$$$ Taxe$! $$$
Dan, my late hubby, has always done our taxes. We tried using Turbo Tax about 15 years ago. But the program was sluggish, unwieldy and klutzy, so we had not used it since, and for good reason. Dan loved to do taxes by pencil and paper anyway. By mid-January, he would have the entire dining room table full of papers. He would shout up to me in our office loft above the dining room that we are getting such and such amount back. Then a few days later, he would tell me with his famous grin, that we are getting more money back.
What a difference 15 years make. Turbo Tax calmed me down in about two days. It is now straightforward. No more glitches and frustrating dead ends. I got all of our papers together from Vanguard, pension plan, social security and about our book sales. We have a tiny business, writing and self-publishing books so I have to file a Schedule C. I used Excel to organize all of these data: income, donations, business expenses, etc. Then, I just plugged the data into Turbo Tax where it asked. A couple of times I had to call Vanguard and Turbo Tax for help.
The capital gains and dividends from my Vanguard investments were a sinch! Turbo Tax selects the brokerage account from many financial institutions, inserts the data and calculates the dividends and capital gains all in one full swoop! Wow! I was proud of myself, and I told Dan in a picture of him by my bed, that he would be proud of me too. I have to pay taxes to California but I will get a refund back from the feds. I am not complaining as next year’s tax season will be faster and easier than this year.
California said they didn’t get a return last year!
The Franchise Tax Board sent me a letter letting me know that we never filed our taxes for last year. What? I couldn’t believe it as Dan left a copy of the state return in our records. So I duplicated it and sent it in. I talked to the Tax Franchise Board and informed them that Dan had died. For the first time, he sent in the file electronically last year. He probably thought it went through. He wasn’t as techy as me, and I didn’t know what he did. I just took his word for it.
Why did it take the state so long to tell me? Was it because the state owed us a $2,200 refund? as a friend suggested. But still it doesn’t answer this other mystery: Dan should have noticed that he didn’t get the refund. I know that the refund was supposed to be electronically deposited in Dan’s checking account because Dan’s checking account number is on the return. I looked at Dan’s checking account (and mine) from last year and there is no record of getting a state refund. It is possible that the refund slipped his mind or he carried the refund over for the following year (which he has done in the past). I didn’t think about it because he did the taxes and I made the coffee.
Speaking about Dan, the days, weeks and months go on, my grief lingers right below the surface 24/7. I can be doing fun things and laugh with people, but when I get into my car to go home, my sadness emerges suddenly and without warning. I will be attending my bereavement group for many more months. Grief work is hard, and scary sometimes. I sometimes wonder when it will end. The experts say 2-3 years. I believe it. My bereavement group is led by a special person, Deborah. She is special because she knew Dan when we first attended Gilda’s cancer programs 4 years ago. Dan had prostate cancer and Deborah was the facilitator of his group (I attended the family assistance group). I felt comforted that she knew Dan.
The group process provides a much-needed perspective that I am not alone. Two women and a man in their 40s are grieving for their lost mothers. Most gripping are three parents who each lost an adult child. The rest are like me, losing their spouses after decades of happy marriages. No matter what the circumstances, we are all suffering. Yet, we come together and sometimes laugh and carry on like we just met at a party, but the mood shifts in a nanosecond to our purpose. Most of the losses are due to cancer as my group is sponsored by Gilda’s Cancer Center. While my shock of Dan’s sudden passing has subsided, the realization that I will be without him for the rest of my life feels dreadful.
Sammy my doggy has been wonderful. I take her everywhere I go. I even took her to my grief group for a visit and everybody smiled and welcomed her. This happens all the time. Strangers immediately smile when they see her as she is so pretty whether walking down the street, drinking coffee at Starbucks, or shopping at the Outlets. People stop and ask, “What kind of dog is he?” (Most think Sammy is male). But I smile and say, “She is a Jindo with a little Chow mix, that’s why her tongue is black. She is 14 and half years old.” People are surprised as she “looks so good for her age.” Then they comment on how temperamental she is and soooo pretty. Children will sit down and pet her for 15-20 minutes.
Sammy and me in our backyard in Rancho Mirage, California
I am sloooowly getting a stronger each day, while sometimes I go into an episode and weep. It still doesn’t take much to set me off. For example, I have always enjoyed the smells and bird sounds of spring, but not this spring. It brings out sadness. It is the little things, the smells, sounds or things people say that remind me of Dan. Sometimes I say to Sammy when I find her in the house or in the yard, “There you are.”
“There you are” are precious words, forever imprinted in my memory. Those were the last words Dan said to me before he went into a coma and died eight hours later. When he saw me right by him, he said in a heavy slurred voice, “There you are.” I believe he knew I was right there with him on his death bed and he was ready to go.
My Grief Journey
The journey through grief is as old as humans have been around. The common sense antidote is helping others and staying connected with friends and family. I look forward to a fishing trip with two brother-in-laws on Dan’s side and a trip to Africa with Dan’s sister Cathy and her husband, Glenn. I am also looking forward to my 50th high school reunion back in Cumberland, Wisconsin next summer. I volunteer at my Buddhist Center, stay connected with my sister Lorraine, niece, Linda and grand niece, Shannah and hubby, Jeremiah, in nearby Redlands. Dan and I have been Buddhist participants and later as students of Buddhism for the last six years. As the days, weeks and months go by, I will get through this as Dan would want me to. If Dan had survived me, I would want him to continue on with his life.
Thank you for reading. Do not be afraid of saying something wrong to a grieving friend or acquaintance. Most of the time all you have to do is listen. And when we weep, reach out and embrace us–some of us want and need to be touched. We are vulnerable and if we cry in your presence, it means we trust you. When people thanked me for sharing or shared their own loss, I felt good. Sharing your loss will not make a grieving person feel worse. Perhaps you might be grieving too because of your friend’s loss was also your friend or relative. Your relationship with a grieving friend or relative will change and get deeper.
I hope my experience will help you begin a conversation with your spouse and loved ones. Dan and I were not afraid to talk about these difficult topics of death and dying. I knew what Dan wanted and why, and it made both of us appreciate each other and not take each other for granted through the years. Tell your significant other how much they mean to you right now. I feel terrible for losing Dan, but I have no regrets.
Did you have this conversation with your spouse or loved one?
Year-To-Date Portfolio Performance
The following report is what I do to stay busy by helping others. This blog is all about sharing and helping. Read the recent stories from my friend Karen and her sister Therese and how they straighten their financial mess. They have consolidated all of their scattered accounts and investments into Vanguard and their fee-only financial adviser is keeping a watchful eye out. Reading their stories and posting them makes me happy.
On January 31 this year, I reported here that my portfolio was down about $50,000. Because of the fed dovish comments about rate increases, the economy is plugging along, and oil prices spiking, the stock market roared back. And my portfolio followed suit, just like a soldier marching to the orders of the generals. My portfolio is up over $30,000 year-to-date. That is about 2.0% gain for the year. The news was not bad enough, or a surprise to start a long-term bearish cycle.
I have not changed a thing for almost a year. Here are the results of how each fund performed since December 31, 2015. This time, I divided the different funds to show the types of stock and bond funds so that you can familiarize yourself with the names of each asset class category in Vanguard. Hopefully, you have some idea of how to construct a diversified portfolio to give it to your financial professional. Do not change or modify anything solely by what you read or see here. Get professional help.
The crucial Stock/Bond split also remains the same: 37% stock and 63% bonds. If stocks continue to increase in value and my stock/bond split gets out of whack because stocks increase to 40% for example, then I will reallocate some stock funds into some bond funds.
For those “geeky” investors who want to look under the hood of my choice of funds, Morningstar has hundreds of statistics of each mutual fund, index fund, ETF or individual stocks and bonds known to humankind. The share prices in the following table are from the close of the markets on March 31st, 2016. FYI, the standard deviation is a statistical number that reflects how volatile the fund is: stocks would have a higher deviation than bonds. The higher this number, the more risk. Morningstar has definitions for all of their statistics. I posted this show an example of a few of the data. It’s all free.
*Stephen A. Schullo, Ph.D. (UCLA ’96) taught in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) for 24 years and UCLA Extension teaching educational technology to student teachers. Steve wrote investment articles for the United Teacher-Los Angeles (UTLA) newspaper for 13 years. Thrice featured retirement plan advocate in the Los Angeles Times and U.S. News and World Report. He co-founded an investor self-help group (403bAware with Sandy Keaton) for teacher colleagues and wrote 5,000 posts in three investment forums since 1997. Frequently quoted by the media, testified at California State legislative hearings and honored with the “Unsung Hero” award by UTLA for his retirement planning advocacy. For the last ten years, he serves on LAUSD’s Investment Advisory Committee as a “Member-at-Large” and former co-chair. The committee monitors the district’s 457b/403b/PARS of 55,000 former and current LAUSD employees, worth $2.2 billion in total assets. Lastly, Steve and his late husband, Dan, were featured participants for the award-winning documentary, PBS Frontline: The Retirement Gamble, aired April 23, 2013. Steve is the author of an additional new book, released a year ago, “Fighting Powerful Interests: Educators Challenge Tax-sheltered Annuities and WIN!” A story of how a few LAUSD educators knowing very little about retirement planning ended up with an awarding winning 457(b) plan.
Lastly, Steve and his late husband, Dan, were featured participants for the award-winning documentary, PBS Frontline: The Retirement Gamble, aired April 23, 2013. Steve is the author of an additional new book, released a year ago, “Fighting Powerful Interests: Educators Challenge Tax-sheltered Annuities and WIN!” A story of how a few LAUSD educators knowing very little about retirement planning ended up with an awarding winning 457(b) plan.
This website calculator might help you select the appropriate stock bond split and asset allocation for both security and growth: Click here.