Estate Planning Start to Finish: One Couple’s Experience

“Estate Planning Start to Finish”

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By Tiana Rivera and Jess Bolen

On a late-summer morning Glyn and Phyllis Howells could have been out enjoying the perfect Colorado weather before the sun reached its maximum intensity of the day. They could be anywhere today, but they are here at Hammond Law Group. As we usher them into the office for their client spotlight interview, we’re struck by their warm and vibrant demeanor. These are generous people who are choosing to share their personal experiences with estate planning for your benefit. As is common for people who seek out professional estate planning, it all began with deaths in their family that left headaches, misunderstandings, and family strife in the wake. This is the story that unfolds.

Glyn begins by describing his background as a Brit and what led him into the US Air Force⁠. He chose to serve in the US Air Force instead of the British Armed Forces because the US Air Force gave him a choice of military career that the Royal Air Force did not offer. (Oh, how very American of you, Glyn. Thank you for your service!) After Glyn’s retirement from thirty years in the Air Force and ten years of civil service, they moved to Colorado Springs to be closer to Phyllis’ family. Retirement brought changes in health and reminders of the hardships their families have faced from an inadequate estate plan.

Lack of estate planning affects the blended family

It doesn’t take long before we’re hearing the first encounter the Howells had with an incomplete estate plan. Glyn’s stepfather passed away suddenly with only a simple will to express his wishes. This brought several challenges to their blended family.

“The initial parts after his passing… finding his documents—even simple things like how much he owed on his credit card—were difficult and took a lot of work. This was a time when we were trying to grieve,” Glyn says, as he describes the strain on the blended family of trying to decipher his stepfather’s unclear wishes. The arguments left him and his step siblings on non-speaking terms for many years. (We’re relieved to hear Glyn tell us they were able to repair the relationship eventually!)

The work of probate drains resources

Phyllis has been listening supportively to Glyn’s story and now our attention shifts to her. Had she any experiences that contributed to wanting to have a comprehensive estate plan completed? Sure enough… like Glyn’s stepfather, Phyllis’ mother passed with only a very basic will. Having been in a near fatal car wreck five years before she died, Phyllis’ mother received a substantial settlement. Her frugal and generous nature made her adamant about leaving most of the settlement money to her three daughters instead of taking care of her own needs (like home repairs).

After her mom’s passing, Phyllis and her sisters had a lot of work to settle the estate. There was so much to do in fact, they weren’t able to update and repair the home as much as would have been desired. Phyllis smiles ruefully as she relates this and glances at Glyn. They meet eyes in an easy manner and he chuckles, remembering. We gather that her mother’s intention to be frugal for the sake of the children and the lack of a comprehensive estate plan cost them in the long run. The work required to settle the estate took their attention away from being able to service the home before selling, with the result that the home sold for much less than it could have.

Incomplete estate planning reduces options for caregiving

As if these two situations were not enough, Phyllis tells us her family continues to experience repercussions of incomplete estate plans. Her cousin’s mother became incapacitated over two years ago and moved in with her cousin because she could not afford care. With the deteriorating health of her mother and lack of finances making outside help a non-option, Phyllis’ cousin will have to retire early to become a full time caregiver. According to research from Boston College, about 17 percent of the US population will find themselves in a similar situation. Those adult children spend up to 35 percent of their budget caring for their elderly parents. (Believe it or not: proper, comprehensive estate planning can mitigate this!)

Health issues are a motivating factor for completing the estate plan

Now we get to the heart of the matter. Seeing your family suffer through inadequate estate planning may not be enough to jump start your own plan immediately. It was serious health issues cropping up for Glyn that turned his attention to how his estate plan would affect Phyllis.

“‘If I kick the bucket, how much work will I leave for her to find things and sort things out?’ That was the trigger with me, my health,” Glyn relates. He wanted to make his passing as smooth as possible so his family wouldn’t have to deal with the complex challenges they had with his stepfather’s passing.

Moving forward with a living trust instead of a will

Curious about what made them choose Hammond Law Group, we learn that they first heard Catherine Hammond’s story on the car radio. Hearing the trouble Catherine went through with her mother’s early-onset Alzheimer’s disease, they knew they needed to do something. “Hammond kept coming up consistently as the place that really does look after you,” Glyn states. Like most new clients, they attended the public workshop on Wills, Trusts & Estate Plans. It convinced them that a revocable living trust was what they needed to accomplish their goals. Comparing the upfront cost of a trust versus the costs of probate, the Howells determined it made sense to do a trust. The financial savings combined with the freedom to make their own choices and the ability to not leave a mess for their loved ones helped push them to a decision.

We asked them how they felt after their personal consultation with an attorney. They tell us they met with attorney for their personal consultation six days after attending the workshop. It was at this time they decided to move forward.

The waiting game while trust documents are drafted

The process does take time and the waiting period while their documents were being drafted brought challenges. Phyllis confides she felt impatient and wanted to sign sooner so she could have peace of mind. Along with the impatience came doubts. She said, “In between the initial wanting to have it done and having time to think about it, the closer it got the more we started having second thoughts thinking ‘is this something we really want to do?’” (This doesn’t come as a surprise. As with any substantial financial decision, doubts can arise.) Glyn conveys he was still convinced it was a good decision… they talked through their concerns and felt comfortable moving forward.

After signing their documents, the Howells share that they felt both a mix of relief about what was signed and apprehension about loose ends. Phyllis adds that she didn’t know how to leave certain material things that meant a lot to her to loved ones and was guided through these decisions by the legal team. With her wishes documented and belief they will be followed, she finally was able to feel the full sense of relief. (Ah, now that’s more like it!)

Having “the conversation”

We ask how they feel now. Glyn asserts that every step of the way the personal touch, continuous support, and detailed explanations provided by Hammond Law Group builds confidence that their carefully crafted plan will be executed successfully.

“This structured process helps sets up the conversation to communicate with family, because dying isn’t something you want to talk about at a BBQ,” Glyn quips. Together we laugh, because it’s a sentiment we know all too well. Having “the conversation” can be an intimidating task that many understandably procrastinate. We’re so cognizant of it we include the topic of conversation with loved ones in nearly every workshop Hammond Law Group offers to clients.

Help for successor trustees

As we near the end of our time together, Phyllis brings up an added layer of peace of mind—the value in having Hammond Law Group to guide and support their successor trustee in carrying out their wishes. “They can call up and ask for help,” Phyllis adds, “and get the information they need without looking for a lawyer on their own.” We’re grateful she is bringing this up; the value can’t be understated. If you’ve taken the time to develop a personal and professional relationship with an attorney who understands you and what you want for your legacy, the last thing you want is for your surviving loved ones to have to work with an attorney who sees them as a ‘transaction.’

Letter of Intent: meaningful and impactful

Glyn wraps up his experience by reflecting on a client workshop that was most impactful to their estate plan: Letters of Intent. 

“A letter of intent is a key part of the process that brings peace of mind that what you want will happen. People are not having to guess,” Glyn explains. “Things like a letter of intent can be typed out, but it’s more meaningful to the family when handwritten.” We nod our heads in assent because we see Glyn clearly gets it. Go, Glyn!

As we finish the interview, we hear that being clients of Hammond Law Group has helped Glyn and Phyllis be more open about talking about their wishes with family and friends and helped them be more open with each other. Phyllis concludes, “[Living] Trust-based planning brings a soul-searching element.” Whoa. This is getting deep.

Ongoing relationship and financial services

Facing your own mortality is not a comfortable topic, but the peace of mind gained from avoiding unnecessary burdens for your loved ones is an uplifting sensation. Glyn says, “After 30 years in the Air Force I learned to trust my instincts. You can determine within 30 seconds of meeting someone if you can trust them.” They mention that in-house, independent financial advisor Patrick Johnson CFP®, CLU, ChFC, initially inherited the trust they already had in Hammond Law Group. It’s clear they appreciate the added benefit of financial services available to them as clients. It’s been over two years since they initially signed their trust documents. We hear they’re happy with the ongoing relationship, commitment to keeping their documents updated, and educational support provided.

As the interview comes to an end, we notice the Howells brought the sunshine in with them today. We smile at each other because we know what each other is thinking… Glyn and Phyllis could be “poster children” for Hammond Law Group. (Except that there is nothing childish about the decisions they have made!) It’s validating to our work that the Howells clearly get it. We’re honored they have allowed us to be a part of helping make their goals and objectives for their legacy a reality. It’s a privilege to serve such distinguished and respectable clientele. There’s nothing better than this feeling in the course of a workday… and we get to do it over and over again.

Bringing it home

If you are a client of Hammond Law Group and haven’t had your financial review with Patrick Johnson CFP®, CLU, ChFC, give us a call. It’s a complimentary benefit to all clients to make sure your money is working well for you. Are you a Legacy Protection Plan member? Reserve your seat today for our next Letters of Intent workshop because seats are filling fast:

Haven’t taken advantage of the benefit of a personal consultation with in-house, independent financial advisor Patrick Johnson CFP®, CLU, ChFC? There’s a power-packed Modern Investing workshop coming up and you’re invited! Get to know Patrick in this casual setting, hear what he has to say about modern investing methods and myths. If you like what you hear, we can set an appointment for you to meet with him without charge.

If you haven’t completed your estate plan and are ready to gain the peace of mind the Howells have found, get started by registering for one of our upcoming public workshops.

Author Bio

Catherine Hammond is the CEO and founder of Hammond Law Group, a Colorado-based estate planning law firm she founded in 2005. With a strong focus on protecting families from the legal consequences of disability and death, she creates comprehensive estate plans that minimize taxes, costs, and government interference.

A native of Denver, Catherine completed her undergraduate studies at Coe College in Iowa, and her Juris Doctorate from the University of Denver College of Law in 1993, concentrating on estate planning, tax, and mediation. Catherine is a member of various professional organizations, including WealthCounsel, ElderCounsel, the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys, the Colorado Springs Estate Planning Council, and the Purposeful Planning Institute. Beyond her legal expertise, Catherine provides transformational coaching to support clients and their families through life transitions.

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