20 million of the $50 million inheritance.

At this year’s TIGER 21 annual conference, real estate mogul Sam Zell added further support to this thesis. Not every deal will be a home run, or even a triple, double, or single. “Baseball players get paid $25 million if they get a hit one out of every three at bats.” Just being right on a portion of deals will more than offset the losers.

For those like me who have missed plenty of at-bats over the years, I hope this makes you feel better. We’re in good company. And remember, as I’ve quoted my mentor Jay Hughes in past posts, financial capital is only one of five sources of wealth. Don’t minimize the importance of human, intellectual, social, and spiritual capitals. I’ll punctuate that message with the brilliance of my wife of 44 years, Laurie: “In measuring your success in life, dollars and cents isn’t the right way to keep score.” Now I really feel better!

Marvin E. Blum

Marvin Blum’s son Adam Blum, pictured here with Warren Buffett, as the Blum family prepares for its annual pilgrimage to attend the 2023 Berkshire-Hathaway Annual Meeting.

Spring Cleaning: Time to Clean Up Mistakes in Your Will

Spring has sprung, and with it comes the perfect time for some spring cleaning. For me, that takes me outside to spruce up my yard (or as we call it in the Blum family, “Marvin’s Garden”). But spring is also the ideal time to do an estate plan clean-up.

Cheryl Winokur Munk offers some great tips in “The Biggest Mistakes People Make With Their Wills” (Wall Street Journal, Feb. 16, 2023). Here are some of her ideas, along with a few extra tips of my own:

1. Not having a Will: The statistics are shocking on the number of people who don’t have a Will, even among high-net-worth individuals. Among the many who overlook having a Will are young adults. If you or your kids are 18 or over and don’t have a Will, the state has one for you, and you won’t like it.

2. Procrastinating: Though it’s tempting to keep putting off estate planning, time is not our friend. The pandemic reminded us that we’re all mortal. Moreover, tax laws are likely to change, taking away some of the best tools in the estate planner’s toolbox. Note that the $12,920,000 exemption cuts in half at midnight December 31, 2025, so it’s a “use it or lose it” situation.

3. Leaving an Inheritance Outright Instead of in Trust: In addition to the risks of passing assets into unprepared hands, leaving an estate outright exposes it to creditors, divorce, and estate tax. A carefully crafted trust can protect the inheritance for future generations.

4. Overlooking Digital Assets: Take steps to make sure someone has your passwords and private keys so they can navigate your digital wallet when you’re gone.

5. Not Updating Regularly: Your assets change, as do the people in your life, so make sure to check whom you’ve named as beneficiaries, guardian for your kids, executor, and trustee. The Blum Firm’s rule-of-thumb is to update your Will at each presidential election.

6. Failure to Change Beneficiary Designations: Many forget that certain assets pass outside a Will, such as life insurance, retirement benefits, and pay-on-death bank accounts. Those “non-probate” assets pass to the person you’ve named on a Beneficiary Designation Form, regardless of what your Will says.

7. Not Drafting for Flexibility: Circumstances change, so don’t set things in stone. Make bequests with formulas or percentages instead of dollar amounts. Give beneficiaries a Special Power of Appointment and designate Special Trustees with power to amend.

8. Your Will Is a Public Document: Preserve privacy with a simple “Pourover Will” that leaves your assets to a Living Trust (which is a private document). Retitling assets into the Living Trust while you’re alive avoids probate.

9. Don’t Forget a Charitable Inheritance: Leave your family two inheritances—a trust to provide for their needs, as well as a charitable vehicle they can use to benefit causes meaningful to your family. In addition to carrying on your tradition of giving, such a charitable inheritance creates powerful family “glue.”

10. Leaving Your Heirs in a Cash Crunch: Engage in “squeeze & freeze” planning to reduce estate taxes and explore life insurance solutions to provide needed liquidity.

11. Don’t Ignore Family Dynamics: Face reality about your family and create a thoughtful plan that heads off resentment and conflicts. Engage in facilitated conversations to open up channels of communication and build trust. Otherwise, when G-1 dies, these simmering issues tend to erupt like a volcano.

12. You Need More than a Will: A Will only tells who inherits your assets. Add a Red File to provide other information such as assets, key contacts, and business succession instructions; an Ethical Will (or Legacy Letter) to speak your heart to your heirs; and a FAST Trust to fund family meetings, family enrichment, and travel to foster ongoing family connection.

Let’s enjoy spring and all the promise it offers us. Here’s hoping these tips from “Marvin’s Estate Planning Garden” will inspire you to do some important spring cleaning.

Marvin E. Blum

Caption: For Marvin Blum, spring cleaning means sprucing up “Marvin’s Garden,” but it’s also a great time to spruce up your estate plan and clean up any mistakes in your Will.

“Can We Talk?” It’s Time to Be Candid About Family Dynamics

These were my opening words to the Dallas Council of Charitable Gift Planners: “Can we talk?” (spoken in a New York accent, channeling comedian Joan Rivers and her famous opening line). Having witnessed case after case of what happens when an inheritance falls into unprepared hands, I know all too well the disruption it causes in a family. Joan was joking, but this is no laughing matter. It’s time to “talk” candidly about family disharmony.

I’ve been helping families plan and pass down estates for 45 years. I can say with authority that, in one way or another, every family deals with challenging family dynamics. When you throw an inheritance into that mix, it’s like adding fuel to the fire. As the famous quote goes: “You never really know a person until you’ve shared an inheritance with them.”

Here are a few stories I’ve witnessed that served as wake-up calls to shift me from “head” estate planning to “head & heart” estate planning:

  • A well-meaning grandparent left a trust that doles out a monthly allowance to a grandchild, who now lives a sad and unproductive life in the grandparent’s mansion. The grandchild has no reason to get out of bed in the morning.
  • Siblings at war over control of a family business, a business that has provided generously for three generations, yet is now the source of intense jealousy and hate.
  • Battling siblings challenging a deathbed Will that left family legacy assets all to one child instead of equally to all three.
  • Attending a conference for owners of Family Offices, where the session garnering the biggest turn-out and interest wasn’t a session on investing, tax planning, estate planning, or money management. It was a presentation on substance abuse and addiction. Every family in attendance was dealing with this problem at some level.
  • My own brother’s death at age 65, where the reality hit me hard that a stack of estate planning documents isn’t just about trust structures and saving tax; those documents affect lives. We need to think carefully about the impact of our planning on loved ones we leave behind. It’s not just a bunch of words.

I give a lot of speeches on the topic of Family Legacy Planning, searching for ways to help families improve the odds of multi-generational success. I’ve shared a similar PowerPoint with you before, but for convenience, here’s a link to my recent Dallas speech “In Search of ‘Family Glue.” The statistics are daunting, as 90% fall victim to the adage “shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in three generations.” In this speech, I covered the “Best Practices” of the 10% who succeed.

We will soon wrap up the eight-day Passover holiday, and it brings to mind a part of our Passover Seder celebration where the youngest in the room asks “The Four Questions.” During the Seder, we offer answers to those questions. Similarly, I opened my speech with a different version of Four Questions, along with suggested answers. Here’s a recap of that Q & A:

  1. Q: What keeps you awake at night? A: It’s usually not your money or your investments; most of the time, it’s your family—wanting them to live happy, productive lives.
  2. Q: To what end have I created this wealth? A: My hope is that the assets I leave behind will be used for good and not tear apart my family.
  3. Q: What’s the right amount to leave your kids? A: It’s the amount they’re prepared to receive.
  4. Q: Are your kids and grandkids ready for the inheritance coming their way? A: If not, it’s important to start taking intentional steps to prepare them for it.

As a final point, I’ll reiterate that the “inheritance” that’s passing down to your loved ones isn’t just money. As Jay Hughes teaches in Family Wealth: Keeping It in the Family, the word “it” doesn’t mean money. “It” refers to five sources of family wealth: Financial Capital, Human Capital, Spiritual Capital, Social Capital, and Intellectual Capital. Hughes quotes a grandmother who got “it” when she said: “Our family has always been rich, and we’ve sometimes had money.”

Wishing all a meaningful holiday experience during this spiritual season,
Marvin E. Blum

Marvin Blum had the recent privilege of speaking about “Family Glue” to the Dallas Council of Charitable Gift Planners.

Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast

In last week’s post, I expressed gratitude that some hard lessons learned early in my career informed me how to build a caring culture at The Blum Firm. My mission was to create a firm where every team member could thrive, and no one would dread coming to the office. We spend most of our waking hours at work. It needs to be a positive experience.

I shared the journey of my connection with Ed Copley, who grew from being my once feared boss at a big law firm to now being my beloved colleague and Senior Counsel here at The Blum Firm. In discussing that miraculous evolution with my best friend Talmage Boston, I gained some powerful insights. Talmage had run into Ed recently and they talked about how happy Ed is at The Blum Firm and how close Ed and I have become. Talmage credits the environment at The Blum Firm for creating an atmosphere where co-workers can bond and find career satisfaction: “In our personal lives, relationships are everything. In the workplace, culture is everything.”

Talmage followed up that wisdom with a quote from Peter Drucker I’d often heard but never fully understood: “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” Jacob Engel, in an article for Forbes Coaches Council, enlightened me. “Culture is the secret sauce that keeps employees motivated and clients happy.” Engel uses two stories to illustrate his point.

1. Everyone at Nathan’s security services business had a can-do attitude. Leaders modeled humility, confidence, and integrity. The company’s culture included:

  • Caring about each other and their customers.
  • Empowering everyone to do their best.
  • Striving for feedback, collaboration, and diversity.
  • Reaching for the stars without fear of failing, and if you fail, “at least you will land on the moon.”

It’s no wonder that Nathan’s team gave their all, and his business prospered. “It wasn’t empty talk or something nice on the wall. They knew that the company’s culture was the secret sauce behind their success, and they religiously followed it.”

2. In contrast, Charles put emphasis on processes rather than culture. Instead of caring about each other, there was constant infighting. No one took responsibility for failures. “Culture starts at the top, and as long as the leaders were finding excuses for nonperformance, everyone else did the same.” Is it any wonder Charles’ business was suffering? Processes and strategy, unsupported by a strong culture, will not sustain a business.

Moreover, creating that culture starts at the top. I continually strive to strengthen our culture at The Blum Firm. I’ve been told that even the simple things like my morning walk-arounds to greet each person one by one makes a difference in their day. So do our monthly birthday celebrations and Wednesday lunches. Building a strong culture requires constant care and feeding, and we can always improve. I’ll keep working at it forever.

Culture “eating” strategy signifies that culture is paramount, and it gobbles up processes, rules, and strategic plans for breakfast. Structures are important, but they take a back seat to culture. Putting primary emphasis on strategy and prioritizing it over people (such as adopting a new strategic plan and pushing out good people) destroys culture, which in turn destroys a business. Reacting to my post “It Takes a Team,” attorney Zachary Oliva summed it up: “Culture drives everything!”

As I learned from my mentor Tom Rogerson of GenLegCo., culture drives the success of a business, but it also drives the success of a family. These same principles, modeled by a family’s leaders, can build a strong family culture. Elaborate estate plans with trusts and entities are important, but for a family to succeed and prosper from generation to generation, those strategies must be built on a solid family culture foundation.

Strong core values, caring about each other, celebrating each person’s strengths, honest feedback, encouraging and empowering one another, modeling good behavior—those are the building blocks for a rock-solid culture, essential to sustaining both a business and a family.

Marvin E. Blum

Join Marvin Blum in intentionally creating a strong culture for your business (and your family).

Ed Copley & My Journey from Fear to Friend

I’ve written recently about my journey to create and grow The Blum Firm. As with most endeavors, the path from then to now wasn’t a straight upward sloping line. Especially in the early years, it was more of a roller coaster, replete with mistakes (aka “teachable moments”) and a lot of self-discovery. I’d like to share how one such early “mistake,” seasoned by the passage of time and my corresponding maturity, grew into one of my greatest blessings.

In the summer of 1976, after my first year of law school, I worked in the tax department of Price Waterhouse, and the experience was a perfect match for me. The following summer, I decided to intern at two law firms—one in Fort Worth and one in Dallas—to learn more about a law firm career path. As a Fort Worth boy, my hometown law firm was an easy fit. On the other side of the Trinity River, the Dallas law firm experience was a challenge for me—bigger, faster, and more high-octane. Was it also a fit? Not so much.

The head of the tax department at the Dallas firm was a brilliant, hard-working, and hard-charging man with massive responsibilities on his shoulders. I admired him but was too intimidated to try to forge a connection with him. Once I decided that firm wasn’t the place for me, I made no effort to build a relationship with him. Given how that clerkship went, I assumed he had no interest in me either. I also assumed I’d likely never have contact with him again. His name: Ed Copley.

For decades, that name struck fear in me, conjuring up negative memories of that clerkship experience. As decades unfolded and my Fort Worth law practice grew, it turns out that Ed Copley and I indeed reconnected. He was representing a matriarch in a complicated estate planning transaction that required her children to hire their own lawyer. Lo and behold, the children hired The Blum Firm, arousing fear in me that my relationship with Ed Copley would be tense.

To my surprise and relief, my interaction with Ed was the opposite. He was collegial and welcoming of my input. He treated me, many years his junior, with respect. My fear of Ed Copley melted away.

The story gets better. As The Blum Firm grew, we opened a Dallas office which quickly became vibrant. Our Dallas staff included a senior attorney, Kent McMahan, who had just retired as head of the Trust & Estate department at Fulbright & Jaworski. Still robust, Kent continued his career at The Blum Firm, serving as a powerful mentor to our team. Sadly, Kent passed away, leaving a vacancy I wanted to fill with another senior attorney. Guess who I called to recruit? You got it—Ed Copley!

For the last seven years, Ed has been Senior Counsel at The Blum Firm, bringing extraordinary wisdom, intellect, and kindness to our firm every day. Ed is the consummate role model. We all look up to him and learn from him. Most of all, I regard Ed as a close friend, and our relationship is one of the greatest blessings in my career.

If someone had told me in 1978 that one day Ed Copley would be working at a law firm with my name on the door, I’d have never believed it. What a difference 40 years can make! It still blows my mind, and it teaches me so many lessons. First is to fight off our fears and intimidations and be open to connecting with people in positions of power. They don’t bite, and we can learn so much from them. I now realize the problem wasn’t Ed; it was me. Second is to believe that feelings can change. We evolve and heal, if we will just be patient and have faith. And finally, every “failure” is a learning experience and opportunity to grow. I look back now on that “Big Law” clerkship where I wasn’t a fit and am grateful it helped inform me how to chart a career path and build a law firm (and law firm culture) of my dreams.

To my dear friend Ed, thank you for not giving up on me and for teaching me so much.

Marvin E. Blum

Marvin Blum’s journey with Ed Copley (right), Senior Counsel at The Blum Firm, has come a long way from its rough start in the summer of 1977.

Life Insurance May Be Your Family’s Ideal Solution

Let me clarify at the outset that I don’t sell life insurance. However, The Blum Firm is a big fan of life insurance as a solution to many estate planning challenges. In my speech this month to the Dallas Estate Planning Council, I described seven situations where life insurance came to the rescue (click on this link for my presentation on “Life Insurance Planning Opportunities”).

I started my speech by mentioning that I’m about to attend the 45th reunion of UT Law School’s class of 1978. I reflected on the estate planning world of 1978 compared to estate planning in 2023. If an estate planner from 1978 came back to hear my speech, he would hear a whole new vocabulary and wonder, “What is this foreign language Marvin’s using?” SLATs, Blended Families, Loan-Regime Split Dollar, Mixing Bowl Partnerships, PPLI, Life Settlements, FAST Trusts—none of those were part of estate planning parlance when I started my law practice 45 years ago. Their heads would be spinning.

In this new world of estate planning, planners think “outside the box” to derive creative solutions to address our clients’ needs. Many of those solutions involve life insurance. Here’s an overview of the topics I covered:

  • Each spouse’s SLAT (Spousal Lifetime Access Trust) may buy life insurance on the other spouse to replace assets in the deceased spouse’s SLAT that will benefit the children at the first death.
  • If you love your grandchildren equally, consider a life insurance policy that passes equally to your grandkids, per capita rather than per stirpes.
  • For today’s “Blended Family,” I identified five situations where life insurance can help preserve family harmony.
  • Loan-regime split dollar life insurance can help you “have your cake and eat it too,” removing assets from the estate but preserving a stepped-up basis at death.
  • Using a “Mixing Bowl Partnership” can enable you to shift basis from one asset to another, allowing you use an appreciated asset to buy PPLI (Private Placement Life Insurance) without incurring tax on the gain.
  • Before cancelling a policy, consider selling it in a Life Settlement, often for far more than the policy’s cash value.
  • Create a FAST (Family Advancement Sustainability Trust) funded with life insurance to pay for family retreats, family travel, maintenance of legacy real estate assets, and overall family enrichment after G-1 is gone.

I closed by urging estate planners to address these topics with our clients. Not only will it help our clients and their families achieve their goals, it will also help show our clients that we truly care about them. I concluded by quoting Teddy Roosevelt: “People don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.”

Marvin E. Blum

Marvin Blum was honored to speak about “Life Insurance Planning Opportunities” to the Dallas Estate Planning Council on March 2, 2023.

White Belt: Mind; Black Belt: Heart—The Martial Arts of Estate Planning

No where is the struggle of listening to your heart versus your head more potent than when engaging in estate planning. When designing an inheritance, my clients are often torn between doing what their head tells them when their heart is pulling in the other direction. I submit that in estate planning, it’s not an “either/or” (head or heart) but a “both.” And for the sake of multi-generational success, the heart is the more dominant force.

This message became clear to me on a recent trip with my wife Laurie to Lake Austin Spa to celebrate our 44th wedding anniversary. For those who know me, it comes as no surprise that I spend such spa getaways going from one fitness class to another, driven to make every minute productive. (I’m not resting on vacations; as my mother-in-law often said: “I’ll rest when I die.”) As the photo reveals, one such class was Tai Chi, taught by fitness guru David Robbins.

Tai Chi, like other Eastern disciplines, is a mix of body, mind, and spirit. At the end of the session, Robbins challenged us to interpret the phrase “White Belt: Mind; Black Belt: Heart.” I’m no karate kid, but I figured out that in the struggle between the two, the heart takes precedence over the mind. In the world of martial arts, a white belt is a beginner while a black belt represents skill, strength, and experience. A mature person puts his full heart into every effort. While your mind is an important part of the process, to achieve a successful outcome requires a heavy dose of heart.

What does this have to do with estate planning? In my 45-year law journey, I spent my beginning white belt years focused on the “head” side of planning. My primary attention was on the technical and tax aspects of estate planning. As I’ve ventured on toward the goal of becoming a black belt estate planning lawyer, I figured out the critical importance of the “heart” side of planning. It takes both—head and heart.

Numerous wake-up calls lead me to this place: inheritances gone bad, sibling warfare, and unprepared heirs. I repeatedly hear my TIGER21 colleagues say what keeps them awake at night isn’t money or investments, but it’s family matters. Experiencing life cycle events like my brother’s death and the births of my five grandkids awakened me to the role of estate planning in creating a lasting legacy. I took a deep dive into the waters of “FAST” trusts, family meetings, family governance, and preserving a heritage. I understand the need to be intentional about achieving multi-generational connectedness (“interdependence”). It takes more than “hope” for a family to remain strong over the years. Hope is not a strategy.

In my search for a label for this type of estate planning, I’ve considered many options: Family Legacy Planning, Qualitative Estate Planning, Holistic Estate Planning, the Soft Side of Estate Planning, Family Governance Planning, and Family-Centered Planning, but the one I keep coming back to is “Head & Heart” Estate Planning. My Tai Chi class makes me think that label may sum it up the best.

The Blum Firm welcomes the opportunity to assist with both the “head” and the “heart” aspects of your estate planning.

Marvin E. Blum

Marvin Blum’s Tai Chi class at Lake Austin Spa reaffirmed his commitment to “head & heart” estate planning.

Planning for the Other “Baby” You Raised—Your Family Business

I was recently honored to deliver the keynote address for a symposium sponsored by the Purposeful Planning Institute. The topic was the one I frequently describe as “the most neglected area of estate planning:” Business Succession Planning. Click here for a copy of my PowerPoint.

In the realm of “head and heart” estate planning, transitioning a family business draws heavily from both the head and the heart. All business transfers present challenges for a founder, whether the transfer is to family members, insiders/employees, or outside third parties, but the sale to third parties tends to be most challenging. Indeed, unless we pay sufficient attention to the owner’s personal transition, the transaction almost always fails. Here are three examples where The Blum Firm successfully shepherded the process of selling a business through to closing.

  • Founder and his wife observed that they had done their job educating their children and setting them up in good careers. Ready to retire, charitably inclined, and seeking a steady lifetime stream of income, they transferred their business to a Charitable Remainder Trust (“CRT”). (Note that there are special income tax considerations that apply when transferring a business to a CRT.) The CRT sold the company, deferring income tax on the sale. The tax was paid gradually over the years as the CRT made annual payments to the couple (and later, after the husband died, to the surviving wife). In addition to financial peace of mind, the couple enjoyed knowing that their favorite causes would benefit when the remaining trust funds pass at the survivor’s death to a Donor Advised Fund.
  • The owners of a legacy family business received an unsolicited offer for considerably more than they thought the company was worth. Resisting the temptation to give a quick “yes,” they hired a broker to take the business to market. Four more suitors surfaced and engaged in a bidding war. They ultimately sold to a strategic buyer who paid four times the original offer, in cash. Each child owned some shares and received a generous payout. The bulk of the proceeds went to the parents, who then created a Family Foundation which they enjoy operating. Since the children each have their own wealth, the parents are leaving their estate to the Family Foundation.
  • The self-made creator of a major enterprise was eager to monetize the value of his business and lighten the burden of being the sole “captain of the ship.” He declined multiple offers from private equity firms for fear they might burden the business with debt and lay off employees (whom he considered like family). Instead, he sold the business to a major conglomerate, getting the value out of the company but under an arrangement where he could stay on and run it for as long as he wishes. Also charitably minded, the founder and his wife are donating a substantial portion of their wealth to a Family Foundation.

These three transactions addressed the founder’s head needs as well as heart needs, thereby making it to the finish line with a successful closing. Estate planning advisors are uniquely positioned to help business owners address both the quantitative (head) and qualitative (heart) aspects of business succession planning. I applaud the work of the Purposeful Planning Institute for training advisors to deal with both aspects—in their words, “to fuse the technical aspects of Estate Planning and Wealth Management with relational and legacy planning.” I was honored to be on the PPI Symposium faculty and serve as a champion for the cause.

Marvin E. Blum

Marvin Blum delivers keynote on “Business Succession Planning” for the Purposeful Planning Symposium.

Be Spontaneous and Make a Memory!

I’m an estate planning lawyer who urges people to be careful planners. In my own life, I’m a cobbler who wears my own shoes. I try to plan every detail and contingency in my life. On top of that, I’m extremely practical. That’s me—pretty much a boring, practical planner. (At least I’m self-aware.) I don’t do spontaneous.

So picture this scene. Last Thursday night, after a full week of travel, work, and events every evening, I was desperate for a weekend to recharge. A text arrives. It’s my New York daughter Lizzy, who just scored two Saturday tickets to “Funny Girl,” a perfect father-daughter outing. My immediate response: “I can’t do that. It’s too last minute.” Lizzy wasn’t accepting that. Her reply: “YOLO.” I figured it out—You Only Live Once. My wife Laurie added: “One day, you won’t be able to travel. Do it while you can. Also, you’d drop everything for something bad, so why not drop everything for something good?” Minutes later, I’m booking a 24-hour trip to New York.

I’m writing this post on the flight home, tired but grateful that I broke out of my practical planner mold. Last night with Lizzy was a mountaintop moment we’ll both cherish forever. The show was terrific, but more than that, we made a lifetime memory. Lizzy and I share a lot of the same wiring. The highs and lows of Fanny Brice’s journey as an entertainer resonated with both of us. We felt that joy and pain deeply, and it was even richer because we felt it together.

I had almost backed out. Lizzy discovered that the title role was being performed by an understudy. After a brief internal debate, I proceeded with the trip and figured if it’s not performed by Barbara Streisand, what’s the difference if it’s Lea Michele or someone else? Good decision. The understudy was brilliant.

The last time I did something spontaneous was 12 years ago. Leaving an event, friends invited Laurie and me to join them for five days on a yacht—leaving the very next morning! Again, the practical planner in me instantly declined. Then Laurie set me straight. I reversed my decision, and we had the best getaway ever. I’m grateful to have a wife and daughter who challenge me when my brain is yelling “this makes no sense.” Sometimes we should get out of our comfort zone and do things that make no sense to us. The reward is worth it.

At this point in my life, my top two priorities are relationships and memorable moments. Being practical almost deprived me of a chance to check both those boxes. I suppose a little spontaneity looks good on me, maybe once every dozen or so years.

I’ll close with this wisdom, which sums up my night with Lizzy (sing along with me): “People, people who need people, are the luckiest people in the world.” Indeed, I am.

Marvin E. Blum

Marvin Blum made a spontaneous trip to New York to join his daughter Lizzy Savetsky at “Funny Girl,” totally out of character but totally worth it!

Putting a Big Red Bow on Your Estate Plan

I spent Valentine’s Day in Midland, Texas, talking about putting a big red (Valentine-worthy) bow on top of your estate planning package. After signing the package of estate planning documents, our work is not complete until we add the bow on top. The red bow is a “Red File,” a collection of information your family needs to know that is not in your estate planning documentsClick here for a copy of my presentation.

We have described the Red File in a previous post (see “Create a ‘Red File’ to Prepare Your Heirs for What’s Coming”), but the topic is so important it merits covering again today. A Red File provides your family with a roadmap to guide them in four key areas:

  • Your care during incapacity
  • Estate administration upon your death
  • Succession planning for your business
  • Creating a lasting legacy

It includes items such as key contacts, passwords, caregiving wishes, and heartfelt reflections.

A Will tells who inherits your assets, but it doesn’t tell what you own or where those assets are located. Handing an executor a Will without more information is like telling them where to drive your car but not telling them where the keys are.

Like most estate planning tasks, it’s tempting to postpone creating a Red File until “later.” However, playing the waiting game is risky. Once dementia sets in or a traumatic brain injury occurs, it’s too late. Furthermore, death often comes without advance warning. The leading cause of death in the U.S. is heart disease. For two-thirds of women and half of men, their first symptom was death—not chest pain, not discomfort in an arm, not shortness of breath.

Given the uncertainties, I urge all to complete our Red File checklist. This guide is forever a work-in-progress. If you think of items we should add, please forward your ideas to us. We welcome your input to continue improving this valuable roadmap for your loved ones.

Marvin E. Blum

Marvin Blum speaking to the Midland-Odessa Business and Estate Council on “A Red File: Putting a Bow on Top of Your Estate Plan.”

It Takes a Team – and I’m Mighty Proud of Ours

In a recent post I told the story of my journey to create and build The Blum Firm, learning from mistakes along the way (see “When Failure Happens, Send a Thank You Note”). I shared my efforts to create a caring culture, partnering with like-minded colleagues driven to provide first-class estate planning to our clients.

Today I’d like to share an experience from eight years ago that affirmed my efforts were bearing fruit. I received a call out of the blue from the CFO of a family office, engaging in a nationwide search for new estate planning counsel. Months later, the CFO called back to say that after an extensive search, The Blum Firm emerged in first place. Honored and humbled, I wanted to learn more about who we were through their eyes. Why us? The response:

  • The top credentials of our attorneys.
  • The creative “outside the box” planning we provide.
  • The size of our team, as a deeper bench would enable us to staff multiple projects simultaneously.
  • The younger age of most of our attorneys—more likely to be here to assist G-3 and G-4 in years to come.
  • Our reputation for quality work and service.

We’ve now represented this family for eight years, and I’m gratified they often serve as a reference for us. In describing The Blum Firm to others, they add another element to the list—the caring service and responsiveness of our team.

In today’s post, I want to pay tribute to The Blum Firm’s amazing staff. In addition to assembling dedicated attorneys, we take equal effort to hire the best and brightest for the other half of our law firm family. Our paralegals, legal assistants, and all the other members of our support team repeatedly go above and beyond to help us achieve our mission: caring for our clients and each other, collaborating with other advisors and among ourselves, and creating a community of character and talent. Each takes pride in bringing his or her best to work every day. And there’s no ego—we just want the best solutions for our clients.

I’ve seen this commitment in action day after day. Winding the clock back to 2000 when a tornado destroyed our office, our team engaged in the two-year herculean task of sorting through hundreds of boxes of mixed-up papers laden with razor-sharp glass shards to put our clients’ files back together. We’ve been there for client emergencies, literally 24/7, to provide urgent documents and, even more importantly, peace of mind. Hospital visits, home visits, funerals, literally and figuratively handholding for recently widowed spouses—there’s a can-do spirit and a positive attitude. We’re here for you, and we care.

The Blum Firm work community is truly a family. On this Valentine’s Day, I’m sending love to this extraordinary team.

Marvin E. Blum

Marvin Blum pays tribute to The Blum Firm team for always going above and beyond.

You Can’t Take Your Leftovers with You—So How Much Do You Leave to Your Kids?

My 10-year-old granddaughter Stella Savetsky posts a weekly Instagram video, Stella’s Torah Corner, teaching that week’s Torah portion. I always learn a lot from her posts, including her most recent one on the portion Beshalach. After escaping slavery in Egypt, Jews wandering in the desert received daily manna from heaven to sustain them. Whatever manna they didn’t finish at the end of the day was destroyed. They couldn’t take the leftovers with them. Stella wisely provided a Torah lesson that resonates with her estate planning Zaidy: when you die, you can’t take your leftovers with you. Accordingly, you need to plan carefully for where those leftovers should go upon your death. Guiding people in that important decision just happens to be my life’s work.

When parents consider where to leave their “leftover” assets, the knee-jerk reaction is to leave them to their kids. However, after careful analysis, the decision is actually more complicated. How much is the right amount to leave your kids? Returning to the article featured in a couple of my recent posts “The Getty Family’s Trust Issues” (The New Yorker, Jan. 23, 2023), Evan Osnos declares: “The question of how much to leave your kids has been with us since the Ice Age…. [W]hen inheritance patterns reach extremes, they wreak social and political havoc.” All are familiar with stories of inheritances gone bad. Osnos cites two famous examples: “Even some of America’s greatest entrepreneurs saw inheritances as a handicap—a ‘misguided affection,’ as Andrew Carnegie put it. William K. Vanderbilt, a descendant of Cornelius, observed, evidently from experience, that inherited wealth was ‘as certain a death to ambition as cocaine is to morality.’”

What’s the answer? Warren Buffett’s famous advice is “enough so they can do anything, but not so much that they can do nothing.” My position is that the right amount of inheritance is the amount your heirs are prepared to receive. Any amount is too much if it lands in unprepared hands. Having witnessed all too often the disastrous consequences of money going to the unprepared, I embarked on a Family Legacy Planning initiative to encourage families to engage in a thoughtful family meeting process to equip future generations with the skills (financial and emotional) to handle whatever amount is coming their way.

Parents often joke with me that they plan to spend their last dollar on the day they die. Obviously, that only works if you have a crystal ball telling you that date. The reality is that, in the end, there will be “leftovers” to distribute. Here’s my suggestion for a three-part inheritance to leave your heirs:

  • A portion as a traditional inheritance passing to a trust that provides for the health, education, maintenance, and support of your heirs, protected from creditors and divorces;
  • A portion to a charitable vehicle, such as a private foundation or donor advised fund, giving your heirs a second inheritance they can use to benefit causes important to the family; and
  • A portion to a FAST Trust (Family Advancement Sustainability Trust) where funds are not to be distributed to beneficiaries but are to be spent only on family enrichment activities such as family retreats, family travel, preserving a heritage, maintaining a legacy property, and providing programs to educate the family on philanthropy, entrepreneurship, and other worthwhile endeavors.

As you ponder where to allocate your leftovers at death, I urge you to work with advisors to guide you through a thoughtful process. The goal is to design an estate plan that improves the odds of multi-generational success, passing assets down to responsible, empowered (and not entitled) heirs.

Marvin E. Blum

Marvin Blum’s granddaughter Stella Savetsky posts Stella’s Torah Corner on Instagram to teach the weekly Torah portion. Last week’s post contained an estate planning lesson.

Pay Attention to the Signs

Last week’s post explored themes covered by The New Yorker magazine’s article “The Getty Family’s Trust Issues” (Jan. 23, 2023). In writing the article, author Evan Osnos interviewed me for my views on current trends in estate planning. There’s a lot happening in the world of trusts, estates, and tax planning.

For over three decades, we have been living in the “Golden Age” of estate planning. As Osnos quoted me in the Getty article: “‘Conditions for leaving large sums have never been better,’ noting that ‘Congress has not closed an estate-planning loophole in over thirty years.’” However, in the world of my wise friend Mary Staudt, it’s time to “pay attention to the signs.”

Until recently, the estate planner’s tools in our golden toolbox were by and large flying under the radar. Then came 2021. As the pendulum started swinging from Trump-right to Biden-left, writers like Osnos began exposing our tools to the general public. Multiple articles in mainstream media began igniting a public outcry to “Tax the Rich,” as displayed in the photo of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s met gala gown. Senator Bernie Sanders cleverly labeled his legislation “For the 99.8% Act,” asserting that the tax increases would only hurt 0.2% and would help 99.8%. Senator Elizabeth Warren touted her “Billionaire’s Tax,” which actually applied to anyone with a net worth of $100 million, but the “billionaire” label was more bombastic. Provisions such as these came within two votes of becoming law.

Political turbulence and anti-rich public sentiment are sending a warning call that one of these days “a change is gonna come” (to quote Sam Cooke). With that backdrop, here’s my take on current trends in estate planning.

  1. Take advantage of “squeeze & freeze” tools to reduce estate tax while the opportunity exists. Those who complete planning before a law change will likely be grandfathered.
  2. Engage in “Use It or Lose It” planning to lock in the $12,920,000 estate tax exemption before it cuts in half at the stroke of midnight on December 31, 2025 (when Cinderella’s coach turns back into a pumpkin).
  3. Rising interest rates create a push to do a long-term lock-in of today’s low interest rates on intra-family loans but also make certain tools more attractive (such as Charitable Remainder Trusts and Qualified Personal Residence Trusts).
  4. Inflation and the rising cost of living are motivating parents and grandparents to do more to help kids financially now, when they need it, as opposed to waiting until later to inherit. Ways to help include low-interest loans (such as home mortgages), annual $17,000 gifts, medical/education payments, Section 529 Plans, and gifts to Defective Grantor Trusts.
  5. The economic downturn actually creates the ideal timing to do estate freeze planning such as 678 Trusts, SLATs, and DGTs. Resist the psychological urge to wait on planning until values recover, as pre-recovery planning beats post-recovery planning.
  6. As a premier advocate for both “head” and “heart” estate planning, I note that the pandemic has stimulated a trend to engage in Family Legacy Planning. We became more aware of our mortality, prompting introspection: “To what end have I created this wealth?” Sheltering at home made it more difficult to sweep family dynamics/dysfunction under the rug, encouraging facilitated family meetings aimed at improving communication and trust.

While these trends are on the rise, many still fall victim to the greatest obstacle in estate planning—procrastination. I urge all to recognize that time is flying by, and with all the signs that “change is a-coming,” the passage of time is not our friend.

Marvin E. Blum

The met gala gown worn by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is literally “A Sign of the Times” igniting public sentiment to “Tax the Rich.”

Lessons from the Getty Family Estate Plan

In this week’s issue of The New Yorker magazine, Evan Osnos’ article “The Getty Family’s Trust Issues” contains a lot of important messages about Family Legacy Planning. Although the premise of the article is to explore how oil tycoon J. Paul Getty’s heirs have successfully avoided paying millions of dollars of tax, there is a lot to learn from the Getty family story beyond how they managed to save tax. As he was writing the article, Osnos contacted me to discuss not only Getty-type tax saving tools, but broader trends in estate planning. I was honored to provide input for the article about the planning opportunities in the “Golden Age” of estate planning but cautioned that the Golden Age likely won’t last forever.

First, let’s address some of the tools. Osnos points out that J. Paul Getty, America’s richest person, avoided estate tax on his art, property, and land by bequeathing them to a museum trust that established The Getty Center, one of the most visited of all America’s art museums. Paul’s son Gordon Getty, a San Francisco philanthropist, left four sons from wife Ann plus three daughters from an extramarital affair. Gordon included his three daughters in his estate plan by creating a trust for them called the Pleiades Trust, named for a group of Greek mythology sisters who had affairs with Olympian gods and were rewarded by becoming stars in the sky. Much of Osnos’ article is devoted to lengths taken by the Getty family to save tax, specifically by domiciling the trust in Nevada in order to escape California state income tax on the trust income. The trust tax arrangement is exposed by the Gettys’ disgruntled wealth manager Marlena Sonn.

Osnos also references other favorite techniques in the estate planner’s playbook, notably SLATs, CRUTs, BDITs, and GRATs. He shares that the Gettys share the usage of such tools with other mega-wealthy families such as heirs of Walmart founder Sam Walton and casino owner Sheldon Adelson. Other dynastic families also receive shout-outs for their efforts to utilize such tools, including owners of Gallo wine, Campbell’s soup, Wrigley gum, Family Dollar, Public Storage, and Hot Pockets. Osnos also highlights the strategy of holding appreciated assets until death and getting a stepped-up basis, pointing out that Jeff Bezos would avoid tax on a hundred billion dollars of Amazon stock gains if he died tomorrow. To pay living expenses without having to sell the stock during life, many owners of appreciated stock borrow against the stock and live off the loan proceeds, holding the stock till death (described as “buy, borrow, die”).

The important point I want to make is that these techniques are perfectly legal. Osnos draws a distinction between tax avoidance (such as through use of these tools, which is legal) and tax evasion (such as failing to report income or overstating deductions, which is illegal). However, articles like this one and others are shining a light on many of the tools that in prior decades were flying under the radar. Most notably, “For the 99.8%” tax legislation proposed by Senator Bernie Sanders in 2021 aimed to kill a number of these tools but would grandfather anyone who had used them prior to the law’s passage. The law didn’t pass, but the publicity around it stirred up a public sentiment to “Tax the Rich,” as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s met gala gown proclaimed in huge red letters. As I pointed out in Osnos’ article, “Now that the general public is aware, there is a growing outcry to shut down these benefits. This is a wake-up call that, sooner or later, the tax landscape will likely drastically change.” Those who wish to take advantage of the current opportunities would be wise to act now.

There is more to Osnos’ story about the Getty family than tax avoidance. He also describes competing philosophies among the heirs regarding the purpose of the family wealth. There are different views on where to invest and what causes to support. Dysfunction in the Getty family abounds. Old Paul had five divorces and five sons, whose weddings he didn’t even attend. After his death, the family feud was played out in public view in the courthouse, leading to a forced sale of Getty Oil to Texaco. One of Gordon’s daughters, a beneficiary of the Pleiades Trust, laments that her “abrupt transformation into an heir gave her little preparation for managing a fortune. ‘In exchange for the love I didn’t receive in my life, I got money,’ she said. ‘So, at first, I always felt misery and guilt, and I didn’t know what to do with it.’”

The Getty story is an extreme case of what drives my passion for “head and heart” estate planning. In conjunction with expanding someone’s inheritance through creative tax planning, the estate planning process must also prepare the heirs to be responsible inheritors. Over the last two years, my Family Legacy Planning series has focused on best practices to prepare heirs and bring a family together: family meetings, family governance structure, family mission statement, educating heirs, preserving family history and traditions, business succession planning, writing a legacy letter, family travel—the list goes on and on. Just like the Getty heirs, family members won’t always see eye-to-eye. Communication styles and love languages will differ. But a successful family addresses these matters rather than sweeping them under a rug. The end result is improved communication and trust, as well as family interdependence, so a family is there for each other as a support team when needed.

In my conversation with Evan Osnos, we took a deeper dive into current trends in estate planning. The conversation was stimulated by the Getty story, but my thoughts took off from there. In next week’s post, I’ll highlight more of the modern trends in estate planning that emerged from my involvement with the Getty article in The New Yorker. (The article is available here and here.)

Marvin E. Blum

The New Yorker article “The Getty Family’s Trust Issues” reveals not only Trust estate planning issues, but also issues of trust/mistrust among Getty family members. Marvin Blum was honored to be consulted for the article and quoted in it.

Should I Sell My Business to a Private Equity Firm?

When it comes to selling a business, some opt to sell 100% to a third-party buyer and completely walk away. However, others find it more appealing to “take some money off the table” but keep a stake in the business, keep management intact, and share in future growth. Before rushing to accept an offer, seek professional advice to help you find the business buy-out solution that best fits your family.

In “Private-Equity Firms Eye Family Businesses” (Wall Street Journal, Sept. 19, 2022), Miriam Gottfried explores the world of private equity business acquisitions. A private equity firm is a firm owned by investors who pool their money to buy businesses. Initially known for billion dollar deals to take big public companies private, private equity firms are now shifting focus to smaller family businesses. Very commonly, the bulk of the family’s net worth is tied up in the business. Such private equity deals offer owners another exit option when they wish to diversify their wealth.

Gottfried tells the story of the Lang family, owners of an 80-year-old pet food business, Ainsworth Pet Nutrition. Partnering with celebrity chef Rachael Ray, the firm was poised to take their brand to the mass market. The private equity firm L Catterton, recognizing the country’s growing obsession with pets, spotted an opportunity.

Rather than selling 100%, the Langs sold 42% but parted with control over operations. Under L Catterton’s management, the business expanded its product line and acquired one of the manufacturers of their merchandise. Fast-forward four years and J.M. Smucker Co. bought Ainsworth for $1.9 billion, earning the Lang family eight times what their stake was worth four years earlier.

Another example hits closer to home for me in nearby Greenville, Texas. Polara Enterprises, a 50-year-old family business, makes pedestrian signals to tell the blind when to cross at intersections. Owner John McGaffey held a “beauty contest” attracting 10 bidders (among them six private-equity firms) and sold a majority interest to Vance Street Capital. In acquiring a stake in Polara, Vance agreed to McGaffey’s conditions: no layoffs of its 80 employees, McGaffey holds a seat on the Board, and his son and son-in-law remain executives. “‘I would have loved to have just left it with my boys, but we felt we could get a lot further in terms of our technology if we could get an outside investor, said Mr. McGaffey. ‘I didn’t want to risk all of my own capital.’” McGaffey continues to own a minority stake that will further benefit him if Polara hits it big.

Gottfried offers other examples to illustrate private equity’s entry into the domain of American family businesses. Neal Rosenthal, owner of Manhattan’s Rosenthal Wine Merchant received nine bids, ultimately selling a majority interest to Incline Equity Partners but remaining as CEO. Realizing that his daughter had no interest in taking over, the 76-year-old Rosenthal achieved peace of mind: “I am confident that if I dropped dead today, my business would continue on without me.” Rosenthal Wine Merchant has since acquired one of its distributors and another wine business, but Rosenthal has the peace of mind that it’s not his capital at risk.

Private equity buyouts don’t always have a happy ending. Examples abound where they load up a company with debt, bring in new management, lose ties with the local community, or expand irrationally and break the back of a once profitable business. All can acknowledge the risks. But with a carefully structured deal, private equity offers a business-selling family another solution to consider.

If selling a business is a part of your family’s succession plan, it’s wise to hire a professional firm to help you consider all your options.

Marvin E. Blum

Marvin Blum addresses the trend of private equity firms buying family-owned businesses.

Life After Selling a Family Business: The Challenges May Surprise You

In recent posts, I sounded an alert about the psychological challenges of selling a family business. It’s hard to part with your “business baby” that you gave birth to and raised since infancy. To improve the odds to making it to closing, Denise Logan cautions to plan for not only the transaction but also the transition.

The family needs to recognize how day-to-day life will feel after selling their company. It will likely feel very different, not only for those who work in the business but even for those who don’t. As author Paul Sullivan describes in “What’s Left After a Family Business Is Sold?” (New York Times, Aug. 9, 2019), “A company often holds families together by giving members a shared identity and conferring a status in the community established by previous generations. Without the company, the family’s perception of itself and its purpose can change, and it is often something that members are not prepared for.”

As a prime example, Sullivan tells the story of the Malt-O-Meal family who sold for $1.15 billion to Post Cereal. John Brooks’ grandfather started the cereal business in 1919, and it gradually grew to be the fourth-largest cereal maker in the U.S. Even four years after selling, Brooks “still felt a void in his life. Since the sale, the three branches of the family have gone their own ways, Mr. Brooks said. They are no longer bound by a company or annual meetings or feel the pride of going through the cereal plants around Minneapolis.”

Aside from the void, family members also have to deal with pressure when a high-dollar purchase price becomes public. Old friends may feel intimidated and treat you differently. New “friends” emerge. Who can you trust? Sullivan describes the awkwardness Sabrina Merage Naim felt when her father and uncle sold Chef America, the maker of Hot Pockets, to Nestlé for $2.6 billion. At the time, Naim was in high school. Naim said that at school, once people saw what the business sold for, friends said, “Oh my, you guys have money.”

Here are tips to help families adjust to life after selling a business:

  • Instead of passively investing the proceeds, establish a family office to actively manage the family’s investments, philanthropy, and shared family experiences. Intentionally engage in planned activities to enrich the family. A thoughtfully structured family office can help provide “glue” that the shared business used to provide.
  • Focus more on shared family values than on shared money. Ideally, that process starts long before the sale. Per Sullivan, “agreeing on family values takes time. But done right, those values can become a substitute for the company.” He refers to the Deary family who sold Great Lakes Caring Home Health and Hospice: “But years before the sale, the family had been formulating a plan for its wealth that focused on family values but also held the members accountable. A family scorecard, for example, tracks their progress on 40 items that the family has deemed important, including working hard, investing wisely, and protecting its legacy.”
  • To guard against dissipation of the wealth by high-living heirs (falling victim to the proverb “shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in three generations”), recognize that passive investment returns rarely match those of a growing business. Brooks urges his Malt-O-Meal heirs to “withdraw no more than one percent a year of his share—still a large amount of money—so that the assets could continue to grow the way his family’s business did.” For future generations to adhere to such a policy requires regular family meetings to educate heirs on investing, family values, family heritage, and the purpose of the wealth. Getting “buy in” from heirs is critical.
  • Join a peer group of similarly situated colleagues. I am actively involved in such a group called TIGER 21. Attending meetings with like-minded peers in a confidential setting allows you to experience lifelong learning, share concerns, and get candid feedback. For me, TIGER 21 serves as my personal Board of Directors. Such a group can help business sellers adjust to life after a liquidity event.

If selling a business is in your family’s future, estate planning advisors can help you plan for all the post-sale challenges. The earlier you start, the better.

Marvin E. Blum

Marvin Blum cites the Malt-O-Meal family as an example of the challenges a family faces after selling a business, offering tips to help such a family adjust.

Time Makes Us Older But Wiser

Happy 2023! Thanks for going with me on this weekly journey of wisdom as I now start year three of my Family Legacy Planning blog. Last week, I put a wrap on 2022 by encouraging us to look back to see how far we’ve come from where we started. Observing that journey can inspire us to keep reaching for our full potential as we now embark on a new year.

My focus last week was on the challenge of remining physically fit as time passes. Today. I want to reflect on how the passage of time can improve our mental and emotional fitness. As Melissa Manchester sings in “Come in From the Rain,” “Time has made us older and wiser. I know I am.”

The two below photos show me with my law school buddies (the “Canoe Brothers,” as described in this May 22, 2022 post.) The “then” photo was on a trip to Port Aransas to celebrate graduating UT law school. Our bodies were fit but so were our minds. Our brains worked quickly with what Arthur Brooks describes as “fluid intelligence.” We had instant recall and could spit out calculations and thoughts quickly with precision. That sharp, razor fast intellect comes in handy in starting a legal career.

However, in his recent book Strength to Strength: Finding Success, Happiness, and Deep Purpose in the Second Half of Life, Brooks explains a transition that occurs in our brains as we age. After about age 55, our brains work slower but there’s an improvement in our “crystallized intelligence.” We replace fluid intelligence with the ability to connect dots and see big picture patterns. This skill enables us to make better decisions and give better advice because it is seasoned with experience.

Clients often ask me to provide “gray-haired wisdom” based on my 44 years of real-life lawyering. Sharing guidance informed by my observations over the years may be even more meaningful to them than the lightening-fast reasoning of youth. The Canoe Brothers of the recent canoe trip photo have a different kind of intelligence than the guys in the Port Aransas photo, but it’s a kind of brain power that carries more wisdom.

Another shift that occurs over the passage of time involves our emotional fitness. Whereas “young Marvin” had a wish-list of things he hoped to buy one day, the “mature Marvin” has a different list. I have replaced my desire for things with a desire for relationships. My focus is now on having meaningful connection with thoughtful and thought-provoking people. I achieve that best by becoming part of stimulating communities, such as the Canoe Brothers, colleagues at work, civic groups, and a peer group like TIGER 21. According to Dr. Mark Hyman, “The power of community to create health is far greater than any physician, clinic, or hospital. Science now shows us that a sense of community is correlated to longer, healthier, and happier lives.”

Hyman continues with this advice: “If you want to build a community, volunteering, joining a class, and prioritizing time with loved ones are all ways to strengthen your social bonds and support your health in the process. Get involved in things you care about and your community connections will naturally fall into place.”

As we first look back to our early years and then look ahead to our tomorrows, let’s celebrate the opportunities that the future offers us—opportunities to gain wisdom, create connection with meaningful communities, and achieve not only stronger physical fitness but also stronger mental and emotional fitness.

Marvin E. Blum

Marvin Blum with the “Canoe Brothers” of then and now, a brotherhood bond strengthened mentally and emotionally by the passage of time. Left: Blum in upper right of pyramid, celebrating law school graduation. Right: Blum in center of front row, on a canoe trip with older and wiser law school buddies.

The Once and Future Marvin

Here’s to the end of 2022 and welcome to 2023! Each new year brings the promise of new opportunities for personal growth. Before we look ahead, it’s good to wrap up 2022 with a moment of reflection. We can learn a lot about our future potential when we stop to look back at how far we’ve come from where we started.

As I reflect on my early years, my roots are in a loving family of modest means who instilled in me a commitment to family, hard work, and education. With both parents working in Blum’s Café, my preschool afternoons were spent with my Fort Worth grandmother “Bubbie” and her sister. I sat quietly as they watched “As the World Turns,” ate a chicken soup lunch, read the Yiddish newspaper, and napped. That recipe turned me into a scrawny, studious couch potato who watched a lot of TV and invented art projects to entertain myself.

Summers took me to Alabama to visit my mother’s parents. My grandmother Pauline’s cooking, combined with my sedentary lifestyle, soon fattened up that skinny little kid. I blame it on the banana pudding, sour cream coffee cake, and lots of bread with high fat schmears. By fourth grade, I was a chubby kid sitting in Mrs. Gulledge’s class on that fateful day when we learned the news that stands out as my premier childhood memory: President Kennedy spent his last night in Fort Worth’s Hotel Texas and then left for Dallas on the final journey of his life. I became fascinated with world events and was even more glued to the TV.

I start with those memories to compare and contrast the “then Marvin” with the “now Marvin.” I am still a lifelong learner and news junkie, but I gave up my sedentary ways in college. As my friends started to develop a beer gut, I went the opposite direction and discovered physical fitness. I was late to the party, but the benefit is that I developed fitness habits that are part of my daily routine to this day.

I write this post at my daughter Lizzy’s urging. She saw a photo of the young chubby Marvin and pushed me to promote the idea that aging doesn’t have to be a decline. She selected the side-by-side photos to contrast “fat Marvin” with my 2022 gold medal triathlon win.

This message brings to mind an excellent book aptly entitled Younger Next Year. Authors Chris Crowley and Jeremy James describe intentional steps we can take so our tomorrows can be healthier and stronger than our yesterdays. Now is a great time to start, for time flies and, as an inspiring song admonishes, before we know it “A Decade Goes by Without a Warning.” (Thank you to John Batton for recommending that song to me.)

I hope to inspire others to join me in channeling Merlin the Magician from the days of King Arthur, popularized in T.H. White’s The Once and Future KingLike Merlin, let’s attempt to live backwards and “youthen” rather than age. I recognize that prioritizing health and fitness doesn’t guarantee a long life. My brother Irwin was a fit 65-year-old who suddenly died of pancreatic cancer. The message is to do your best to improve the odds but remain realistic about the risks of aging.

As both a fitness guy and an estate planning lawyer, I’ll combine those roles into some recommended New Year’s Resolutions. Yes—eat heathier and get exercise but also make it a 2023 goal to take your estate plan on a “test drive” by asking, if I were suddenly gone, are all my affairs in order?

As we turn now our attention away from the past and toward all the promise that 2023 holds, I wish you a healthy, productive, and meaningful year.

Marvin E. Blum

A chubby young Marvin Blum contrasted against a 2022 triathlon winning Marvin. Looking back on examples of personal growth can inspire us to keep reaching to achieve our full potential.

When Failure Happens, Send a Thank You Note

For last week’s 100th post, I channeled Ben Franklin and shared a mini “Poor Marvin’s Almanac,” a collection of some of my favorite sayings. Here’s another: You learn more from your failures than your successes. When my first job as a lawyer didn’t work out to my liking and I left to open my own firm, my father-in-law Abe Kriger wisely said, “Send them a thank you note.” Abe knew the law firm did me a favor. He assured me I would move on to bigger and better. Because of my dissatisfaction at my prior job, I formed The Blum Firm, which has become the source of immense career satisfaction.

Jim Collins echoes this theme in Good to Great, declaring, “The enemy of great is good.” A job that is just “good” can deter you from creating a career that is “great.” Failure, though painful at the time, opens the door for us to explore opportunities we would otherwise miss.

My prior job experience provided me with a goal when I started The Blum Firm. My mission was to create a work environment where people wouldn’t dread coming to work. I vowed to build a caring culture, one centered around caring for every team member and every client. This law firm camaraderie serves our clients well. Our “open door” environment encourages us to share ideas and stimulates our creative juices. This collaborative atmosphere enables The Blum Firm to generate “outside the box” solutions to address our clients’ needs.

The path from “then” to “now” hasn’t been a perfect upward slope. Failures continue to pop up that provide me with teachable moments. For example, as a young lawyer, I thought I could work with anyone. Early on, I teamed up with some colleagues who turned out were not a good fit. That partnership failed. But, the next time I selected partners, I got it right. I learned from