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advice

This is the season for speeches. We’re about to enter the graduation and wedding time of year, when principals, best men, maids of honor and valedictorians stand in front of a group of people and share their thoughts during these momentous occasions.

For those about to grab the microphone, I’d like to offer my top 10 list of things not to do in a speech — in reverse order.

10. Don’t make inside jokes that no one, outside of your best friend and maybe your sibling, understands. Looking at your friend after you’ve made a joke that no one gets and pointing back and forth between this other person and you only endangers that friendship.

9. Don’t make a speech without practicing. Find someone who can be helpful and not someone who thinks you shouldn’t change anything you do, ever. That honest person might prevent you from saying, “The groom is so lucky. He gets to sleep with Karen — I always wanted to sleep with Karen. I can’t wait to hear about it.”

8. Don’t correct yourself on small details, such as, “Remember when we had that school snowball fight in second grade? No, wait it was first grade, right? No, no, it was second grade. I was right the first time.” Most people won’t care about those details. They’d rather you got it wrong than hear you go play a one person game of memory ping-pong.

7. Don’t forget to thank everyone you should thank. You can acknowledge your friends for helping you get through those tough years, the writers of your favorite movies for giving you a chance to laugh, and the woman at the supermarket for encouraging you to submit an application that got you into a summer program. Never forget to thank your parents, any relatives who are in attendance and the teachers who somehow managed to educate you despite your insistence that their subject was irrelevant.

6. Don’t imagine that alcohol makes you a better singer. It doesn’t. Besides, there’s always an enormous collection of cellphones at any wedding. You can’t erase that horrible rendition of “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling.” Ever. Strangers will come up to you and screech at you.

5. Don’t quote someone else extensively. Winston Churchill was a tremendous speechmaker, JFK said some memorable things, too, as did Martin Luther King Jr. Audiences can read and have no desire to hear you butcher an extensive collection of words someone else delivered.

4. Don’t try to sell something. You’re there to support the graduate, the bride and groom and numerous families. This isn’t the time to suggest that people moved by your speech can pick up tissues at your store
because you sell the softest tissues in town.

3. Don’t talk about how difficult it is for you to give a speech. Chances are the audience supports you
anyway, so there is no need to tell them, over and over again. If you aren’t particularly good at public speaking, they’ll notice.

2. Don’t look down at your poorly written notes during the entire speech. If you look up once in a while, you won’t sound like you’re muttering anecdotes and advice in your sleep.

1. Don’t give a long speech. The most important part of any speech is to keep it short. Sure, you might be funny and have some words of wisdom that people will remember. And, yes, you might recall an
anecdote that sheds light on the people in your class. People want to eat dessert, go to a party, or throw their ridiculous square hats with tassels into the air for the annual picture of stupid hats in the air. A good rule of thumb for speeches: When in doubt, leave it out.

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Do you ever wish you had asked for advice about life from older members of the family or friends who have now passed away? I certainly do. Like an inheritance, advice that has withstood the test of time can make the life of the beneficiary easier. Hence the clever idea, by an assisted living community on Long Island, of producing a distributable calendar filled with some of the wisdom of its residents was immediately interesting to me. The Gurwin Jewish-Fay J. Lindner Residences, located in Commack, collected the thoughts of one person or couple in the community for each month and named the project “From Generation to Generation 2017.”

As the calendar states in the introduction, “The advice contained in these pages … is priceless, and made all the more meaningful because of the life experiences that season [the residents’] words of wisdom.”

The January advice comes from Gerald Burberry, who was sent to England on the Kindertransport — also known as Children’s Transport — during World War II and was the only member of his family to survive the Holocaust. Gerald focuses on the beauty in life through the lens of his camera and is an enthusiastic nature photographer. He and his wife have visited as many U.S. National Parks as they could in pursuit of his goal to “appreciate nature.”

Janet Munday adorns February and urges everyone to “blaze new trails.” She was a computer engineering major at Hofstra, one of few women at the time, and also played the bass guitar in a cover band and traveled to Italy just to learn Italian.

Others, like Helen and Mel Morgenstein, who are wedded 73 years, offer this advice to married couples: “Respect each other.” Mel adds, “Respect your differences, and have your own interests. It makes for a much better life together.” Mary Falcone says, “Cherish family.” She has four daughters, 12 grandchildren and 15 great-grandchildren, “They’re wonderful,” she declares and she sees them regularly. “Their heart is my heart.” Florence Levenbaum, who is 91, loves to dance. She urges, “Keep moving and smile.” For her, movement and good humor are the keys to good health. She posed for her photo in the calendar carrying a Wilson wooden tennis racket over her shoulder.

Further advice includes “Pursue your passions” from Stewart Greene, a devoted lifetime sailor; “Keep learning” from Sandra Peltz, a former registrar at Hofstra who feels she learns from each new person she meets; and “Be independent” from Ruth Kaufman, who doesn’t worry about what others might think and say. “Use common sense!” urges Edwin Zola, who feels that people could find a way to end war and suffering if they would treat others as they would like to be treated, adding, “This just makes sense.” And Sidney Klein speaks proudly about serving one’s country, as he did during WWII.

What advice would you pass along to those younger than you? I asked that question of some of the newspaper staff, and here is what they offered.

“Live in the moment,” said one. “And enjoy the moment.” Another counseled, “Don’t put it off,” whether a task, a career move or a relationship. “Anticipate life’s many stages,” suggested another. “Be yourself, don’t be afraid to be who you really are rather than trying to please others,” is one piece of advice one mother had just shared with her daughter. Another mother offered, “Enjoy your childhood. You are only a child once.” And how about this one for your children? “We were young once too!”

Some others included, “Work hard, play hard and include balance in your life,” “Be kind,” “Stick together with family,” “Hang around with happy people,” and this timely bit for today’s world, “Be entrepreneurial.”

You might ask what words I would offer the next generations. My advice: “Have courage.” Have the courage to be the person you want to be, to do the things you most wish to do, to go to the places you yearn to see, and to defend those who cannot defend themselves.

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By Linda Toga

screen-shot-2016-12-08-at-3-41-23-pmTHE FACTS: With the holidays fast approaching, I’ve been thinking about making gifts of cash to my grown children. I’ve heard that I can give each child $14,000 without any negative tax consequences. I am not wealthy but, at this point, I believe I can afford to give each of my children $14,000. I know they could really use the money.

THE QUESTION: Is there any reason I should think twice before making the gifts?

THE ANSWER: The quick answer is that when you’re talking about giving away thousands of dollars, you should always think twice. That being said, there are many factors that you should consider before deciding whether making significant cash gifts to your children is in your best interest.

Since you did not mention your age, your health status or the number of children you have, it is difficult to say which factors may prove the most important in your decision-making process.

Under current federal gift tax laws, a person can give any number of people up to $14,000 a year without incurring any gift tax liability. The recipients of the gifts need not report them on their tax returns and can simply enjoy the grantor’s generosity.

The need for the grantor to report gifts to the IRS only arises if the value of the gifts made to any one person in a single calendar year exceeds the $14,000 gift exclusion.  In that case, in April following the year in which gifts valued at over $14,000 were given to a single recipient, the grantor is required to file a gift tax return with the IRS. The return reports the amount of the gift in excess of $14,000.

For example, if the grantor made a gift of $20,000, he would have to report $6,000 of the gift on the gift tax return. Under current federal law, no gift tax will be due unless and until the cumulative value of the gifts reported by the grantor exceeds the estate tax exclusion amount in effect when the gift tax return is filed.

For gifts made in 2015 and reported in 2016, the grantor would not have to pay any gift tax unless the value of his cumulative lifetime gifts exceeded $5.45 million. Under New York State law, there is no gift tax, but the value of gifts made in the last three (3) years of the grantor’s life may be added to the value of his estate for purposes of calculating estate tax.

Since most people are not in a position to give away millions of dollars during their lifetime, whether or not a gift triggers a gift tax liability is usually not a deciding factor in making gifts. A more important factor for many grantors is whether they will need the money as they age. The cost of long-term care and the possibility that the grantor may need to apply for Medicaid are factors that frequently dictate whether gifting is a good option.

While the gift tax laws allow people to make gifts of up to $14,000 to countless people each year without adverse tax consequences, Medicaid eligibility is not governed by the tax code. As a result, many people who make gifts in accordance with the IRS guidelines are later surprised to find they are penalized for making those gifts when applying for Medicaid.

Under the Medicaid guidelines, gifts made within five (5) years of applying for benefits may trigger a penalty period based upon the value of those gifts. For younger, healthier grantors, the risk of having to apply for benefits within five (5) years of making a gift and then facing a penalty period may be minimal. However, the risk increases for the elderly or those with serious health conditions.

If you feel that you have adequate assets to cover the cost of your care, or if you have a generous long-term care insurance policy, you may not be concerned about the cost of care down the line, in which case making significant gifts to your children should be fine.

However, before you actually write those $14,000 checks to your children, I encourage you to carefully look at both your financial and physical health and assess your risk tolerance. After all, you don’t want to make the gifts this year and then have to ask your children to return the money or pay for your care next year.

Linda M. Toga, Esq. provides legal services in the areas of estate planning, probate and estate administration, real estate, small business service and litigation from her East Setauket office.