"I Enjoyed Everyone Else's Christmas"

One in a series of reflections on growing up in small town America in the 1950's and 60's

Mr Kavesh

As a small boy, I loved that time of year when cheerful music emanated from seemingly everywhere and most all the local street lights, storefronts, and homes were adorned in various colored, blinking lights.

Except for my own home.

We watched all our neighbors go through the apparently delightful routine of putting up their holiday decorations and somehow miraculously squeezing huge green-needled trees through their doorways. But we didn't participate in these community rituals. And I wanted to know why.

So I asked, "Mommy, why don't we put up lights and get a big tree too?" My Mom, unprepared for such an incisive question blurted out by such a young child, said something to the effect, "We are different from them. We don't believe in those things." Then she went through a long (and hard for me to follow) explanation of the difference between us being Jewish and them being Christian. I didn't really digest or understand most of it. We all lived next to each other, the kids all played with each other, and I didn't notice any difference between us. I just felt heartbroken that we weren't going to have lights and a tree like everyone else.

After a few days of seeing me moping around with a downcast expression, my Mom wisely decided to do something about it. "Philip (that's what my Mom called me when she was serious!), we're going to visit the neighbors' houses and see their trees!"

And immediately off we went.

I remember the first neighbors we visited, who lived right next to us, were an older couple who I had rarely ever seen (because they didn't have any young kids). I was amazed how good their house smelled, a delicious gumbo of fir tree and recently baked gingerbread cookies. And when I saw their tree, they turned on its lights and even let me put some silvery string on the branches. In the midst of all this fun, I spotted with curiosity the beautifully colored boxes beneath the tree and before I spoke they said "They're presents and one of them is for you!" Was I ever overjoyed with this thing called Christmas!

As we continued on to walk around the block, we received the same warm welcome from all the neighbors, even ones who were pretty much strangers to us. We were taken to view each family's tree and examine the many unusual ornaments (sometimes with too lengthy a history of them, which I didn't mind because I always got a sugar cookie to eat or a toy to play with while I pretended to studiously listen!)

When we returned home, I plopped down all the small gifts I had received onto the kitchen table. I felt so happy after such a wonderful time at all the others' houses. But I quickly became sad again when I looked around and observed no beautifully wrapped boxes around our house. "Mommy," I asked, "where are our family's presents?"

Frankly, I was expecting to be disappointed by this Christmas thing again, since it was clear we were not getting any lights or tree.

But I was joyfully surprised when my Mom responded, "That's the best part of our holiday, Hanukkah. All those other children only get one day of Christmas gifts, but you'll get gifts for eight days in a row and it begins tonight!"

A big smile came across my face as I thought, "Wow, I get to enjoy everyone else's Christmas and our Hanukkah too!"

Today, when there's so much fighting, fear and distrust between people of the world - - often in the name of religious differences - - let us open our hearts and our doors to share the true spirit and meaning of this holiday season.

Happy Holidays to you and your loved ones (and your neighbors too!) from all of us at Kavesh, Minor & Otis.

Estate Planning Is for Everyone, Not Just the Rich

Pen and chart

You may think that planning how to divvy up your wealth is for very affluent families or for elderly people thinking about how to pass on handsome legacies to their heirs. That's certainly true, but they aren't the only ones who benefit from such planning.

Estate planning - determining what will happen to your assets and property when you die and planning for the tax implications of passing on your wealth - is important for everyone. Each family's situation and goals are unique, and smart estate-planning strategies can help ensure that those goals are met in the most tax-efficient, fair and sensible way.

Consider these four reasons why estate planning matters for you, even if you don't think you have much to pass on:

1. You don't want to leave a mess for your family. Effective estate planning isn't easy and can be expensive. But bad or no estate planning is harder, more time-consuming and potentially a lot more expensive for your loved ones to handle once you are gone.

Without a plan, your heirs will have to decide who gets what. Or your estate could go to probate, where the court will make those decisions and take fees in the process. Because estate laws are complex and differ by state, you should consult with an attorney. If you don't, your heirs may ultimately receive less of your estate.

In simple cases, a good estate plan may be inexpensive, including the cost of drafting a will, a living trust and some other basic documents that most families should have. More complex cases, involving trusts, easements and charitable donations, may cost thousands of dollars. In all cases, an estate plan is the best option for your heirs.

2. You have assets. Assets include bank or investment accounts - such as a 401(k) or rollover IRA - or property such as a house or business. You have to decide who gets all of these things before you die, which can be difficult emotionally. Imagine sitting in a lawyer's office and answering questions such as: "What if your children die? What do you want to do then?"

Once you decide who will get which assets, you also have to consider tax implications. An estate planner can help you arrange your assets to ease the tax burden your heirs will face.

3. Estate planning is a fluid process. A will that you put together 20 years ago probably won't meet your goals today. If you've had children, gotten married or divorced, or had other major life changes, you should think about whether your money and property will still go to the right people. Have you checked the beneficiaries on your accounts?

During my career in the Navy, I heard many stories (and personally witnessed a couple of instances) of sailors passing on everything they owned to an ex-spouse or some other unintended recipient. They accidentally left nothing to their intended beneficiaries because they failed to update their records.

Even if your life hasn't changed, state and federal laws sometimes do. What might have been wise estate planning a couple of years ago may not be the best strategy today.

4. The need for an estate plan isn't immediate - until it is. You have your entire life to get your estate plan right, but you don't know when your time is going to run out. Once you die, you don't get a vote about what happens to your assets, except for the last one that you cast with your estate plan. Make sure it counts.

Don't make the transfer of your hard-earned wealth more difficult than it needs to be. Working with a good financial planner can help you better understand your financial situation. Your planner can also help you work with an estate-planning attorney to put together a plan that works for you. It might cost a bit of money today, but it's far less costly than leaving your family with a mess to deal with once you're gone.

This article was originally published on NerdWallet.com.

By Forrest Baumhover