BrooklynCovered Posts

Your Last Letter to Your Loved Ones | BrooklynCovered

Pookies tears streamed down my shoulder as we hugged at his father’s graveside. His Mom rose from her chair, came over and hugged me, saying, “Thank you for getting my man to write us that letter. I knew we had paid-up cemetery plots, but I didn’t know where. He never told me he had so much life insurance, and all of those investments.”

The most important letter you’ve never written will cause your family the most grief and confusion when you die.

A powerful and overwhelming sense of loss always accompanies a loved one’s death.

Growing up, one of my best friends, one of my main men (we didn’t refer to each other as ‘son’ or with the ‘n’ word. You see, we knew you gave birth to sons, and if anyone called you the ‘n’ word, well, somebody was going to die), was a great dude named Pookie Jones. What’s his real name? I forget. Back in those days, everyone went by their nickname.

I ran into Pookie a few years back and inquired about his family. His jubilant mood turned sad when he looked at me and said, “Mom is great. But Dad, he’s, well not so good. He’s got the Big P.”

Prostate cancer.

All I could say was, “Damn.”

“Mom is really worried man. You know how it is when people have those over-50-years marriages. Guys like Dad took care of everything, while Mom was taking care of us. She really doesn’t know too much about the mortgage, or the different bills.

“We don’t even know if Dad has a will. You know how those old men are. Either they think you’re asking because you’re waiting for them to die, or they think they’re going to live forever”

Man, don’t I know it.

“Yo, G, Dad always liked you, well except when he caught you and my sister kissing in the basement that time. Could you talk to him? Not for me, dude, for Mom?”

I told Pookie if his Mom would make me one of her special, blessed by the angels sweet potato pies, I’d force the old Marine into submission. For two pies, I’d make him scream uncle. Twice.

When I went to see his folks, the jubilation was soon tempered by Mr. Jones’ question, “So, after all of these years, my son must have brought you here for a good reason. You here for my wifes’ sweet potato pie or are you here to learn all about my business?”

I looked him straight in the eye (just as I did when he caught us kissing in the basement. I’d read in National Geographic that to stop a tiger from charging and eating you, well, you did just that. You look them straight in the eye) and said, “Yes sir. No sir.”

“What?”, he asked.

“Yes sir, I am here to collect my sweet potato pie. Two of them, in fact. And no sir, I don’t want to know all about your business. I’d just like you to write your family one last letter, the most important letter you’ll ever leave for them.”

“I don’t intend to die anytime soon, youngster. I am going to whip this damn cancer. It’s messing with my love life.”

“And sir, if I was your cancer, I’d of already left town. If I was Saint Peter, I’d ask for vacation when I saw you coming toward the pearly gates. And I know your family doesn’t want you to die, sir.

“Thank you for sharing that, sir. I’d just like you to leave them a letter, sir, a true love letter.”

He fixed me with the same steely glare which made so many young men have embarrassing accidents back in the day. (It never worked on me, though. I was too naïve to be scared.)

“All right youngster. What kind of letter would you have me write?”

I reached into my bag and handed him a copy of  “Letter to My Loved Ones.”

“This is the letter, sir.”

“Looks like a lot of work, youngster.”

“Not as much as you family would have to do without you, sir. Just in case you only live another 20 instead of 50, years, sir.”

He flipped through the eight pages. Then, he smiled at me. Which, if you’ve ever been in the woods, staring at a Bengal tiger, is the most frightening thing in the world. No, more frightening. The tiger would’ve run home to its momma.

“I should’ve made you marry my daughter.”

“Sir, we were only kissing.”

“That was enough for me. And don’t get too happy, you’re only leaving with one pie.”

One Year Later…

The cancer won.

Pookies’ tears streamed down my shoulder as we hugged at his father’s graveside. His Mom rose from her chair, came over and hugged me, saying, “Thank you for getting my man to write us that letter. I knew we had paid-up cemetery plots, but I didn’t know where. He never told me he had so much life insurance, and all of those investments.

“We’d have so much confusion now but for that letter.”

And then she really blew me away as she handed me a copy of the letter and said, “He put a special note to you in the letter.”

Shocked, I accepted my copy, and a huge smile appeared as I read the words:

“Just one pie at a time, youngster. Just one pie at a time.”

Unfortunately, chaos often ensues after the death of a loved one. Why?

They failed to leave instructions about their estate. Leaving their loved ones, at such a critical time to try to learn the answer to questions like;

  • What did they own?
  • Where are their last three income tax returns?
  • What military service benefits are they entitled to?
  • Where are the life, home, and auto policies?
  • Who are their accountant, financial representative, insurance agent, funeral director, and attorney?
  • Were there any safe deposit boxes? If there are, where are they?
  • What hymns should be sung, what verses of scripture read at their funeral?
  • Do they own a cemetery plot?

The wrong time to answer these and many other questions is when someone dies.

To help you start your personal “Final Roadmap”, click here to access a copy of  My Letter to My Loved Ones.” This eight-page document assists you in generating the answers to the types of questions many families can’t answer when a loved one dies.

And please, feel free to share this My Letter to My Loved Ones” with your family and friends.

The less confusion, the better.

Child Killed in Prospect Park…Part II | BrooklynCovered

Do I want to put an end to recreational cycling? No, not at all. There is, however, a time and a place for bicycle racing. And that shouldn’t be after 8 AM, or before 9 PM. When most of the little ones and their parents are home.

Here Now, The Law

So, I’d like to make this suggestion, and who knows, maybe even have the NYS Vehicle and Traffic Law enforced in the park. Currently, Article 34, Sections 1230 and 1231, state;

“The regulations applicable to bicycles or to in-line skates shall apply whenever a bicycle is, or in-line skates are, operated upon any highway, upon private roads open to public motor vehicle traffic and upon any path set aside for the exclusive use of bicycles, or in-line skates, or both.” 

Section 1231 further states:

Every person riding a bicycle or skating or gliding on in-line skates upon a roadway shall be granted all of the rights  and shall be subject to all of the duties applicable to the driver of a vehicle by this title, except as to special regulations in this article and except as to those provisions of this title which by their nature can have no application”

 So What Does All Of This Mean?

Cyclists are, by law, required to stop at red lights.

Period.

Plain and simple.

Failure to do so means they should be stopped and ticketed. Just as I in my car would be ticketed were I to run a red light, or even roll past a stop sign. Two behaviors I witness every day by folks on bicycles.

And, if they don’t stop, radio the patrol car down the road, just out of sight around the bend, to “make a meeting”. 

Then double the fine. Perhaps even impound the bicycle until they take a Defensive Driving Class.

Do I want to put an end to recreational cycling? No, not at all. There is, however, a time and a place for bicycle racing. And that shouldn’t be after 8 AM, or before 9 PM. When most of the little ones and their parents are home. And let’s do this now. Summer activities in the park are in full swing, and it’s just a matter of time before someones child, or mother, or grandfather, is seriously injured.

 Just remember the widow who just “celebrated” the five-year anniversary of her husbands death.

He was killed when struck by a bicycle messenger in Manhattan. As a pedestrian, he wasn’t wearing a helmet.

Eustace Greaves Jr., a.k.a. BrooklynCovered is proud to be a Brooklyn insurance broker and agent and a NYS licensed Point and Insuranc Reduction Workshop class instructor. And, he and his daughter enjoy riding their bicycles, legally.

Child Injured in Prospect Park… | BrooklynCovered

Now, I share the roadway with joggers, walkers, in-line skaters, and cyclists. They have a buffered lane to use until the park is closed to vehicular traffic. I can’t tell you how many times I given Tour De France wanna-bes a gentle beep of the horn to let them know they are in the wrong lane, only to have them tell me to “Use the other f*****g lane, a*****e!” And that was from someone whom I’ll kindly describe as a lady.

 

…By someone who really thought they were in the Tour de France.

No Children Were Injured…

…In the writing of this blog. It is, however, only a matter of time before the headline reads, “Child Killed When Cyclists Fail To Obey Traffic Signals”, or “Cyclist Operating at a Reckless Speed Kills Innocent Child.”

What Are You Ranting About Now?

As you may or may not know, Monday to Friday, from 5 PM until 7 PM, cars are allowed to enter Prospect Park using the Grand Army Plaza entrance and use the parks interior roadway to travel all the way to the circle at Coney Island Avenue.

When my schedule allows, I enjoy taking this route. It provides me with a calming respite from the days stressors as I travel through this beautiful primordial forest. I also enjoy driving at no more than 20 mph. Believe me, this is a time in the day when I don’t want to rush. (When our schedules allow, my daughter and I enjoy taking our bicycles out for a few leisurely laps around the park. Leisurely because we often stop  for water and those heavenly ice cream bars sold near the bandshell.)

It is my habit to drive in the left hand lane. Doing this provides me with an extra microsecond of reaction time should someone dart out into the roadway. This is especially useful since so many people are enthralled by their I-Pods, I-Phones, Droids, and other distractions which could place them in great danger were I not looking out for them.

Now, I share the roadway with joggers, walkers, in-line skaters, and cyclists. They have a buffered lane to use until the park closes to vehicular traffic. I can’t tell you how many times I given Tour De France wanna-bes a gentle beep of the horn to let them know they are in the wrong lane, only to have them tell me to “Use the other f*****g lane, a*****e!” And that was from someone whom I’ll graciously describe as a lady. At least, it sounded and was shaped like a lady.

I’ve learned to let moments like this go,  since, as a NYS licensed insurance agent and broker, I am well aware of the consequences of using my vehicle as a weapon to intentionally inflict damage or harm to a person.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, I am too pretty for prison.

The behavior which really angers me with these arrogant fools in spandex clothing is their complete disregard for the safety of pedestrians, especially little kids. On more than one occasion, I’ve stopped at the red light at the pedestrian crossing located near the baseball fields, only to watch as cyclists, too interested in keeping up their momentum, barely avoid hitting small children. On one occasion, a young mother was crossing with the light, and more than a few fools in a peloton nearly hit her and what appeared her child of no more than 2-3 years of age. Some dads leaving the baseball fields with their own children got into a shouting match with the offending cyclists, and I really thought they’d use the baseball bats to rearrange some heads.

While no one suffered any injury this time, I’ll never forget the look on that mothers face, a look of stark terror, knowing she and her small child were nearly hit, not by the cars which legally stopped for the red light. No, she and her little one were nearly done in by folk who think the park belongs only to them. Just imagine if they did ban cars from the park, anyone not speeding on a bicycle would have to leave too.

Tomorrow, Part II.

Accidents, Lies and no Videotape | BrooklynCovered

I raced outside and saw what looked to be a 1995 Panel Van with NYS plates kissing the rear bumper of a white 2007 Chrysler Station Wagon with Pennsylvania plates. The driver of the Panel Van had jumped out of his vehicle, cursing his fate, not thinking clearly enough to put his van in park. I suggested, in a loud voice, to get back in the van and put it park.

Date:  Thursday, June 23, 2011
Time:  5:oo PM
Road Surface Conditions:  Dry
Light Conditions:  Cloudy with excellent visibility

Whatever Shall I Blog About?

I was at my desk, thinking of what to blog about, (I mean, I’ve only got about five shopping bags full of notes and ideas), when I thought I heard a bomb go off outside my office.

I raced outside and saw what looked like a 1995 Panel Van with NYS plates kissing the rear bumper of a white 2007 Chrysler Station Wagon with Pennsylvania plates. The driver of the Panel Van had jumped out of his vehicle, cursing his fate, not thinking clearly enough to put his van in park. I suggested, in a loud voice, to get back in the van and put it park.

I  briefly spoke to two former Brooklynites, just in from their new home in Las Vegas for a visit. They said both cars were stopped and then, in what I can only imagine was a severe case of distracted driving, Panel Van Man hit the gas and slammed into the rear of the PA Chrysler Wagon. So hard, in fact, both the drivers and passenger side front air bags , the van’s front bumper was ripped off, and the hood bent like a piece of paper you didn’t like before you threw it away. The result of a collision which again, sounded like a bomb going off.

The driver of the PA Chrysler emerged from his vehicle, holding the back of his head and flexing his spine. When I inquired as to how he felt, he told me he had just left work early to go to a doctor’s appointment.

Call 911, Kiddo

My daughter brought out some paper and pens so the two drivers could exchange information. Why? Well, Sections 601-605 of Title VI, Article 22 of the NYS Vehicle and Traffic Law, (2007-2008 edition) covers the responsibilities of persons involved in a motor vehicle accident anywhere in the state of New York.Section 605 specifically states anyone involved in an accident where on or both parties suffer damage in excess of one thousand dollars shall report the accident in writing to the commissioner.

Your wilful failure  to report an accident or give current information is a misdemeanor creating grounds for the suspension and/or revocation of your license, registration, or both. This applies even if the driver involved is licensed, registered and insured out of state. You wouldn’t be able to legally drive anywhere in New York State.

Send In The Clowns

Why the lesson in vehicle law? Only because this is when the circus began.

The Pennsylvania plates finally made my insurance agent brain go “Click.”

“How are you feeling?”

“Okay, I guess.”

“I called the police and they should arrive soon. Are you the owner of this vehicle?” I asked.

“Yes, I am.”

“And, just between us, do you really live in Pennsylvania?”

“Uh, yeah. I’m just, uh, staying with my daughter in Brooklyn this week.”

Now, did somebody leave a dead, rotting fish in the sink for a week, or does something else smell fishy to you? Didn’t he tell me he’d just left work early to go to the doctor? Somehow, I don’t think he works, or lives in Pennsylvania.

Here’s the reality. Panel Van Man probably lacked either a valid license or current auto insurance. Chrysler Man really lives somewhere in Brooklyn, and fraudulently registers and insures his vehicle in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania

Panel Van Man again came over to offer PA Chrysler Man money to fix his car.

“Come on pal, we can settle this right now. How much do you want to fix your car?”

To his credit, PA Chrysler Man initially said “No, I want to call the police and get an ambulance. I don’t know if something is wrong with me, and I don’t know how bad my car is damaged. Don’t you have insurance?

“Yeah, yeah, I got insurance, but it’s high insurance. I pay real high insurance now.”

Gee, no kidding.

“I don’t want my insurance to go up. I’ll tell you what, follow me to my collision shop and I’ll fix your car for you.”

Why is it everybody responsible for an accident does body work? I mean, are they driving around looking to hit other cars so they can take them to their shops for practice? Or is business that bad?

They got down on hands and knees to examine the undercarriage of the Chrysler, then lifted the hatch and checked the interior trunk area for damage. All the while, Panel Van Man kept imploring PA Chrysler Man to take some money.

“Look, I only got $60.00. You’ll have to trust me for the rest.”

Say what? You just ram the back of another car, don’t want to call the police, and expect the other driver to ‘trust you’?

That’s when PA Chrysler Man pulled out his cell phone, began to hold the back of his head. Me, I’d have been laying on the macadam, waiting for Godot, I mean, the ambulance and the police. I’d already have my lawyer, John Dewey, of the law firm Dewey, Cheatum and Howe, on line one, and my real estate agent on line two.

Then, as if by miracle, Panel Van Man sighed, and pulled out a wad of bills which would have choked Secretariat to death. If he thought he had only $60.00, then he didn’t know how to count. He counted out a bunch of $100’s for quite some time. The first time he stopped, PA Chrysler Man shook his head as if to say, “Keep it coming fool”, and he kept on counting.

When an agreeable amount of money had chaned hands, Panel Van Man got into his vehicle lacking a legal bumper, with two deployed air bags and drove off in a cloud of smoke to strike again.

I approached PA Chrysler Man and expressed my hope he wouldn’t wake up a month from now, paralyzed from the waist down from the displaced spinal fracture he may have suffered in the accident. The same fracture the x-ray machine at the hospital would have discovered had he gone.

“There’s not enough money in the wad of bills he gave you to pay the medical and skilled nursery costs you could be facing down the road.”

He shrugged, smiled, got into his  rear bumper-damaged wagon, and drove away, happy with his unexpected payday.

Let’s just hope the rear of his car and his rear don’t fall off the same day.

Who Loses When This Happens?

Well, dear readers, it’s you and I. Us, the “I don’t need the hassle,” “Chicken livered,” and “I am too pretty for prison” honest folk who dutifully pay the proper and legal rates for auto insurance. Rates which are high because of the fraud so many other perpetrate daily.

We pay for everyone who says we’re crazy or stupid for paying so much when you can insure in Florida, Ohio, Maryland, and yes, even Pennsylvania and save yourself some money.

Just don’t get into an accident.

That’s okay though. Like I said, I’ll be glad to wait for the ambulance, talking to my lawyer on the phone.

The really good side of all of this? I finally had something fresh to post.

 

Eustace Greaves Jr, LUTCF is BrooklynCovered, a financial services representative located in Brooklyn, NY.
And all of the cool stuff happens right outside of his door.

 

 

“Four Doorbells for a Two-Family House?”|BrooklynCovered

So, I received a telephone call the other day from a two of my favorite clients, let’s call them The Searchings, Desperately and his lovely wife, Really. Both are long-suffering participants in the house-hunting and purchasing madness merry-go-round. (I told them to call the real estate brokers I know, but N-n-n-n-o-o-o-o.)

“One ringy-dingy. Two ringy-dingies…”

So, I received a telephone call the other day from two of my favorite clients, let’s call them The Searchings, Desperately and his lovely wife, Really.  Both are long-suffering participants in the house-hunting and purchasing madness merry-go-round. (I told them to call the real estate brokers I know, but n-n-n-n-o-o-o-o. They had it covered. Right. Two years later and they are finally seeing the type of houses they wanted to see two years ago).

Thankfully they found a house with everything the wanted: An easy walk to public transportation, good schools, nearby supermarket, healthy trees, and no empty lots on the entire block.

Just one little itsy-bitsy problem. They think the house listed in city records and the real estate brokers’ (again, they didn’t use any of my real estate professionals) listing as a legal two-family brownstone had a previous life as  a rooming house, or SRO.

What Clues Should We Look For?

Here’s the first tip. As you approach the front door to the house, count the number of doorbells and mailboxes.

Two families in one building don’t each require two doorbells or mailboxes.

Two families, two mailboxes, two doorbells. Total.

Once inside, look for electrical piping running to outlets attached to the wall, and the same for plumbing and gas lines. These are major components of any home, and should be located inside the walls. If they’re not, you’re probably looking at a handyman special which could lead to disastrous results such as fires and explosions.

What Else Should I Look For?

Two family house? There should only be two (2) kitchens. Please laugh in their faces when the current owner tells you the have a kitchen in the basement “for convenience.”

Want convenience? Make reservations or call for take out.

And pay close attention to the number of full versus half bathrooms. Look at the doors and door frames. If there are screw holes, whether open or repaired, (Plastic Wood does wonders with holes), it could indicate the bedrooms were actually rented as rooms or sleeping areas.

Or, they keep a Bengal tiger in the apartment.

Inspect the walls which separate each “room.” Do they appear legitimate, or hollow “Home Depot” specials?

What’s a Home Depot Special?

To make additional rentable “rooms”, i.e., sleeping sections, the owner or even the tenant will go to Home Depot for some sheet rock, 2 x 4’s, nails, and the other materials necessary for building a wall. With each “special”, another rentable space.

Make sure you inspect the floors in each room. Why? Again, look for recently patched holes which could suggest these types of walls were recently removed so the house could sell a bit faster. And without the homeowner having to lower the price when a home inspector like Colin Albert, P. E., the owner of ACES Home Inspections, comes to give the house an ASHI-certified inspection.                                                                                                

There’s Got to Be An Easier Way!

Sure. Just ask the current owner if they’re renting out to more than the legal number of families.

No, seriously. Stop laughing.

Ask them. Let’s see if you get an honest answer.

Come On Now – No One Really Lives Like That, Do They?

Oh, yes they do. A surprise visit to a random apartment in many parts of Brooklyn would surprise the heck out of you. A friend of mine recently went to write a life policy for a gentleman he met while handing out business cards on the street. When he went to the apartment, a two-bedroom apartment, there were 19 men sleeping in sleeping slots attached to the walls!

Lucky dog wrote twelve  (12) life insurance policies in one sitting. Got a bunch of referrals, too.

The legal tenant, in many of these cases, is collecting so much ‘space rent’ they really don’t even have to go to work. One lady had the audacity to tell me she works only to keep her health benefits and accumulated vacation time. And to make an extra mortgage payment each month on her fabulous home in Pennsylvania.

So, What’s the Solution?

Know what you’re buying. You might be forced do a great deal of repairing to make your home “insurance legal.”

Great. What do you mean, “Insurance Legal?”

Simple. A two family is only inhabited by two, (2, duo, deux, more than one, less than three) families. A three family, three. Not four or five.

In my agency, I refuse to insure any property not being used for it’s intended, legal purpose. I am not in the business of “writing claims.” I only write sound risks.

And, just so you know, most insurance companies now inspect every house they insure. Both at the inception of the policy and at renewal.

And yes, I’ve had new clients’ policies rejected when the inspector saw four doorbells, and four mailboxes on the front of a two family house. Don’t forget, for a new policy, the insurance company has the legal right to cancel any new policy within the first 60 days of it’s inception for the property’s failure to meet the company’s underwriting requirements.

And believe me, everything we’ve talked about and more is enough reason for cancellation for cause.

You can’t make this stuff up.

Oh, almost forgot. They’re in contract. They are purchasing the house. And the seller is making major concessions on the price and the amount to be held in escrow. Just in case more problems rear their ugly heads.

A Look Into the Crystal Ball…

Dorothy Adonolfi. Remember her name.

Once income tax preparation season, (Puh-leeeeze keep those W-2′ s coming, folks), is over I will begin a series about the tragic costs of illegal conversions in Brooklyn and its surrounding counties. We’ll look at every aspect of how those “Home Depot Specials” affect us now, will affect our ability to secure insurance in certain communities in the future, as well as the other horrible costs we could face.

Talk About Your Hot Sex…|BrooklynCovered

What’s wrong with flashlights?

Candles.
It had to be candles.

Last week, here in Brooklyn, NY,  a building with over sixty apartments caught fire, causing the tenants, some of whom lived there for over 30 years,  to lose their homes. In the days which followed, each news article I read about the plight of those who suffered the loss of their homes contained a similar quote;

“We’ve lost everything. I don’t know how we are going to recover from this.”

To his credit, Jumaane Williams , the NYC Coucilmember for the 45th District,  immediately held a clothing drive for those affected at a local church. Other people stepped up to aid individual families. So, having regained the ability to type and write after an injury to my hand while moving my office, I began working diligently to put together a fiery blog post addressing each renter’s need for owning a Renters Insurance policy.

And then, last night, the Fire Marshalls from the New York City Fire Department announced the cause of the fire which destroyed so many lives. Candles placed around a bed during a religious ceremony for luck which allegedly included sex.

No, I am not lying. Candles around a bed. Religious ceremony. Sex.

I guess that’s what they mean by hot sex.

Whatever happened to sex in the dark?

Supposedly, the bed caught fire (from the candles, I imagine), and instead of calling 911, the persons involved attempted to douse the fire using water from the sink.

Here’s a lesson from my own experiences with fires – Fire will not wait for you to kill it with water from the kitchen or bathroom sink.

Then, to top it off, they allegedly opened a window and door, thinking the fire would be dissipated by the extra air. On a night when the wind was gusting up 50 miles per hour.

Fire lesson number two: The more you fan the flames, the larger the conflagration. More air, gusting air, more fire, greater destruction.

Don’t believe me? Rent or buy a copy of director Ron Howard’s 1991 movie, Backdraft. Robert De Niro played a Fire Marshall in that one. His character, and the movie in general made me believe in the concept of thinking and living flame, an entity which hungers and feeds. 

Can’t you just see what housing applications will look like in the future? There will be questions about religious practices,  and the use of candles during same and/or during sexual intercourse.

Don’t laugh. I know I would demand any renter of any apartment or commercial space sign an addendum to the lease which would include an agreement to not use candles under any circumstance. And, they would also agree to keep at least two (2) working fire extinguishers in their apartment.

The next post will deal with Renters Insurance and other tools every renter should own. And don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten about the “Ten Reasons” series.

Just had to wait for my hand to heal.

Cruise Control |Brooklyn Covered

It Happened One Day

I happened to meet one of my clients on the street the other day. When she saw me she had the “Oh no” look so common with people who really don’t want to run into their financial representatives. Why? Because we seem to never forget what most people tend to – the disposition of  their financial affairs.

“Have you and your brother given any thought to talking with your mom about her insurance and planning needs should she require skilled nursing care either at home or in a nursing home?”

Before she could come up with an answer the old Greaves memory kicked in. “And what about the Renters, Life and Disability Insurance program we discussed at your last review? When would you like to get together to put your plans in place?”

She looked at me and said, “Listen, I really can’t worry about that stuff now. I’m getting ready to go on a cruise and I need a complete new wardrobe and I have to finish paying for my ticket…I’ll just take my chances. I’m sure nothing is going to happen and everything will be okay until I get around to it.”

Don’t ask me where my reply came from. “Be careful with the chances you take. You just might run out of luck.”

The Ships’ Company is Prepared

“You mentioned you’re going on a cruise, right? Well, think about this: The captain and each member of the crew of your cruise ship knows exactly how much food, fuel, fresh water and other supplies they need on board before the ship departs. They know to the minute when they’ll reach their first, second and last port of call. They know exactly how many meals will be served, who will sit at the captain’s table and when, how many songs the different bands need in their repertoires, the number of towels for the deck chairs and how many mints for the pillows. They’re ready for any shipboard emergencies because they constantly run simulated drills so they know how and what to do and when. They even know your name, date of birth, food allergies and maybe even your favorite color. All before you set foot on board that ship. And I’ll bet they have a pool on how many shipboard romances will end in broken hearts.”

Confused, she looked at me and asked “So what does that have to do with me? I’m just taking a vacation.”

I looked at her, took a deep breath and said, “They have a plan. You don’t. ”

I didn’t if she was going to laugh, cry or slap me upside the head. After a few seconds that seemed like an eternity, she quietly said, ” Well, if my luck holds out, I’ll see you when I return from the cruise.”

“Give me a date and time,” I said. “And before you can tell me you don’t know when we’ll meet to get your financial house in order, try telling me you don’t know the exact date, pier and time of departure for your cruise.”

I am looking forward to our upcoming appointment.

How Prepared Are You?

Take a moment and just think about your own financial house. A “Little Bit of Luck,” is cute in the New York State Lottery commercials, but how long will your luck hold out? I think you’ll sleep better if you just put yourself on “Cruise Control” so you can really enjoy all your life has to offer.

Just ‘a little’ food for thought.

A Death In The Family | Brooklyn Covered

A Death in The Family

It finally happened.

My toaster, the first toaster I ever owned, died last week.

Requiem For A Toaster

“Old Toasty” was a black and silver Hamilton Beach / Proctor Silex Model 22208. Series B1699. Type T16. I purchased it back in 1980. Oh yes, 1980. And believe me, we enjoyed good toast. Man, could “Old Toasty” toast.

At least I’ll always have those happy memories of toast so perfectly tanned, all the beautiful people in South Beach cried with shame and jealously.

With no fear of skin cancer.

After all of those years, however, the electric cord and an interior filament finally gave out.  The resulting spitting sparks produced a sound and light show lasting about ten seconds, the likes of which I never want to witness again.

Your toaster died. Who cares?

You may think I’m being overly sentimental about a 30 year-old toaster going to the big scrap metal yard in the sky. Well, if you own a Brooklyn home, condo, or co-op, think again. Just like “Old Toasty,” every appliance and component in your home or building has an expected useful life. And, if you’re not careful, you could find yourself replacing them before their time. Which will result in unexpected costs for repairs, or  an increased monthly maintenance bill.

Think about this: Unless you’ve just purchased a brand-new home, everything in the home you own is already into it’s life expectancy. And if your home is over 80 years old (hello, Brooklyn) the time to plan for component replacement may be sooner than you care to think about.

I recently read  “Study of Life Expectancy of Home Components”,  produced in February, 2007 by the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) and Bank of America. The results of this study were based on telephone surveys of people in the trades, home manufacturers, and researchers to learn how long parts of houses should  last. (You’ll find the full study on the National Association of Home Builders website, http://nahb.com)

Now, remember climate, quality of installation and other factors play a huge role in how long and well home components last. In my opinion, the most important facet in keeping a home in tip-top shape is to do just that – keep it in tip-top shape. Owning a home is not just about watching your big-screen TV’s, entertaining in your home theatres, and backyard barbeques. It’s also painting the house, making sure the landscaping continues to draw water away from the house, checking the roof for damage, and cleaning your gutters and leaders, just to name a few regular chores.

Take the Kink Out Of Your Hoses Before You Spring A Leak

It’s caulking around windows and door frames to create a greater level of energy efficiency in your home, thus saving valuable cooling and heating dollars. Making sure you clean lint filters in clothes dryers, and replacing the metal vent hose. Running the washing machine with just detergent and bleach to clean and disinfect it. Changing the old hoses with new metal-reinforced, high pressure hoses to decrease the risk of blown hoses and the floods which follow.

So, How Long Should Things Last?

Here’s a sample of the expected life of common home components:

  • Countertops:  Natural stone countertops should last about 20 years.
  • Faucets and fixtures have an average life expectancy of 15 years
  • A bathroom shower enclosure should last about 50 years.
  • Different roofing materials will vary greatly in expected life expectancy. Slate copper and clay or concrete roofs last longest – over 50 years. Asphalt shingles about 20 years and wood shakes about 30 years.
  • Aluminum windows should last about 15 to 20 years. I found it a bit shocking to learn wooden windows should last for upwards of 30 years!

Of course, without the proper maintenance like painting window frames and trimming trees so heavy branches don’t land on and crack roofs (yes, I’ve paid several claims for Spanish Tile roofs cracked by falling branches), any component will fail to live up to its expected useful life.

There’s Another Reason To Care

Take a moment and take out the homeowners insurance policy for your Brooklyn brownstone, brick, or frame home. When you look under exclusions, you’ll see losses caused by your failure to properly maintain your insured premises are excluded. This means the only way to repair the damage will depend on you taking money out of your own pocket.

So, if the brownstone or limestone on your exterior wall is chipped, call a company which specializes in this type of restoration. Water from the ruptured pipe in the wall creating a pool in the basement? Call the plumber.

And don’t wait. Do it right away.

You can also enroll in the Neighborhood Housing Services Home Maintenance course conducted at the Bedford-Stuyvesant office on Gates Avenue. There, you’ll learn how to do everything from fixing a leaky faucet to rebuilding a bathroom.* 

So, if you want your appliances and other home components to last as well and as long as “Old Toasty”, it’s time to really pay attention to their care and maintenance.

And don’t worry, we have another toaster. And yes, it’s another Proctor Silex.

Always have a backup.

“Old Toasty” is dead. Long live “Old Toasty.”

* To learn more about NHS’s Home Maintenance Course, call the Bedford-Stuyvesant NHS office at 718-919-2100, or go to their website, http://nhsnyc.org/en/find-an-nhs-near-you/bedford-stuyvesant .

Ten Reasons For A New Tax Preparer Review | Brooklyn Covered

You must remember your preparer possesses extremely sensitive information about you. Your Social Security Number, date of birth, your checking or saving account numbers, and employment and income information should be maintained in a secure site, safe from the dangers of identity theft. If your preparer relocates each year, you must ask them what precautions thy take to protect the information in your file. Find out who else has access to the information in your files and if so, for what purpose.

Make A Promise, Keep A Promise…

Let’s review why reasons one, two and three from last’s week’s post should make you really consider finding a new and competent Income Tax Preparer this year.

Reason Number One:

Back in 1991, I met an AT & T field technician referred to me by one of his co-workers for income tax preparation services. When the young man came to the office, he asked me to review a letter he’d received from the Audit Division of the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance.

First, let me tell you, it’s never good to get a letter from either them or the Internal Revenue Service.

The letter explained his tax preparer, a well-known Enrolled Agent, had pleaded guilty to charges of preparing fraudulent income tax returns. So she would avoid incarceration, she agreed to cooperate fully with the state taxing authorities during their investigation. She also agreed to relinquish her status as an Enrolled Agent, and gave up her ability to ever prepare income taxes again.

How did she cooperate? “Here are the keys to the office. These are the keys to the file cabinets. Here are the worksheets  I developed using fraudulent entries to generate the largest (though fraudulent) tax refunds possible for my clients.”

How simple was that?

Just to give you an idea of the scope of her transgressions, the Audit Department audited his New York State income taxes going back ten (10) years for this particular taxpayer. ( Yes I know, they say you only have to keep seven (7) years of income tax returns. There is, however, no statute of limitations for fraud.)

The amount he owed all by himself? Over $7,800.00.

And this was only what he owed New York State. He hadn’t been audited by the Internal Revenue Service yet.

And yes, each state and the IRS do share information about taxpayers.

And he wasn’t alone in his financial pain. She alone prepared the income tax returns for over 300 folks just like him.

Why Did She Do It?

She felt great pressure.

  1. The pressure of having to constantly justify her fees.
  2. The pressure of competition posed by other fraudulent income tax preparers trying to horn into her business with their own promises of large refunds.

 What were the lies she told? Taking large deductions on Schedule A for ‘work clothing’ purchases and maintenance costs.

Here’s a tax tip: If the clothing you wear to work can be worn anywhere else besides your job, you can deduct neither the cost of the clothing, nor its maintenance costs.

Who Qualifies?

So who can usually deduct uniform expenses? Police Officers, Firefighters, Sanitation workers and certain, specifically uniformed Transit Authority workers. Also, any article of clothing worn at work emblazoned with the name of the firm, and perhaps their name also.

Nothing you wear to church or your backyard barbecue.

What Else Did She Do?

She counseled married clients with children, to show different addresses so they’d qualify to file as Heads of Households, instead of Married Filing Jointly.*

Let’s Get to Reason Number 2

Your income tax preparer should be of stable character in all ways, including their business office.

Now, I am myself in the process of relocating my office (Gubernatorial candidate Jimmy McMillan was right when he said “The rent is too damn high.”) I have, however, occupied the same storefront since January, 1999.

You must remember your preparer possesses extremely sensitive information about you. Your Social Security Number, date of birth, your checking or saving account numbers, and employment and income information should be maintained in a secure site, safe from the dangers of identity theft. If your preparer relocates each year, you must ask them what precautions thy take to protect  the information in your file.  Find out who else has access to the information in your files and if so, for what purpose.

Make sure your preparer provides you with four (4) critical documents to review and sign. 

First, the Consent to Use Information and the Consent to Disclose Information forms. These forms are required by Section 7216 of the Internal Revenue Service code when the preparer of the income tax return offers other services to their clients. Without these documents, the preparer is legally enjoined from sharing the clients’ information with any other business entity.

Next, your preparer must give you a copy their firms’, Privacy Policy Statement, outlining what methods they will use to protect your information.

Lastly, your preparer, if they have a lick of good sense, will require you to review and sign a Tax Preparation Engagement Agreement.

No, it doesn’t mean you’re getting engaged. It outlines both the responsibilities of the taxpayer to provide all information the preparer enters into their income tax return. This means no fraudulent entries. It also covers areas relating to audits, privacy policy, fees, your copy of your return, preparation method and other services your preparer may offer you. (An example of this form is available on my website at www.insuremeeg.com/2011_Engagement_Agreement.html)

Are We There Yet?

We finally come to Reason Number 3. PTIN  and  NYPTRIN are not fancy acronyms for foreign cars. The first is the IRS’s Preparer Tax Identification Number. The second refers to New York State’s New York Tax Preparer Identification Number.

Who Must Have These Numbers?

Basically, any tax return preparer who prepares a substantial part of any return for compensation.  Ask your preparer what their numbers are. If they don’t know what you’re talking about, ask the preparer to give you your file, collect your paperwork, and leave the office as quickly as possible.

While PTINS have been around since 1999, New York State first required preparers to register in 2009 (and pay an annual  fee of $100.00 for the privilege. The IRS charges a fee of $64.95).

Why Did New York State and The IRS Do This? 

At last count, the United States Treasury determined there was a 315 billion dollar tax collection shortfall in 1985, 265 billion of which was directly attributable to taxpayers’ failure to file, and filing fraudulent returns. This new system will enable them to better identify and prosecute those abusing the system by flooding it with fraudulent returns. On the other, to catch those who prepare returns and fail or refuse to sign them. Why do they refuse? So they don’t have to declare the income. In fact, they often fail to  file their own income tax returns.

On several occasion last filing season, clients, thinking they’d save money, went to other preparers, only to be told the preparer had a “…problem with their New York State software. So tell you what, I’ll prepare and charge you for preparing your Federal return and you can go anywhere to get the NYS return done.”

Not with me. Sorry. I don’t do sloppy seconds.

Never have, never will.

No matter what, the federal return must always be done first. Many federal calculations then flow to the state return.

You come to my office and you’ll pay for both, because I must prepare both.  I wound up telling those clients to return to the other preparers and get their money back. And their files, too.

And You Thought This Was Going To Be Easy?

Next week we’ll review reasons numbers 4, 5 and 6. Until next time, wait for those w-2’s with bated breath.

Questions? Feel free to email me at eustace@brooklyncovered.com

* We’ll cover the subject of filing status in a future post.

Ten Reasons For A New Tax Preparer Review | Brooklyn Covered

You must remember your preparer possesses extremely sensitive information about you. Your Social Security Number, date of birth, your checking or saving account numbers, and employment and income information should be maintained in a secure site, safe from the dangers of identity theft. If your preparer relocates each year, you must ask them what precautions thy take to protect the information in your file. Find out who else has access to the information in your files and if so, for what purpose.

Make A Promise, Keep A Promise…

Let’s review why reasons one, two and three from last’s week’s post should make you really consider finding a new and competent Income Tax Preparer this year.

Reason Number One:

Back in 1991, I met an AT & T field technician referred to me by one of his co-workers for income tax preparation services. When the young man came to the office, he asked me to review a letter he’d received from the Audit Division of the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance.

First, let me tell you, it’s never good to get a letter from either them or the Internal Revenue Service.

The letter explained his tax preparer, a well-known Enrolled Agent, had pleaded guilty to charges of preparing fraudulent income tax returns. So she would avoid incarceration, she agreed to cooperate fully with the state taxing authorities during their investigation. She also agreed to relinquish her status as an Enrolled Agent, and gave up her ability to ever prepare income taxes again.

How did she cooperate? “Here are the keys to the office. These are the keys to the file cabinets. Here are the worksheets  I developed using fraudulent entries to generate the largest (though fraudulent) tax refunds possible for my clients.”

How simple was that?

Just to give you an idea of the scope of her transgressions, the Audit Department audited his New York State income taxes going back ten (10) years for this particular taxpayer. ( Yes I know, they say you only have to keep seven (7) years of income tax returns. There is, however, no statute of limitations for fraud.)

The amount he owed all by himself? Over $7,800.00.

And this was only what he owed New York State. He hadn’t been audited by the Internal Revenue Service yet.

And yes, each state and the IRS do share information about taxpayers.

And he wasn’t alone in his financial pain. She alone prepared the income tax returns for over 300 folks just like him.

Why Did She Do It?

She felt great pressure.

  1. The pressure of having to constantly justify her fees.
  2. The pressure of competition posed by other fraudulent income tax preparers trying to horn into her business with their own promises of large refunds.

 What were the lies she told? Taking large deductions on Schedule A for ‘work clothing’ purchases and maintenance costs.

Here’s a tax tip: If the clothing you wear to work can be worn anywhere else besides your job, you can deduct neither the cost of the clothing, nor its maintenance costs.

Who Qualifies?

So who can usually deduct uniform expenses? Police Officers, Firefighters, Sanitation workers and certain, specifically uniformed Transit Authority workers. Also, any article of clothing worn at work emblazoned with the name of the firm, and perhaps their name also.

Nothing you wear to church or your backyard barbecue.

What Else Did She Do?

She counseled married clients with children, to show different addresses so they’d qualify to file as Heads of Households, instead of Married Filing Jointly.*

Let’s Get to Reason Number 2

Your income tax preparer should be of stable character in all ways, including their business office.

Now, I am myself in the process of relocating my office (Gubernatorial candidate Jimmy McMillan was right when he said “The rent is too damn high.”) I have, however, occupied the same storefront since January, 1999.

You must remember your preparer possesses extremely sensitive information about you. Your Social Security Number, date of birth, your checking or saving account numbers, and employment and income information should be maintained in a secure site, safe from the dangers of identity theft. If your preparer relocates each year, you must ask them what precautions thy take to protect  the information in your file.  Find out who else has access to the information in your files and if so, for what purpose.

Make sure your preparer provides you with four (4) critical documents to review and sign. 

First, the Consent to Use Information and the Consent to Disclose Information forms. These forms are required by Section 7216 of the Internal Revenue Service code when the preparer of the income tax return offers other services to their clients. Without these documents, the preparer is legally enjoined from sharing the clients’ information with any other business entity.

Next, your preparer must give you a copy their firms’, Privacy Policy Statement, outlining what methods they will use to protect your information.

Lastly, your preparer, if they have a lick of good sense, will require you to review and sign a Tax Preparation Engagement Agreement.

No, it doesn’t mean you’re getting engaged. It outlines both the responsibilities of the taxpayer to provide all information the preparer enters into their income tax return. This means no fraudulent entries. It also covers areas relating to audits, privacy policy, fees, your copy of your return, preparation method and other services your preparer may offer you. (An example of this form is available on my website at www.insuremeeg.com/2011_Engagement_Agreement.html)

Are We There Yet?

We finally come to Reason Number 3. PTIN  and  NYPTRIN are not fancy acronyms for foreign cars. The first is the IRS’s Preparer Tax Identification Number. The second refers to New York State’s New York Tax Preparer Identification Number.

Who Must Have These Numbers?

Basically, any tax return preparer who prepares a substantial part of any return for compensation.  Ask your preparer what their numbers are. If they don’t know what you’re talking about, ask the preparer to give you your file, collect your paperwork, and leave the office as quickly as possible.

While PTINS have been around since 1999, New York State first required preparers to register in 2009 (and pay an annual  fee of $100.00 for the privilege. The IRS charges a fee of $64.95).

Why Did New York State and The IRS Do This? 

At last count, the United States Treasury determined there was a 315 billion dollar tax collection shortfall in 1985, 265 billion of which was directly attributable to taxpayers’ failure to file, and filing fraudulent returns. This new system will enable them to better identify and prosecute those abusing the system by flooding it with fraudulent returns. On the other, to catch those who prepare returns and fail or refuse to sign them. Why do they refuse? So they don’t have to declare the income. In fact, they often fail to  file their own income tax returns.

On several occasion last filing season, clients, thinking they’d save money, went to other preparers, only to be told the preparer had a “…problem with their New York State software. So tell you what, I’ll prepare and charge you for preparing your Federal return and you can go anywhere to get the NYS return done.”

Not with me. Sorry. I don’t do sloppy seconds.

Never have, never will.

No matter what, the federal return must always be done first. Many federal calculations then flow to the state return.

You come to my office and you’ll pay for both, because I must prepare both.  I wound up telling those clients to return to the other preparers and get their money back. And their files, too.

And You Thought This Was Going To Be Easy?

Next week we’ll review reasons numbers 4, 5 and 6. Until next time, wait for those w-2’s with bated breath.

Questions? Feel free to email me at eustace@brooklyncovered.com

* We’ll cover the subject of filing status in a future post.