Byzantine Paperwork

This is my year of seemingly endless financial paperwork. And to think it doesn’t even include buying a home. This year I am focused on the following.

First and foremost is unraveling my mom’s mysterious annuity. I submitted the application to set up the rollover account. During that process I gleaned some helpful information from my Fidelity reps.

Once the rollover account is set up, I can submit the death claim form. Hopefully that submittal results in more information from the insurance company about what we are dealing with. I may have some tax issues and may even need to amend my mom’s last return, but it is too soon to say. Between two financial institutions and the IRS, I just need to be patient and dogged.

Another financial paperwork slog is cashing out my whole life policy. I want to do this before the end of the year, so I don’t have to pay another premium. Here won’t be a tax implication, so it is merely wrestling the money back from the insurance company and putting it into savings.

Another item on this list is sending my niece and nephew their money from their grandmother. This means I have to put my big girl panties on, be an adult and contact that side of the family. I may start with them just to get this done. I still am not sure what I want to do with my brother.

Another financial task is moving my brokerage account so I pay less fees. It isn’t too big a deal right now, but it will add up over time. I gotta get it done, so I might as well add it to the list.

This is all good, positive stuff to be dealing with. Only two years ago, I was $50,000 in debt with almost half going to the IRS. I was having anxiety attacks just trying to deal with it all, so I was avoiding it to my detriment.

Today I am so proud of the fact that I am approaching all of these items with a clear, level head and zero angst. OK, there is angst about the family contact, but that is unrelated to finances. Instead of panicking, I have been rolling my eyes and rolling up my sleeves so I can chip away at the paperwork. Hooray! What a huge improvement!

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Drama Brewing

I have got a bad feeling that some family drama is going to try to rain down on my parade. It is not my brother, but some cousins. Cousins that I have not stayed in touch with.

Apparently my aunt passed away over a month ago and her son didn’t find out until this week. She and my uncle had been living with their daughter, who didn’t notify anyone in the family. Incredible. The daughter has been a piece of work for years. She is over 60 and is on Husband #7. Yes, #7.

Another cousin reached out to me with the news. This is a developing story, so news is sparse. The critical issue is that my uncle is missing. The daughter has disappeared and no one knows the whereabouts of either.

I talked to the son (my cousin) who is rightfully distraught. He is seeking answers, filing a missing person report, etc. I haven’t spoken to him in decades. We regretfully never stayed in touch. He has had drama throughout his life.

I have tons of follow up questions, but they will have to wait. I just don’t want to get sucked into a black hole of dysfunction, so I need to proceed cautiously. Perhaps a sit and wait approach is called for here.

I just feel a wave of negative vibes and toxicity from everything I am hearing. I don’t need this. I think I am just going to lay low on this one.

Upcoming Trips

I am excited to have two back-to-back trips booked for the end of June. One is a small family reunion to memorialize my uncle who passed away a year ago (non-Covid death). The family has been waiting for vaccines, etc. and now we are ready to proceed. I will see two fabulous cousins and their family. I will be driving over with my dad and stepmom, so I fly into their town first. Logistics have been sorted out and plane reservations booked.

Right after that long weekend, I head up to NYC to celebrate my daughter’s graduation. They are having a very small in-person ceremony. Each graduate gets three tickets. For my daughter, her guests will be her hubby, me and the Ex. No ticket for the New Wife. All guests must provide proof of vaccination prior.

That is going to be interesting because I guarantee the ticket situation will not sit well with the Ex. He will probably want our daughter to finagle an extra ticket. She won’t do it. There will be less than 90 people in attendance and she is the Chief Resident, so she will not break the rules — even at graduation.

For the first time in 1-1/2 years I will be on a plane. I am very excited about both trips. A little time out of the office, seeing family. Wow, wow, wow. I can’t wait.

On top of all that, my daughter will be in Florida the week after Memorial Day weekend. She is Maid of Honor for her sorority little sister, who is getting married over that weekend. The hubby suggested they have a final babymoon afterwards. I get to see that baby bump not once but TWICE in 45 days!!

Speaking of baby, the pregnancy is going well. She and her hubby are keeping their name discussion private (as well they should with a dad like hers). Her dad seems to think a funny inside joke is to call the baby, NewCo as in New Company which is a legal thing. He popped that during our graduation festivities. Nobody laughed. Thankfully he hasn’t said it to our daughter. He and our daughter do have a sometimes fraught relationship. He is already asking when the baby shower will be so he can plan for it. The baby is 4 months away. She apparently went off on him regarding the shower. Rightfully so.

Between now and the baby’s birth, my daughter is graduating from her residency, taking her boards to become a board certified doctor (huge, difficult test), moving to a new, but familiar city for her fellowship, renting a new place (done), interviewing for a permanent job (has an offer), and a host of other big, life-changing things. And he is insistent about a baby shower? Argh.

But back to me! My trips! My time to reconnect with loved ones! I am very excited about it all. Now what will I wear??? I am thrilled to have such mundane decisions ahead.

Getting Back Out There

I thought I would jump back into online dating. I even spoke to a woman who takes candid photos of you and helps develop your online profile. It simply seemed like too much work right now. I am blasé about dating and perhaps that is a really good place to be.

Since this is my Hump Day post, I will say that I went ahead and ordered a new vibrator. OK, the first one I got through Amazon was a dud. Actually I got two. One is fine and I need to spend some time with it. The other didn’t have enough horsepower. I went back to Adam & Eve to re-purchase my Hitachi knockoff. It takes care of business quite handily.

With these new tools, the prospect of a man in my life doesn’t excite me. The evening with my Ex reminded me while I enjoy my own space. I feel a bit shy about trying to date while I am overweight. I know I shouldn’t, but I am. When I catch glimpses of me in the mirror or on Zoom calls, I don’t always like what I see. The fat rolls in my middle are disappointing and the scale is depressing.

I am indifferent to getting really social. Yes, I want to make new friends, but I am lazy right now. My MeetUp groups are getting active, I need/want to sign up for some more golf lessons, I want to do more social things and yet….I am not in a hurry.

I was daydreaming about what would I do if I retired early. If I had unlimited funds, how would I like to spend my days. In my mind, I would spend it getting my body healthy through a wide variety of exercise. I would try some hobbies like the furniture refurbishment. I would learn to sew perhaps. I would travel extensively.

Then I asked myself why I wasn’t doing those things now. The pandemic is waning, I am vaccinated, so that excuse is gone. My son will soon be off the payroll and even though I am saving like crazy, I can still put a little money towards fun activities.

Why am I waiting for tomorrow instead of utilizing today? It is time to get up off my butt and get on with life. What does that look like? Exercise, on my own terms. No crazy Whoop Challenges. Back to the gym 3 days a week so I can do my strength training. Walking is great, but I need to build my muscles up. As I get older, I need to focus on strength and balance. With this in mind, it is time for me to investigate a Pilates or barre class. It will probably kill me, but that’s OK. I will get stronger.

If I want to refurbish and flip furniture, I need to go ahead and start with some small pieces. I am thinking about buying one or two wooden jewelry boxes to paint and spruce up. That will let me experiment a bit.

I need to make sure that I am doing two MeetUps a month. I don’t want to overwhelm myself and over-commit, so two is good for now. I need to make some friends up here one way or another. The best way is to simply get out and do some things.

I will try not to fizzle out on these activities. I am re-reading (albeit very slowly) Jon Acuff’s book, Finish. He is very pragmatic about goal-setting and how to get across the finish line. I loved this book the first read. I can tell because of the highlights and marked up pages throughout. I have also implemented many of his tips and forgot that he is where I discovered them. I need to think about one or two key areas of improvement to focus on first.

In the meantime, I need to go check on my Adam & Eve order. After all, it’s Hump Day.

Photo by Danielle Cerullo on Unsplash

Variable Annuities 101

My financial planner is a blessing in my life.  Having a fee-based planner, who makes no money from selling me anything, is the best investment I have made to date.  Once I learned that my mom had a variable annuity, I reached out to him.  He immediately called me to discuss.

Like me, he is very intrigued about this discovery. His first question:  what do I know about variable annuities?  I said nothing, so he started at the very beginning.  He is a great teacher and here is what I learned during a 10 minute call:

Variable annuities are an insurance product.  You put money into it to keep it tax deferred and at some point you will take it out – obvious right?  But for all of this, there are fees on top of fees.  No wonder my mom’s financial advisor sold her one.  The gain is taxed as ordinary income and you usually buy it with a lump sum payment.

These are set up so once you start taking the payments, usually anything leftover (because you died early in the annuity payment schedule) goes back to the company.  However, you can set up beneficiaries for some portion of the balance.  It all depends on how the annuity was set up.

I think my mom never took a payment.  I didn’t see that in her checking account.  I think it was set up for later.  I didn’t see anything on her tax return.  I don’t recall any documentation from this particular company.  It is all a mystery.

My financial planner is sure that there is money and it has identified beneficiaries (me and my niece and nephew more than likely). He said that the company never would have contacted me if the money wasn’t meant to be distributed to the heirs. Once again the question is how much is it?

I had a certified death certificate, so that has been sent off to the company.  I called to make sure they received it because the tracking number was claiming that they needed to pick it up. Fortunately, they have received it and immediately sent me a death claim form. They still won’t tell me anything about the annuity because they do not have the completed death claim form. All of this is being done via US Mail. I have a feeling the entire byzantine process will proceed at a snail’s pace because the longer the insurance giant can hang onto the money, the better for them. The suspense is killing me in a sadistically delightful way. It is kind of like winning the lottery, without knowing the jackpot.

Once the death claim paperwork is submitted and processed, the fun begins. I will be able to get more information about the annuity – the amount, its structure, etc. My financial planner told me to find out if it is eligible for a tax-deferred IRA and what would be the taxable gain.  Once we have more information, we can decide if I take it out as a lump sum or do I have to take it over five years.  There is the option potentially to roll it into another annuity, but we both agree that is a foolish choice.  

My mind has been racing about this.  Talk about a winning lottery ticket. Could this enable me to retire earlier than my planned age 67? Could it help me pay off the soon-to-be-purchased home? Too soon to say.

All indicators at work are that within 10 years (more likely 5-7), my employer will undergo a huge transformation.  The company will either be sold or transitioned to a younger leadership team.  This is no secret and is openly spoken of by senior leadership. They are actively grooming their successors through a leadership academy and other mentoring. With either a sale or a leadership transition, my role could easily be eliminated, transformed or given to someone else.  I need to be ready in case I am pushed out the front door, but I also cannot freak out about it.

My goal is to be financially secure enough so I could perhaps work part-time for several years yet still have the same lifestyle.  That means I need savings, lots of savings and a reasonable housing solution. 

Come on, mama, your daughter needs a stable retirement! Let’s see what is behind the annuity curtain. 

Photo by Scott Graham on Unsplash

Trespassing

Last week I was taking an evening walk along one of my usual routes. I like this one in the evening because it is always in the shade. Florida’s hellish summers are approaching, so I have been scouting the best walking options that will hopefully avoid heatstroke.

I am marching along listening to a podcast, minding my own business. My route takes me along the perimeter of a gated community of townhouses. Lo and behold, one of the pedestrian gates was ajar. I have always been curious….no, I won’t pop in. They have cameras, a manned security gate and this gate is beeping. But then again when would I have the chance to stroll through? Yep, I popped in.

I am so glad I did! I strolled around their picturesque lake. I took in their broad sidewalks and tidy common areas. I didn’t linger, but observed that it was much nicer than I had assumed.

Over the next 48 hours, I did my homework. I checked my favorite porn site, Realtor.com, to see what was available and pricing. I found the HOA website and downloaded the floorplans of the various models. It is all within my budget. It is at the high end, but very feasible.

So, opps, I did it again. I went back through that gate two nights later and leisurely strolled through the community. This time, due to my research, I better understood which buildings contained what models.

I think I have found my targeted community….right in my backyard. I keep chuckling that I am like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz. There is no place like home. Yes, yes, I thought about the security issue and check out the Neighborhood app. It’s OK.

In my defense, I had put this place on hold due to the stairs. Some of the units are three stories and that is not the best retirement abode. When I looked at the floorplans, I discovered they have single floor and two-stories. I can add a chairlift to the two-stories when and if needed. Plus, the place is much better maintained than I thought. The amenities are very nice.

This community meets my criteria of “lock and leave”. It is newer construction which will make it more hurricane resistant. All the units have a garage, so I can put my car inside, Uber to the airport and escape when necessary.

However, I will not have a patio or balcony. That gave me pause until I thought about it during my walk this morning — outside the neighborhood. I did my usual weekend waterfront stroll thank you very much. Anyway, I have a solution for the patio/outdoors quandary. This is a legit issue for me because I do spend an inordinate amount of time on my balcony. This post is being written on the balcony, for example.

Anyway, back to the solution. The units that I like typically have a two-car garage. Not only is that fabulous for parking and storage, but it also gives me room for my potential furniture refurbishment projects. AND, I can create a little seating area either there and/or at my front door. If I do it in the garage, I would have a little privacy screen/room divider that I would cover perhaps with faux greenery so people don’t see the workshop area. I could add a little rug, fan, gas grill. You get the idea. The main thought is that there are solutions. Plus I would also have a beautiful pool area with a variety of seating options, so perhaps I will get off my lazy butt more and use the amenities.

Now I have to wait. I have to wait another year before I activate Plan Birdie’s New Nest. It is a test of my patience. However, I have told myself that I have plenty to do in the meantime. I have a number of financial things to do: liquidate my whole life policy, continue saving like a banshee, get pre-qualified, etc., etc. Plus there is the new baby and my promise to help whenever and however possible.

In the meantime, I hope I keep finding an open gate because to me an open door is nothing more than opportunity. Have a great week!

Photo by Dan Meyers on Unsplash

My Aching Head

It is allergy season and man, does it mess with my head! I regularly get a sinus headache that rocks my world. Over the weekend, I had a particularly vicious one that plopped me on my tuckus.

I am always trying to figure out the triggers for these headaches. Was it the sleep mask combined with staying up too late? Was it pollen? Whatever it is, it does kick my butt.

I thought I had this weekend’s headache under control because I woke up and immediately downed a Propel for the electrolytes. Au contraire. I took my usual lovely waterfront walk and felt OK. Not great, but no reason to stay home. But when I got home, it had kicked into a higher gear. That’s OK, I thought. Let me do my usual routine to keep it in check. Here is what I know works when I get a headache.

  • Hydrate with electrolytes. Propel works best for me, but I will grab whatever is available.
  • Don’t wait – take the Tylenol, Advil or whatever plus a decongestant. A combo like Excedrin Migraine usually works great, but I have to watch the caffeine because..
  • Double down on the caffeine, preferably with a very cold soda. I don’t drink soda anymore, but I keep a can of Coke in the frig for emergencies. This weekend I had an espresso. Results were mediocre.
  • Eat, preferably something protein-based.
  • Add a cold compress to my head and neck.
  • Rest and see how all the above work out.

Sometimes those steps work like a charm and I am fine in a couple of hours. Sometimes they don’t work. I have found myself puking in the toilet due to the pain. I have climbed into bed with no lights, no sound, a sleep mask and cold compresses to try to sleep it off.

One thing I know for sure about these headaches. Blood sugar matters. Seems weird, doesn’t it? If I allow myself to get too hungry, it will pop back up. As I write this, things had subsided, but I am a little hungry and I feel the pressure building. This means I have to repeat all the above steps. Sigh.

The headache makes me restless too. Movies don’t hold my interest, reading is difficult. I don’t want to do anything yet I am bored. I feel like a petulant teenager.

At least I have a plan of attack, albeit occasionally ineffective. I have also learned to just embrace the suck and let the headache run its course. The house cleaning can wait (well that can always wait). I can just be kind to myself for an afternoon or a day and let my body recover. That is a lot better than puking in the toilet….

Photo by Matteo Vistocco on Unsplash

Nice Visit

I have been AWOL from my blog because my son was visiting. Two adults in a 700 SF apartment is not conducive to much privacy. It was lovely having him here, and he is a very easy houseguest. He was here to celebrate his Masters graduation with me and his dad. The ceremony was online, thus his visit.

I will say that his online graduation had a few positives: 1) the alcohol could flow freely during the ceremony. Between me, my son, the Ex and New Wife, we polished off two bottles of champagne during the festivities. 2) you can talk freely and loudly during the ceremony. My son could tell us all about his classmates and the speakers during the ceremony which was wonderful. 3) no travel – that could actually be a negative, but let’s stay positive here.

We watched the ceremony at my Ex’s house. They had it all ready to watch in the family room and were very hospitable. We all get along well and everyone was on their best behavior….until dinner. LOL. Bad habits die hard (or not at all) for my Ex. He is so controlling.

He was surprised we wanted to take separate cars to the restaurant. Um yeah because: 1) riding with you and your New Wife is just awkward. 2) how in the world will I escape if I don’t have my car and 3) my Ex is the WORST driver in the family. I am noticing that this post is filling up with lists, but I digress.

Back to the grad celebration. We went to a popular, well-established outdoor restaurant. The Happy Couple made a bit of a point to mention how much they frequent the place by bemoaning our server, who lived up to his reputation of being forgetful. My Ex didn’t remember that this restaurant was my go-to for many, many, many business breakfasts, but no problem. It’s a better breakfast spot than dinner and there are a zillion other Miami spots I would have picked for this celebratory dinner. But he picked up the tab, so whatever.

The food came out in waves. The men first, followed by New Wife’s salad 10 minutes later and my salad was not to be found. This resulted in the manager being called over, my Ex pitching a huge fit and generally throwing a damper on the night with his verbal onslaught. I said nothing because he is no longer my problem, however, when I went to the restroom, apparently New Wife and Son took him to task. My son said my Ex was surprised at the chastisement. Like I said, some things never change. I came back and lead the conversation through a litany of safe topics: what is everyone reading (we are all avid readers), New Wife’s daughters, my Ex’s siblings (very little good news there).

We ran into old friends of the Ex’s sister-in-law. I have known this couple for 30 years and ran into them consistently after the divorce. They are awesome. Their eyebrows were raised to see our gathering, but they were charming as always. I loved the fact that they seemingly forgot the fact that they have met New Wife several times previously. My son wore his mortar board, so passerbys were full of congratulations. It was a lovely evening all in all.

My son is now staying with his dad for the balance of his trip. I like having him around for a few days. We talk about bigger topics, cook together and generally enjoy each other’s company. My bestie and her husband took us boating which was fantastic. I love being on the water with the salt spray and wind on my face. It refreshes my soul. My son felt the same.

I am looking forward to getting a bigger place because it is tough having a guest for a week in a 1 bedroom/1 bath. It just reminds me that better guest accommodations need to be considered when I buy my place. More about that in an upcoming post.

For now, I am thrilled my son came to visit yet happy to regain my sanctuary. I am quite proud of him — he graduated with honors in a top program in his field. Next up for him is some form of gainful employment either in the military or civilian life. The military is dragging its feet through a byzantine enlistment process, so he is also applying for civilian jobs. He has a plan and he will be fine. He’s a wicked smart young man who knows what he wants to do.

Gummies

I mentioned that my daughter gave me CBD gummies for Mother’s Day as part of her relaxation gift. She was very thoughtful and sent me a box of Martha Stewart gummies. I had mentioned to my daughter months ago that Martha had developed this product line. There was an article in the New York Times about her. Say what you want about Martha, the woman’s exacting standards created a great product.

I popped two of those after work and it’s better than a glass of wine. No munchies either – pot gives me terrible munchies.

Affordable too. I haven’t been sleeping well. This definitely helped. Delicious….. I give it five stars.

Surprise!

I got a random letter in the mail from a huge insurance company. It was addressed to the estate of my mom. The letter was asking for an original death certificate. Hmmm, WTF?

I called the company today and discovered that there is money waiting for me. How about that? There is a variable annuity that has been unaccounted for. It wasn’t part of her estate and wasn’t in the trust. She bought it and didn’t indicate any beneficiaries.

I am not too surprised by this. If I recall correctly, she bought it when her dementia was just setting in. Her “financial advisor” saw the opportunity to sell her something. I remember telling her that since she wasn’t comfortable making decisions about her investments, an annuity wasn’t a bad idea. I thought everything had been kept with the one company, not this new one.

The big question is how much is it worth? They wouldn’t tell me on the phone because they need the death certificate to start the process, however, the customer service rep gently said, “It’s worth pursuing”.

What does that mean? My dad thinks it is worth at least $50k. He had been a bankruptcy trustee many, many years ago, so he knows a bit about these. Hmmm…. regardless of the value, my niece and nephew will get their portion. My dad has sent me their phone numbers so I can call them about the other money I have for them.

Is this Karma gracing me with a gift because I am finally doing the right thing by giving them their money? I don’t know. Now I just have to find one of my remaining certified copies of her death certificate. I’m pretty sure I have one in my files….

The other positive for me is I have a wizard of a financial planner who will be able to guide me through this. He will know the right questions to ask.

And to think, I just started buying lottery tickets. I think I may have found a winner.

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