My 30 Secrets to a Successful Marriage

Rather than focusing on estate planning in this article, I plan on sharing the wisdom from clients who have successfully navigated many years of successful marriage. I’m grateful that Patti and I have thirty years behind us, which, I suppose is a great accomplishment these days.

Nevertheless, all of us have a lot to learn from those who have traveled a longer path. So over the years, I wrote down these nuggets from those who had been married fifty years or more:

  1. Be a good listener and don’t offer an opinion unless asked.
  2. If you think marriage would have been easier with someone else, think again.
  3. Grow together. You’re both going to change, but do so on the same path rather than taking separate paths.
  4. While you want to grow together, also have some separate interests and friends. It’s okay to take some time away from one another every now and then.
  5. Everyone has their own quirks that make us difficult to live with. Do your best to minimize your own, and accept those of your spouse.
  6. Marriage is an “on the job training” proposition. When the going gets rough, it’s a sign that we may need new skills, not a new spouse.
  7. Remind yourself daily why you fell in love in the first place.
  8. Don’t let the kids become the number one priority. Your marriage is your first responsibility.
  9. When you’re angry, it is not the time to fight.
  10. If you are thinking “I really shouldn’t say this” – Don’t.
  11. Be the first to apologize and the first to forgive.
  12. Try new things together. Don’t do the same thing over and over.
  13. Trying new things also applies to the bedroom.
  14. Surprise your spouse in a good way every now and then. Whether that means to bring her flowers for no reason, book a trip ‘just because’ or do something nice for her parents – those things go a long way.
  15. When you screw up, don’t blame your spouse. Take responsibility for your own mistakes.
  16. Be willing to compromise but also realize some situations can’t be compromised – e.g. – where you live, how many kids you have, etc. – realize that when your spouse gives in on such a matter it is both a gift to you and potentially dangerous. Before acting, you should be certain that both of you can live with the consequences.
  17. Don’t always make your spouse give in when compromise isn’t possible.
  18. Don’t rehash the past.
  19. Don’t hold grudges – accept apologies graciously and move on.
  20. Keep a good sense of humor.
  21. Don’t take yourself too seriously.
  22. Realize that even tragic times will end.
  23. None of us are happy 24/7 – nor do we need to be.
  24. Trust is more valuable than all the money you could possibly save.
  25. Most good marriages have one person who brings up difficult subjects or stays hopeful in difficult times. While you may wish that both of you take on this role, be grateful when one of you is willing to do it.
  26. Marriage can make you a better person or a worse person – your choice.
  27. Better to request a change than to complain and criticize.
  28. Fights are usually not about the content of the argument du jour. It’s usually better to define the underlying issues of what is really upsetting and address those rather than continue arguing over trivial matters.
  29. Learn how to make up properly as two people can’t be in a marriage without upsetting one another from time to time.

And my final marriage tip?

  1. Enjoy life together – and appreciate the small things.

© 2020 Craig R. Hersch. Originally published in the Sanibel Island Sun.


There’s an old Yiddish phrase “un kinder aus yachsen mit bupkes ist immer bupkis!”  (a child from a distinguished heritage with nothing is still nothing). In other words, it doesn’t matter how important or distinguished someone’s lineage is if each generation doesn’t otherwise live up to the family’s standards.

I think about that phrase from time to time when I hear complaints about adult children who haven’t lived up to their parents’ expectations in one way or another. Perhaps they spend too much money relative to what they earn, or they bounce from job to job without advancing their career, or they fail to finish their education.

Oftentimes the complaining parents are quite successful. They might be doctors, lawyers, engineers, business owners or community leaders. Most of the time the patriarch and matriarch themselves arose from modest backgrounds and had to earn and scrape for everything they now enjoy.

Their children, on the other hand, don’t have the same frame of reference. The parents wanted their children to have it much easier than they had, so the children’s lives were easier. The children had more handed to them – they didn’t have to work and earn for everything that they have.

So is it any surprise that the children don’t have the same drive and ambition that their parents had?

Which leads me to today’s estate planning lesson. It’s not uncommon to hear a client say that they don’t want the inheritance to take their children’s drive and ambition away. A trust might be built that provides supplemental income but cannot be used for sole support.

These are all good ideas. But isn’t it a little too late to teach these lessons through a will or trust? The average life span for someone who is currently sixty-something years old is eighty-six.  In other words, today’s sixty year old can expect to live another twenty-six years all things being equal.

If the children are thirty years younger, then they will become trust beneficiaries in their fifties – or maybe even their sixties.  Will an incentive or supplemental needs trust really work to change habits that have been ingrained for several decades by that point?

Somehow the lessons and values that made the parents what they are need to be ingrained at a much earlier age. Anyone with any means struggles with these issues – myself included. I grew up in a very modest setting, and have worked to earn my own way from a very early age.  While I didn’t want my own children to have to work like I did, somewhere there’s a line that one doesn’t want to cross.

I think that it is certainly more difficult today than it was a generation or two ago.  Smart phones, the Internet, Netflix, and many other modern conveniences tend to distract us from having important family dinner discussions.  Travel soccer teams take away time that would otherwise be spent learning morals and values in synagogue or at church.  Two-income households mean that both Mom and Dad are exhausted at the end of the day and don’t have the stamina to oversee homework or to attend school functions.

Somehow we all must work to change this dynamic.

This isn’t to say that all children are on the wrong path and will become irresponsible spendthrifts later in life.  I actually believe quite the contrary. There are a lot of good kids out there who work hard to earn good grades and are quite ambitious.

But there are also many who don’t appreciate what their parents have built for them, and what their parents had to sacrifice to get the family where it currently is. And that, my friends, is not necessarily the kids’ fault.

It’s all of ours.

Hopefully the pendulum will swing back as many realize what’s happening. Until then, I’m afraid there will be many more estate planning discussions centering on how to protect our children from themselves when they inherit the assets that took so long and hard to earn.

© 2020 Craig R. Hersch. Originally published in the Sanibel Island Sun.

7 New Years Tips for Your Estate Plan

As we turn our calendars to 2020, tradition dictates that we make New Year’s resolutions.  What are yours this year?  Is it to lose weight? Give up self-destructive vices such as smoking or drinking? Allow me to suggest seven estate planning to-dos that shouldn’t be ignored:

  1. Update Your Will

That will which sits in your safety deposit box – yeah we know – the one that names your sister Nancy to act as the guardian for your children who are now in their forties – desperately needs to be updated. Your family and financial circumstances have significantly changed since then – notwithstanding the fact that you no longer reside in Michigan where it was drawn up.

  1. Sign a New Durable Power of Attorney 

This document needs updating just as much as your will does – and may be more important to you than your will! That is, att least if your will is a problem it doesn’t affect you – after all – you’ll be dead!  You’ll just leave a mess behind for your loved ones. But your durable power of attorney affects YOU!  If you become incapacitated and don’t have a valid durable power of attorney document that names someone who can write checks, pays bills and manage your financial and legal affairs, the alternative is a court ordered guardianship. That’s no fun and can be insanely expensive.

  1. Take a Look at your IRA and 401(k) Beneficiary Designations

It could be a real downer for your current spouse to discover that your former spouse is still named as the primary beneficiary on your IRA and 401(k) accounts. Another bummer is when your stock broker switched firms and forgot to have you update the beneficiary documents. When that happens the Custodial Agreement controls who gets the IRA or 401(k). Have you ever read your Custodial Agreement? It’s the thin onion skin paper thingy that comes in the mail when you opened your account. The one you threw out along with the prospectus to all the mutual funds. What the Custodial Agreement may say is that your estate becomes the beneficiary if you don’t name one. Federal tax law – our friends at the IRS – shout with glee when your estate becomes your beneficiary because upon your demise your entire account becomes immediately taxable as income.

  1. Update Your Health Care Directives 

Unless you wish to become the next Terri Schiavo, you should strongly consider signing a new living will and health care surrogate. You may remember the Dunedin, Florida woman who was on life support for 15 years.  Schaivo’s court case between her husband who insisted that she would have wanted to remove the food and water tubes and her parents who argued she wasn’t in a persistent vegetative state – resulted in a political and media circus involving the United States Congress and the Supreme Court. I don’t know about you, but one of my lifetime goals does not include having my private health care matters being mentioned by our esteemed Congressmen and Senators preening for votes on national television.

  1. Dust off your Life Insurance and Annuity Beneficiary Designations

For many of the same reasons I mention in #5 above, it’s a good idea to dust off the beneficiary designations to your life insurance and annuities. If you have any chance of having a taxable estate for federal estate tax purposes, now may be a good time to investigate removing the life insurance from your taxable estate by using any number of strategies, including an irrevocable life insurance trust (ILIT). If you already have such a trust but don’t have all your “Crummey notices” (the ones that made the contributions to the ILIT tax free) saved in one place, gather them together and give them to your estate attorney so that he will have copies in case they are ever needed. When might they be needed? Not until your death when your estate tax return is audited. By then you obviously won’t be around to tell everyone where they are. Save your friendly attorney (not to mention your family affected by the taxes that our friends at the IRS may impose when the Crummey letters can’t be verified) from the stress and organize the file.

  1. Make a Tangible Personal Property List 

Believe it or not, it’s usually not the money or real estate that the kids fight over. Those things can be divided up rather easily. It’s the heirlooms that cause the most strife. Dad’s baseball card collection. Mom’s engagement ring. The painting on the wall. Creating a list of who is to get what can avoid some heated arguments in the stress of losing a parent.

  1. Make General Lists 

Do those important to you know where your financial accounts are located, how to log onto your accounts online or which bank branch your safety deposit box is located? All sorts of personal information might be very difficult to find in the event of your incapacity or death. Unless your son is Sherlock Holmes it’s a good idea to let them all know where these important documents and items can be found.

Just as most of us give up on our resolutions by January 2nd, do yourself (and your loved ones) a big favor.  If you haven’t taken care of these matters, try your best to do so. Unlike losing weight or getting more exercise, you can delegate most of these tasks among your advisors such as your friendly estate planning attorney, accountant and financial advisor.

Have a Happy and Healthy 2020!

© 2020 Craig R. Hersch. Originally published in the Sanibel Island Sun