Are You Taking Care of Yourself? Not According to the President of the American Bar Association.

One of the first things I learned when studying to become a therapist was the need to take care of myself. If I don’t do that, I can’t take care of anyone else. This was brought home to me a few weeks ago when I was speaking with my accountability partner. She’s a lawyer and we speak almost every week about our goals and if we’re accomplishing them. She told me that the week before she had been up from Tuesday evening until Friday evening working on her cases.

That brought to mind an article that I read in the Counselor, a magazine for addiction and behavioral health professionals. It was written by Bob Carlson, a lawyer in Butte, Montana, and President of the American Bar Association. The title of his article is Passing the Bar: Mobilizing Lawyers to Create a Healthier Profession. Mr. Carlson emphasizes several points:

1. Lawyers learn stress early. It’s part of the legal profession’s culture.

2. Studies have shown that lawyers and law students suffer from anxiety, depression and substance abuse disorders at much higher rates than other professionals or the general public.

3. These issues have an impact not only on lawyers and their families. They also can have severe consequences for clients.

In 2016, the Bar Association joined with the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation to study the extent of the problem and determine what actions the Bar could take. They found that these problems started early for many attorneys–often in the first decade of practice. They came up with a number of recommendations:

1. De-emphasize the use of alcohol at events

2. Firms adopt policies for dealing confidentially with lawyer impairment.

3. Judges adopt policies for helping impaired colleagues on the bench.

4.There are several more proposed recommendations dealing with how legal regulators and liability carriers can help.

The ABA also formed a Presidential Working Group to assist legal employers who don’t know where to start with helping. The ABA Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs issued a report that offers practical guidance to improve well-being. Finally, the ABA has started a campaign asking legal employers to sign a pledge to improve lawyer well-being.

I hope that you found this interesting and informative. It seems to me that these goals fit in perfectly with the aims of the Attorney Action Club. Of course, there’s more to the article. If you’d like to have a copy or would like to know more, please contact me. I’m an approved therapist for the Lawyer Assistance Program and very much appreciate all of the work that you do.

Digital Afterlife: An Estate Plan for Your Facebook Account

Did you ever wonder what happens to your digital footprint when you pass away? Well you should, particularly if you are part of the 77 percent of Americans who go online every day. As the internet has become more of an integral part of our lives, our information — pictures, videos, financial, emails, social media accounts, and other personal information — is constantly being stored online. All of this information is known as your “digital assets.” While the internet has made our lives easier by allowing us to access our information with the simple push of a button, it may be difficult for our loved ones to do the same once we are gone.

Digital Estate Planning

Digital assets encompass any of your information that you store or use online – this includes social media accounts such as Facebook. While you may not consider these digital assets as having much monetary value, they store critical information or have sentimental value. Consequently, when you plan for your estate you should include your digital assets because they are an asset owned by you. Indeed, when it comes to your digital assets you will have to make special advanced arrangements so your executor – the person in charge of your estate when you pass away – can access them upon your passing. Many online providers, such as Facebook, Google, and Yahoo!, have specific procedures for handling your account upon your passing. In order to ensure that your wishes are carried out, you must follow their rules. Strictly speaking, providing usernames and passwords to another person, even your executor or successor trustee, may be a violation of the terms of service for many online accounts, and could cause trouble for your executor or successor trustee. You should also consider access to your computer and back-up hard drives, tablets, and smartphones. Being proactive is key when it comes to your digital assets so that they may be accessed when needed. And, as with any estate plan, regularly revisiting your plan for your digital assets is key.

Coordinating Your Digital Assets With Your Estate Plans

Depending on where you live your digital estate plan may need to be formalized into a legal document. You can then name an executor specifically for your digital assets or, alternatively, name someone with whom your traditional executor can work with in order to settle your digital estate. Make sure to instruct your executor as to the location of your digital asset inventory for easy access. Keep in mind that because your will becomes a public document upon your death due to probate, you should never put any of your username or password information in your will. Instead, have your will refer to an outside document that contains all the needed information regarding your digital assets.

If you have questions about handling your digital assets and how they fit in with your existing estate plan, please give me a call. As with any estate plan, make sure to keep me and any financial advisors you have up to date on the status of your digital assets so that I can ensure your overall plan properly handles them and adapts to any changes in the law or circumstances.

Successor to Your Family’s Business? What You Need to Know!

Baby Boomers are retiring in ever-increasing numbers—10,000 per day by one estimate! Many of these Boomers are retiring from a business they have carefully and lovingly built over many years of sweat, tears, and much fulfillment. And as the child of a Boomer, you’re now faced with the possibility of succeeding your parents in owning and managing that business. Or perhaps your interests and careers are elsewhere, and you want to see that business successfully transferred to someone outside the family who will continue to serve the business’s clients as well as your parents have. Or, realistically, you and your parents want to reap the full value of that business when it is dispositioned.

So, how can you and your parents ensure that transition is successful? What do you need to know, and who do you need to consult? Business exit planning does not have to be overly complicated. But it does have to be thoroughly planned and executed, ensuring the critical aspects are adequately addressed.

As the daughter or son of a retiring family business founder/owner, you will want to ensure your parents are well-prepared for a life of retirement and perhaps of travel, volunteering, time with grandchildren, and worry-free leisure. Your discussion with your parents about their retirement often begins with: What are they going to do now that they’re retired? How will they ensure they have meaning and purpose in their lives since these are so closely related to living a long, healthy, fulfilling life as they enter their later years. See “I’m Retired! Now What?” for more on leading a long and fulfilling life after retirement.

The second topic of discussion with your parents usually revolves around the question of what to do with the business when they leave. Will you or your siblings want to take over leadership of their business? Are you ready to do so? These are often very difficult discussions to have, yet very necessary. Has your family had open, frank discussions about what will happen to the family business—especially if it’s not clear who should manage the business when more than one of you wants to take on that role?

Or will you want to see the business successfully sold to a key employee or other third-party? Are you prepared to help your parents make that choice if they seek your advice? Is this a family decision, or one to be left solely up to your parents?

These are only the beginning discussions and actions that need to be undertaken as part of business retirement exit planning. We’ve covered this topic much more extensively in “Business Retirement Planning: It’s a Team Effort!” and suggested that an exit planning coach can be of much value in guiding a retiring business owner through the process.

Business succession planning requires allowing enough time to consider all the choices to be made and enough time to implement those choices. It’s important to start your planning early and to put the plan in writing. Whether you choose to work with an exit or succession planning coach, a business coach or consultant, or do it yourself, start early. Starting to plan too late or failing to plan at all are the two primary reasons so many business transitions fail, an outcome which is totally avoidable. So, start planning now!

Planning Your Summer Vacation? 5 Things to Consider Now

In many states, winter has thawed and now flowers are budding. This can only mean one thing: summer vacation planning season is here now. As vacation planning kicks into high gear, here are a few important things to add to your vacation readiness checklist.

Guardian nomination

If it’s just you and a spouse leaving for a getaway this summer, who is going to take care of the kids while you’re gone? And, heaven forbid, who will care for them if you don’t return? Double check your guardian nomination for your minor children so you know that if, on the very slight chance something goes wrong, your children will be in the right hands.

If you have not completed or updated a guardian nomination, now is the time to do so. Without this nomination, the court will determine who will raise your child if something were to happen to you, and it may not be the person you want.

For example, Sally has two boys. She’s concerned about who will raise them if she is not able to do so. Sally’s younger sister, Carey, is fairly wealthy (thanks to a favorable divorce settlement), is unemployed, and lives a life of leisure. Her carefully curated social media would have you believe she’s a well-off, stable jetsetter. On the other hand, Sally’s older sister Tracy is the total opposite. She recently adopted a boy with special needs from the foster system, and although she works incredibly hard at a museum, she does not earn much income. If a court were to look compare them, Carey could very well be the clear winner for guardianship. But, Carey is the last person Sally would ever want raising her kids because Carey does not share the same values or respect for hard work. Sally is also concerned that Carey would fight hard to win custody of the boys just so she would gain access to the boy’s inheritance.

Unfortunately, situations like Sally’s are a common occurrence for parents who haven’t named a guardian, and the courts do not have the resources to do a deep-dive into everyone’s background. This is why the nominations are so important. The guardianship nominations give you the opportunity to make your wishes known to the court. By having the guardianship nomination prepared, Sally can ensure that Tracy, who shares her values, will be the one raising her boys.

Beneficiary designations and other funding issues

Many people have an out-of-date beneficiary designation, or, at the very least, one that hasn’t been looked at in a while. Taking 10-15 minutes to log into your IRA, 401(k), and life insurance company’s website to double check your beneficiary designations is an easy way to put your mind at ease so you can relax on a tropical beach or explore the sights of a brand new city stress-free.

Beyond beneficiary designations, other funding issues with trust-based plans are sadly common. But many can be easily and quickly fixed. If you’ve opened a new bank or investment account, or bought a different home, let us know so we can work with you to update the funding of your trust. This type of work is just like touching up the paint at your house – quick and painless if you do it on a regular schedule – but a much bigger project if you let it wait. The great news is that you’ll rest easy on your vacation, knowing everything is in order back home.

Advance directive and powers of attorney

Getting sick or injured while traveling is stressful enough without the added worry of not having advance directives and powers of attorney in place. Knowing that your care will be handled according to your wishes makes travel easier. If you need a fresh copy of these documents, give me a call so we can make sure you have a readily accessible copy.

Signatures

Are your will, trust, and other documents still unsigned? Maybe you’ve been reviewing them. It’s better to have a plan in place that addresses your big issues and concerns before leaving rather than waiting until it’s “perfect.” If you haven’t yet signed, give us a call so we can make sure your documents get signed properly. Remember, with a will or revocable trust you can always make changes in the future.

Stay organized

Where do you keep your hard copy and digital copy of your estate planning documents? Choose a safe location in your home to store at least one printed hard copy, and create a folder on your hard drive or personal cloud storage site so that you’ll always have access to a backup digital copy as well. Checking this to-do off your list before your vacations means one less thing to keep track of later. If you need a fresh copy because you’ve misplaced yours, give me a call. I am happy to help.

After Mindfulness Retreat

The After Mindfulness Urban Retreat is coming to the UC Berkeley Campus June 29-30th of this year. This first of its kind gathering welcomes all traditions (of Buddhisim practiced throughout the world? Or all cultures?) to experience how we are interconnected through cross-cultural friendships and dialogue.  The retreat will provide the expected 1500 attendees with opportunities for learning, community building, and individual contemplation through talks, music, meditation, yoga, and a dharma festival.

Talks – To share inspiring stories and some answers to what is beyond mindfulness by:

  •       Ajahn Brahm from Australia, renowned Buddhist teacher.
  •       Emma Slade, a UK banker turned Buddhist Nun, working with disabled children in Bhutan; and
  •       Ven De Hong, from Los Angeles who brought mindfulness training inside LA prisons
  •       Prof. Stephen Murphy Shigematsu who established a Stanford Heartfulness program for creativity, responsibility and authenticity.

Music – A US debut concert by Imee Ooi, musical legion offering soothing and melodic Sounds of Metta at the Zellerbach auditorium.

Yoga, Meditation, and Dharma Talks – Small and large group practice lead by local instructors, sangha leaders and guest speakers.

Dharma Festival – Each day, there will be a mid day festival serving up food, dancing, demonstrations, and engaged dharma where festival partners of local and global non-profit organizations and sanghas come together to show us ways to take your practice from the cushion to the world.

Register on Eventbrite today: Click Here

Learn more: www.aftermindfulness.org

Rules of Engagement

Long ago, I was told that couples argue primarily about money, neatness and sex. In all of my years of working with couples, I can see that that is a pretty complete list. Of course, there are lots of sub-categories under each of those topics. Money also refers to differences in ambition, preferences toward planning or spontaneity and what contributes to overall feelings of safety and security. Neatness is about how persons organize their homes, and also their lives. And sex is fraught with all kinds expectations and opportunities for disappointment. This remains true whether the relationship monogamous or polyamorous.

So how does this whole relationship thing work? Below is a list of what I call the “rules of engagement”. This is what I have learned from the happiest couples that I know:

• You Know Nothing

I’d like to write this on the walls of my office. Assuming that you know what your partner is thinking and why they are thinking that way is deadly. Your safest, most generous position is to assume that you know nothing about the other person. That way you get to remain curious and open to learning.

When you really get that you are completely different people with different motivations, preferences and desires, you have entered the elite category of happy couple. It’s easy to like your sameness. Can you love your differences?

• Believe What Your Partner Tells You

Stop trying to hear what you want to hear. Stop trying to change their mind. Of course, over time, minds may change, but continuing to ask the same question and hoping, or even demanding, another answer isn’t going to work. There is grief in relationships. Grief, because there are some activities and values that you are just not going to share with each other. No couple is 100% compatible.

• Actions Speak Louder Than Words

Related to #2 is that regardless of what your partner says, what they do is what they mean. They may be telling you something else because they aspire to do things differently, or they just want you to stop bugging them. Believe what they do.

• Cringe Worthy

You will be disappointed and even embarrassed by your partner from time to time. Guess what? They are going to be disappointed and embarrassed by you too.

• All Relationships Are Experiments

No one has this figured out. There is no point of arrival. You figure it out as you go and each relationship is unique.

• You are Your Relationship

Many people fantasize about finding someone better. Your relationship reflects your relationship with yourself. You aren’t going to find someone different if you stay the same.

• Nothing to Lose

If you are thinking about leaving the relationship, take every chance before you do. Say or do what’s in your heart. You have nothing to lose.

• Drop the Blame Game

If you decide to go your separate ways, you can do so peaceably and without blame. Just because a relationship ends, it doesn’t mean that it was a failure. Maybe you had two, or ten, or even twenty good years. That’s an accomplishment, not a failure.

Vicarious Trauma and Compassion Fatigue

Last month, in my blog on workplace bullying, I referenced a phenomenon called vicarious trauma and I’ve gotten a number of questions about what that is and what to do about it.

Vicarious trauma is the cumulative effect of witnessing trauma or its after effects. Most people are not confronting trauma on a daily basis at their workplaces. But if you work in fields like healthcare, law (think personal injury or family law), law enforcement, fire fighting, or insurance (think home and auto), your job is to respond to people in some of the worst moments of their lives. You may take this for granted, but most people don’t work in professions of compassion.

Over time, vicarious trauma can accumulate and you may find yourself in a state of compassion fatigue (we used to call this burnout). Symptoms include:

• Hopelessness and a negative world view

• General grumpiness and difficulty relating to others

• Feeling de-skilled and ineffective

• A lack of motivation

• Working longer hours and getting less done

• Intrusive thoughts about other people’s traumas

• Sleep disturbance

The good news is that you can recover. You can also avoid compassion fatigue through self-care. First, you have to include yourself in your own compassion.  Go easy on yourself and others.  Ask for, and accept, support.  Express yourself through writing, drawing, or talking with others.  Eat well, exercise and rest; take time off and have fun.  Know your limits. Integrate relaxation or mindfulness practices into your life.

Remember that the need for your compassion will never end, so pace yourself for the long haul.

Do It Now: Name a Guardian for Your Minor Child(ren)

I know it’s hard. Thinking about someone else raising your children can stop you in your tracks. It feels crushing and too horrific to consider. But you must. If you don’t, a stranger will determine who raises your children if something happens to you – your children’s guardian could be a relative you despise or even a stranger you’ve never met.

No one will ever be you or parent exactly like you, but more than likely, there is someone you know that could do a decent job providing for your children’s general welfare, education, and medical needs if you are no longer available to do so. Parents with minor children need to name someone to raise them (a guardian) in the event both parents should die before the child becomes an adult. While the likelihood of that actually happening is slim, the consequences of not naming a guardian are more than intense.

If no guardian is named in your will, a judge – a stranger who does not know you, your child, or your relatives and friends – will decide who will raise your child. Anyone can ask to be considered, and the judge will select the person he or she deems most appropriate. Families tend to fight over children, especially if there’s money involved.  And worse, no one may be willing to take your child. If that happens, the judge will place your child in foster care. On the other hand, if you do name a guardian, the judge will likely support your choice.

How to Choose a Guardian

Your children’s guardian can be a relative or friend. Here are the factors my clients have considered when selecting guardians (and backup guardians):

-How well the children and potential guardian know and enjoy each other

-Parenting style, moral values, educational level, health practices, religious/spiritual beliefs

-Location – if the guardian lives far away, your children would have to move from a familiar school, friends, and neighborhood

-The age and health of the guardian-candidates: Grandparents may have the time, but they may or may not have the energy to keep up with a toddler or teenager.  An older guardian may become ill and/or even die before a child is grown, so there would be a double loss.  A younger guardian, especially a sibling, may be concentrating on finishing college or starting a career.

Emotional preparedness – Someone who is single or who doesn’t want children may resent having to care for your children. Someone with a houseful of their own children may or may not want more around

WARNING: Serving as guardian and raising your children is a big deal; don’t spring such a responsibility on anyone. Ask your top candidates if they would be willing to serve, and name at least one alternate in case the first choice becomes unable to serve.

Who’s in Charge of the Money

Raising your children should not be a financial burden for the guardian, and a candidate’s lack of finances should not be the deciding factor. You will need to provide enough money (from assets and/or life insurance) to provide for your children. Some parents also earmark funds to help the guardian buy a larger car or add to their existing home, so there’s plenty of room for extra children.

Factors to Consider

Naming a separate person to handle the money can be a good idea. That person would be the trustee in charge of the assets, but not guardian of the children, responsible for the day-to-day raising of the children.

However, having the same person raise the children and handle the money can make things simpler because the guardian would not have to ask someone else for money.

But the best person to raise the children may not be the best person to handle the money and it may be tempting for them to use this money for their own purposes.

Let’s Continue this Conversation

I know it’s not easy, but don’t let that stop you. I’m happy to talk this through with you and legally document your wishes. Know that you can change your mind and select a different guardian anytime you’d like. The chances of needing the guardian to actually step in are usually slim (I always hope this is the one nomination that’s never actually needed); but, you’re a parent and your job is to provide for and protect your children, so let’s do this. Call my office now for an appointment and we’ll get your children protected.

Bully-Proof Your Workplace

In my last blog, I talked about the prevalence of workplace bullying. Across industries, 27% of people will experience bullying. That number is significantly higher in the healthcare field however. Why is that? Any organization is more vulnerable to bullying during times of change and increased workload. In addition, healthcare organizations tend to have dense bureaucracies and rigid hierarchies that can make spotting and challenging bullying more difficult. But an often-overlooked factor is vicarious trauma.

What is vicarious trauma?

Most people do not bear daily witness to suffering. Vicarious trauma is the cumulative effect of witnessing trauma and it’s aftermath. The effects are similar to those of the trauma survivor: Generalized fear, hopelessness, negativity, sleep disturbances, and difficulty relating to others. If you recognize yourself here, you are overdue for some loving kindness. There’s no shame in it—it happens to everyone at some point (but that’s the subject of another blog).

Why do people bully?

Put a group of traumatized people in a high stress, high stakes environment and it’s no wonder that there is some bad behavior.

Sometimes, it’s deliberate and calculated. The person doing the bullying feels threatened and decides to take someone down. Most of the time, it’s emotional spill over and the person doing the bullying had no idea of the damage they are doing. They are just acting out their stress. The thing is, when you are under-staffed and overworked, it pays to be extra nice. There is just never a good time to treat people badly.

Wonder if you are the bully?

Ask. Ask your manager. Ask your team. Ask HR for a 360 review. Ask the people who don’t like you. Look for the indicators: Higher than average turnover, errors, absenteeism, and fewer applicants.

Who gets bullied?

NO ONE DESERVES TO BE BULLIED!

There are patterns however. You are more likely to be bullied if you are female, under 40, single, or are perceived of as different in some way.

This is a difficult fact, but it happens most often to people who don’t stand up for themselves. Those who think that if they just work harder, this will all go away. It won’t. You have a 66% chance of losing your job and you are more likely to be bullied on your next job.

What do we do?

As leaders, you have to pay attention and intervene in bullying situations. Every time you let something slide by, you are promoting a culture of bullying.

If you are being bullied, you have to square your shoulders and confront the behavior. I know, that is the one thing that you don’t want to do. But I’m not talking about a show down. Just say, “Please don’t talk to me that way.” Then walk away. You are not trying to convince the person doing the bullying; you are just putting them on notice. If the behavior persists, you document and make the business case to leadership that this is not beneficial to the organization. Site turnover and absenteeism rates. Note moral and recruitment issues.

Get help.

As an individual, you deserve some support for the stress you are carrying. For the organization, there is a benefit to having someone from the outside intervene. I can help you bully-proof your culture so that bullying simply can’t happen. I start with a culture and communication assessment and devise a plan specific to your organization.

Here’s the thing – bullying only happens if the organizational culture allows it. Change the culture and you bully-proof your workplace. You have to come to a common understanding about acceptable and unacceptable behavior and then provide the necessary supports and consequences.

Don’t “Should” on Me

The above statement is one of my favorite bumper stickers. It is a reminder of one of the ways in which we both allow others to tyrannize us and tyrannize ourselves. When partners, whether business or personal,  try to “should” on each other, intense conflict almost always results. “Shoulds” come from cultural, parental and peer expectations and we accept them because we need to feel loved, to belong, and to feel safe and good about ourselves.

We act on “shoulds” because we believe that they are true, and that’s how we give them power over us. If we don’t live up to our “shoulds” or to someone else’s “shoulds,” we feel that we are unworthy or a bad person. Our self-esteem is impacted and we torture ourselves with self-blame and guilt.

Look over the following list of “shoulds” and notice which impact on your feelings about yourself:

~ I should be strong or you should be strong,

~ I should always be kind or you should always be kind.

~ I should never make a mistake or you should never make a mistake.

~ I should be perfect (a particular curse) or you should be perfect.

~ I should never feel angry or you shouldn’t be angry.

~ I should always be helpful or you should always be helpful.

~ I should never feel sexually attracted to_______or you should never feel sexually attracted to anyone else.

~ I should never be afraid or you should never be afraid.

~ I should always be happy or you should always be happy.

~ I should always help others or you should always help others.

~I should never say “NO” or you should never say NO.

I would guess that you probably have some additional “shoulds” that I haven’t thought about.   If these or any other “shoulds” are keeping you from living your life to the fullest in the way that you want to live it, I invite you to explore healthy ways of dealing with them.  Some of these “shoulds” can feel really abusive.    It isn’t necessary to carry these burdens alone–and I definitely do not mean that you should get rid of them. It’s your choice.

You might use the word “want. 

Doing so might make you feel less stressed and overwhelmed.