Estate Planning Tips for Couples

Whether you’re a newlywed or have been married for years, estate planning is probably the last topic you feel like discussing with your partner. But as unromantic as it may sound, putting these details in order will help you ensure a happy and safe future together. Here are a few estate planning essentials.

Take stock of your assets. Sit down with your partner and list all your assets as a married couple. These may include investments, real estate, retirement plans and personal property. If you have individual assets you’d like to keep separate, create a prenuptial agreement or put your property in a trust.

Draft a will. Once you have your assets in order, start drafting a will to specify how you want these items distributed. Your will should also name an executor — the person who will carry out your wishes regarding your assets.

Assign a power of attorney. A power of attorney is an individual who will manage your assets, pay your bills and make other financial decisions in the event you are unable to do so yourself. This person should be someone that both you and your spouse trust, so take some time to think this through together.

Set up a health care directive. A well-rounded estate plan will include a health care directive, or living will, which will help guide your family and doctors through your preferences for medical treatment should you become incapacitated. This document also appoints a representative to make health care decisions for you.

Make your plans official. Once you have everything in order, meet with an estate planning attorney to put your estate plans on the record.

Finally, be sure to update your documents regularly, as laws or situations are subject to change.

Drop me a line and let me know if this was helpful to you.

Did you know?

Myth: The maximum VA loan amount is $453,100 – jumbo financing is not permitted.

Fact: Financing is available for up to $1,500,000.1

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Keller Williams Realty

Be Smart About Lawn Care

 bigstock-Lawnmowing-8975140_s4x3This year give yourself a reality check on lawn care. Which products do you really need and which ones are overkill? Even though it’s important to store gasoline, fertilizers and pesticides properly, it’s even better to start cutting out the chemicals and fossil fuels altogether. Jennifer Schwab and Hannah Malan of Sierra Club Green Home have practical advice for you to get started.

Switch to a Reel Lawn Mower

Make no mistake: Gas-powered lawn equipment is a dirty business. It spews tons of carbon monoxide and VOCs into the air, and the EPA says that Americans spill 17 million gallons of gasoline a year just filling their mowers!

Do you really need your gas mower, or are you just keeping it out of habit? If you have a small lot with even terrain, a reel (human-powered) mower could be perfect for you: It eliminates the pollution hazards and maintenance expenses of a gas mower. Plus, reel mowers actually scissor your grass cleanly instead of tearing it like gas mowers do, which produces rough surfaces that invite disease. Forget the old-fashioned reel mowers that needed annual sharpening and were hard to push — new versions are better. The Fiskars StaySharp brand, for example, needs no sharpening and uses a flywheel-type technology to store energy for extra power through thick stands of grass

Electric Mowers Work for Larger Lots

The next-best thing to reel mowers is electric, which can work well if you have a bigger lot or trickier terrain but you can still mow your lawn in less than an hour — that is, before the battery discharges on cordless models.Black & Decker recommends a mowing area of 10,000 square feet or less for its cordless mowers (your lot size minus your house, driveway and flower beds); compare to about 6,000 square feet for reel mowers.

Stay Away From Synthetic Ingredients

Choose new lawn care products without synthetic ingredients. The words “Caution,” “Warning” or “Danger: Poison” on a product label are a cue to seek out natural alternatives. If going 100% green seems too daunting, make a resolution to choose organic in one category this year — for example, use a compost-based lawn food instead of chemical fertilizer. This will protect the microbes in your soil that promote lush, healthy grass, making your lawn healthier over the long haul.

Get Rid of Old Synthetic Products Safely

After you buy that awesome lawn food, you may still have a half-full bag of traditional fertilizer with pre-emergent herbicide sitting around, but don’t throw it in the trash (or, heaven forbid, down a storm drain). Either give it to a neighbor who’s going to use fertilizer anyway or take it to a qualified hazardous waste disposal facility. Find one near you at

Go Easy on the Bugs

A bug-free lawn and garden isn’t actually healthy — if you spray chemicals indiscriminately, you kill beneficial insects as well as the bad ones and damage your yard’s ecosystem. Try a little tolerance instead, spot-treating with horticultural soaps or oils instead of mass-spraying with chemicals.

Read Labels

Of the myriad products crowding your garage utility shelves, how many labels have you actually read? Those labels contain important information about storage and use that can affect your health and safety. Keep chemicals in their original containers, and the next time you pull one off the shelf, read the label completely before using. You might be surprised what you learn.

Use Doormats Inside and Outside Your Doors

Even if you aren’t using many lawn chemicals, your neighbors likely are (after all, you did give them your leftover fertilizer, right?). Use a dual doormat system to catch as much outside debris as possible, and once inside, leave your shoes at the door. This can significantly reduce the amount of chemicals you’re tracking through the house.

Installing a TV Above the Fireplace

Don’t neglect your gas fireplace.

Ventless gas models need less attention than a wood-burning fireplace, but they still benefit from occasional maintenance. Dust and pet hair are the primary enemies of a ventless unit, so familiarize yourself with your manufacturer’s instructions for cleaning and use a compressed air can blow debris out of the burner air injector holes and ports. Don’t burn ventless logs for more than an hour without opening a door or window to allow more oxygen into the room.

Play It Safe With Your Fireplace

wicker chair and fireplace


  As of January 2013 ASHI recommends that all smoke detectors be photoelectric models, not ionization models, and chances are you own the latter. Photoelectric models can detect slow, smoldering fires, whereas ionization models are better at big blazes. The National Fire Protection Association actually recommends installing one of each so that you’re protected no matter what kind of fire breaks out in your house.

It’s also wise to place a CO detector near your fireplace, not just near your sleeping rooms. Glass fireplace doors often have vents that can allow CO back into the room if there’s negative pressure in the house (say, if you have a bathroom exhaust fan running).

Shine a flashlight inside your fireplace and look around.

If you see cracks, gaps in the mortar, or soot buildup, call a chimney pro for advice. “That black stuff you see is creosote, which is highly flammable and can cause your chimney to catch fire,” Gladstone says. “But don’t try to clean it yourself, or you and your house will end up filthy.”

Make sure the damper is operating properly.

The damper should open and close easily. If it’s blocked, one possibility is that a wild animal has taken up residence, so correct the problem before you light that first fire — “unless you want an impromptu barbecue,” Gladstone jokes. “I’ve found dead birds and nests in chimneys many times. And to a raccoon, a chimney is just like the hollow logs they normally live in, only nicer because it’s warm and sometimes there’s music.”

If you suspect something’s inside, make noise and bang on the damper before you open it; otherwise, whatever it is might enter your living room instead of escaping through the chimney. If an animal is the culprit, have the chimney professionally cleaned.

Hire only a certified chimney professional for repair and cleaning.

If you do need a pro, choose someone with credentials from a respectable organization such as the Chimney Safety Institute of America, and seek out referrals. Besides their specialized skills, certified chimney sweeps have advanced camera technology with LED lighting that can show what’s going on in parts of your chimney that you can’t see.

Start small.

For your first few fires, use just a couple of logs of seasoned hardwood so you can be sure everything’s burning safely before you get a roaring fire going. Begin by opening the damper and warming the flue — if the air in your chimney is cold when you start a fire, the downdraft will pull smoke into the room. Hold a lit rolled-up newspaper in the opening until you feel the air start rising; then start your fire.

Check heat levels on the mantel.

This is especially important if you hang your flat-screen TV there. Once your fire is going, set a candle on the mantel — if it melts, find another place for your expensive electronics. Also visit the attic and any rooms above the fireplace. If the walls or mantel become too hot to touch or you see smoke coming into the house anywhere, consult your chimney professional ASAP.

Light It Right!

White Art Deco Bedroom With Floor-to-Ceiling Windows


  When it comes to bedroom lighting, feng shui experts say that flexibility is key: You want lots of natural light during the day, soft light in the evening and darkness while you sleep. Aside from the positive energy it imparts, “Exposure to sunlight first thing in the morning influences serotonin levels and can affect you for the rest of the day,” says David. So invest in window coverings that can easily be thrown open to greet the sun and pulled closed for privacy and a cocoon-like ambiance after nightfall.

When choosing sources for artificial light, make sure to provide illumination from a variety of them, including overhead, table and wall lights. Balance light directed downward (such as from recessed cans in the ceiling) with up-lit torchieres and sconces, “which cast a softer light and lift your energy,” says Jayme. Finally, “Put all the lights in the bedroom on dimmers to that you can calm the energy of the space at night.”

Create a Space for Couples

One is indeed the loneliest number — even when it comes to bedroom furnishings and decor. “Having only one nightstand or space on only one side of the bed to climb in and out is very symbolic of solitude, and can actually hold your single status in place,” says Terah. “Single people also tend to have accessories and art that depict solitude, [like] a single flower in a vase.”

Gorgeous Master Bedroom With Wood Ceiling Accent

Instead, if you’re single and don’t want to be, “decorate your bedroom as if a partner is already there,” Terah says. Symmetry is key, so position nightstands and lamps on both sides of the bed. Accessorize in pairs or multiples, too: Place a bunch of flowers in a vase and hang art depicting romance and unity, which feng shui gurus say creates a “couples’ energy” as well as a sense of balance and abundance in the room.

In the feng shui “map” of the bedroom, called the bagua, the far right corner is the “love center.” Whether you’re single or coupled, consider building a “shrine to love” in that spot. Accessorize a table, dresser or shelf with a photo of you and your mate (or other art that depicts a happy couple), a pair of candles, a book of romantic poetry and a heart-shaped box. “It becomes an environmental affirmation of your relationship goals,” Terah says. A thriving plant with rounded, not spiky, leaves is another nice addition. Silk plants or flowers are OK, according to feng shui practitioners, but never keep a sickly specimen or dried foliage here, since their symbolism is obvious.

Another feng shui no-no: king-sized beds. Not only do they create a physical chasm between you and your mate, but they “are split down the middle by two box springs, which creates a symbolic dividing line between partners that can affect their unity,” David Daniel Kennedy, a feng shui teacher and consultant in Berkeley, Calif., and author of “Feng Shui for Dummies” explains. If you’re not about to trade in your beloved California King, even for the sake of your other beloved, a red sheet placed over the box springs will help unify the two separate halves.

Feng Shui for Dummies..hmmmm??? What do you think? Tell me at

Feng Shui Your Bedroom For Better Sleep

 Here are nine simple feng shui strategies that will turn your chaotic and uninspiring bedroom into the serene and sensual sanctuary of your dreams.

Feng Shui is an ancient Chinese practice of creating harmonious surroundings to enhance the balance of yin and yang.

Yang energy promotes alertness, loudness, and brightness. Yin energy is soft, diminishing, nurturing and dark, says Feng Shui expert Ariel Joseph Towne. Sleep deprivation means either your bedroom, or perhaps you, are too yang. This could include stress or health issues. “Whatever those things are, our inner Feng Shui is affected by our outer environment,” says Towne.

Here are some common clutter issues that might interfere with your sleep, and some ways to fix it, according to Towne.

Technology and Electronics

Many Feng Shui books will tell you to take your TV out of the bedroom, but there are also other distractions. “We’ve got everything from tablets and laptops, cell phones, to routers people have sometimes plugged in under and around their bed,” says Towne. Even having a metal bed frame can conduct low levels of electricity.

The disruption: All of that technology is stimulating. The blue light from electronics interferes with your ability to create the sleep hormone melatonin. Cell phone notices interrupt sleep. Electromagnetic frequencies these devices emit stimulate your energy, says Towne. All of this can impact sleep.

The fix: Reroute your router to another room. Consider buying a wooden bed frame. Put your bed in what Feng Shui calls the “command position,” placing it up against a solid wall and not in the direct path of the doorway. Avoid having your bed up against plumbing (like your bathroom or kitchen areas where pipes are behind it) and an elevator as those energies can affect your sleep even if you don’t hear or feel anything.

Gym Meets Bedroom

The disruption: “Exercise equipment makes me think, ‘Oh, I can sleep as soon as I finish 20 more minutes on the treadmill,’ or, ‘I can sleep after I’ve done 500 more crunches.’ It’s like I have another ‘to do’ on my list, or I’m feeling ashamed because I’m not getting to it,” Towne says.

The fix: Move fitness equipment out of your bedroom since they’re not conducive to sleep and romance. If you’re not able to remove it, consider moving it out the way so it’s not the last thing you see before you sleep at night.

Sleeping in a Library

The disruption: “Books are so compelling, and even though we may not think about them all the time, they’re whispering to us because they want to be read,” says Towne. “That’s the thing about clutter, it’s whispering to us…that it wants to be dealt with.”

The fix: Move as many books as you can out of your bedroom. If that doesn’t feel right to you, at least consider moving the ones that have to do with work, finances, or anything that reminds you of unfinished business. If you enjoy reading some inspirational books before bed to relax, maybe those are the ones you keep nearby.

Bringing Work to Bed

The disruption: Do you work too much in your sleep space? Having your office or remnants from work set up in your bedroom is not ideal in the area where you should be resting. Paperwork piles may cause anxiety when you need to unwind and relax.

The fix: Even if it’s a studio apartment, move the work area as far away from the sleep area as possible, suggests Towne. Pack your laptop away and consider moving your briefcase or work bag closer to the front door and out of the bedroom.

Clothing Clutter

The disruption: Some bedrooms feel like a closet has exploded. Even if you’re clean and organized, seeing stuffed plastic bins underneath the bed can impact your sleep. These too represent “things that need to be taken care of and dealt with,” says Towne. Another key Feng Shui principle is that “things don’t have to be seen in order to affect you.” For example, shoving clutter under the bed can still block the “Chi energy” that ideally flows freely throughout your room.

The fix: Try to make sure clothes, accessories and shoes aren’t hanging where you can see them. Try to create more space around your bed, even moving dressers and armoires further away from where you sleep.

 Hmmm.. I think I’m going to try some of these great tips. How aboout you? Tell me what your going to try at

Feng Shui Your Bedroom


Is your bedroom a peaceful haven you retreat to for rest and romance, and emerge from feeling refreshed and renewed? If not, a little feng shui may be just the thing your room needs.

Feng shui — which literally translates to “wind and water” — is the ancient Chinese art of placement. The goal is to enhance the flow of chi (life force or spiritual energy), and to create harmonious environments that support health, beckon wealth and invite happiness. At its most basic level, feng shui (pronounced fung shway) is a decorating discipline based on the belief that our surroundings affect us.

In the bedroom, “Feng shui helps you arrange the space to support your best rest and connection with your partner and with yourself,” says Los Angeles feng shui consultant Jayme Barrett, author of “Feng Shui Your Life.”

Are you into Feng Shui? Drop me a line at I’d like to know.