Women's Retirement Radio

Amy Refeca of Atlanta Wills & Trusts Law Group - Estate Planning and Elder Law Geared Toward Women and Their Families - Episode 26

August 09, 2021 Russ Thornton Season 2 Episode 10
Women's Retirement Radio
Amy Refeca of Atlanta Wills & Trusts Law Group - Estate Planning and Elder Law Geared Toward Women and Their Families - Episode 26
Show Notes Transcript

In this episode of Women's Retirement Radio, I'm joined by Amy Refeca of Atlanta Wills & Trusts Law Group.

I was especially excited to have Amy on the podcast as Atlanta Wills + Trusts Law Group is the only law firm in Georgia dedicated to helping women in the wills, trusts, powers of attorney and planning space.

In our conversation, we discuss estate planning and it's particular importance for women.

For more on Amy and Atlanta Wills & Trusts Law Group, please check out these resources:

Get in touch and let me know what you think or if you have any questions.

And thank you for listening.

Visit my website to learn more.

Disclosures

Russ Thornton:
Hey everyone, it's Russ, and welcome to another episode of Women's Retirement Radio. I'm really happy today to be joined by Amy Refeca, who is a attorney up on the north side of Atlanta. Amy, welcome. How are you doing today?

Amy Refeca:
I'm doing well. Thanks for having me, Russ.

Russ Thornton:
Yeah. Well, I'm glad you could join us, and I'm excited to talk with you. We haven't spoken in a while, but always enjoy our conversations. Why don't you start by just telling people a little bit about who you are and what you do.

Amy Refeca:
Absolutely. Thank you. Yes, and I enjoy them as well. So I have a feeling that we're going to have a pretty nice conversation today. So my name is Amy Refeca. I am an attorney. I do wills, trusts, powers of attorney, otherwise known as estate planning, and I focus on women. My tagline is I help women protect who they love the most, or we help women protect who they love the most. And just super brief bio on me. Going on 20th year practicing law and have owned my own law firm for over a decade now, exclusively doing wills and trusts. I've never owned a law firm where I have done any other type of work. And a few years into owning my own law firm, I started looking around and I started recognizing that women needed to understand this process more. But there were not a lot of opportunities and created spaces where I think that they were feeling welcomed into the process as much as I would have liked to have seen. And so that's why I created that space for them.

Russ Thornton:
And why do you think that is? I mean, in your experience or from your perspective, why do you think that maybe there was a knowledge gap or just, I like the phrase you used, that women just didn't feel welcomed into the estate planning process. Why do you think that is?

Amy Refeca:
So I'm going to answer this question sort of personally and professionally. Yeah. So I believe, and it is an opinion, that there were not a lot of created spaces because, well, first, I was raised by a single mother, and watching a single mom raise three daughters, I think that I walked away, now as an adult looking backward, I walked away with the impression that there were probably moments where no one reached out to help her professionally in a safe environment. And then maybe there were times where she did not also reach out. And I always wanted to know why. Like why is that? And I started realizing and recognizing as a woman, myself, that there are clear intended, unintended signs where questions are not welcome, that I'm either just supposed to accept that this is the way it is in a particular professional setting, whether that be a financial setting, such as yourself, or taxes, or when I go buy a car or something, and that questions are sort of met with this look of why are you asking that question?

Amy Refeca:
And so professionally speaking, when I entered the field of law, I think that I was very taken aback with the overbearingness of many of my colleagues, male and female, because we are taught to be that way on some level, to have our voice be heard, we're the loudest, we're the last to speak, we need to get our point across, we need to be the resident expert in the room. Much of this is actually sort of trained into us, or encouraged, through our professional training, whether it be at school, or once we enter the legal field. And so when you have that environment, that does not necessarily make someone feel welcome, let alone someone who has been fighting this their whole life in various subtle ways.

Russ Thornton:
Yeah. We could probably spend an entire conversation just talking about this very issue, and I don't want to get too sidetracked, but I do think it's important. It needs to be addressed. You and I both share a focus on serving women. And I too have found that, and I'd love your thoughts, women are, in many respects, more capable, better suited to making smart decisions in the context of their life, or their family, or their longterm plan, than their male counterparts. Yet these same women who are capable, educated, have the wherewithal to make these decisions, I think do meet obstacles, both explicit and implicit, from people that either imply they should know things, or they shouldn't be asking these questions, or they almost, and I've heard this from women that I've met over time, you probably have too, that they almost feel belittled by asking questions or not knowing enough. And as a result, they feel intimidated or overwhelmed and never ask the questions to begin with. I mean, would you say that's a fair characterization?

Amy Refeca:
I would, and I would even ... Yes, I definitely would. And I have felt that intimidation, but for a personality where, for whatever reason, it's just one of those gifts. And as a child, it was encouraged to be kept silent basically. I never stopped asking questions, but definitely looking back now, I remember basically being told multiple times in my life, "Stop asking questions. You should just accept it. That's not something that a lady does. You should act more lady-like." Not necessarily from my parents, but definitely from the education systems and all the systems in society. And so smart, educated, capable women are doing such powerful things right now. And I would 100% agree that many times, for many reasons, they are in the best position to make some of the decisions, especially statistically speaking, they're going to outlast their male counterparts if they're in a committed relationship with a male.

Amy Refeca:
They're going to caregive potentially along the way if they're following some more traditional lines of who is the caregiver in the family and who they're going to care for. I always say, they're going to caregive for those above, they're going to caregive for those to the side, and they're going to caregive for those below more likely than not. And that in and of itself in my field, and probably yours as well, puts them in a unique position to be a decision maker in a much more rounded way.

Russ Thornton:
It does. And it also, I think, underlines the need for these same women to make sure that their own financial and legal situation is buttoned up and that they're protected. And that if something happens, whether expected or unexpected, that their wishes are carried out and that they are able to continue to care for those that they love and that are important to them as you kind of used to describe the tagline of your firm and your law practice. So I think that's a nice way to kind of bring it back to the fact that it's, I think it's great that we're having this conversation, and I think we're very much aligned on many of these same perspectives, and maybe we'll touch on that some more throughout our conversation today.

Russ Thornton:
But before we go further, Amy, I know you talked a little bit about your law practice and your upbringing, and I know before we hit record, you were talking about your son's travel baseball tournament this past weekend. So clearly you've got a lot going on with your family, your law practice, your role in the community. But what's something about you that maybe people wouldn't be aware of or would not know?

Amy Refeca:
Yeah. I love to study religions for a hobby.

Russ Thornton:
Really?

Amy Refeca:
I do. I actually have my undergraduate degree in anthropology with an emphasis on archeology, and I've always been fascinated with the confluence of like myth, and culture, and religion, and society. I think it goes back to my I want to know why. I'm a why, why, why, why, why, ever since I was like probably could speak, it may have been my first word. Yeah. So I study religions just as a hobby, all religions: ancient, mainstream, I study them. Yeah.

Russ Thornton:
So what's the most interesting religion or religious practice that you have studied in recent memory that sticks out in your mind?

Amy Refeca:
It definitely would be ... Well, the most recent practices that I've studied really is about mainstream Christianity and the different versions of Christianity actually that existed in the first few hundred years after Christ was was persecuted. And so for me, it's very fascinating to study this idea of there wasn't just this mano version. So to me, it's that non-mainstream religion, I would definitely have to say that there are a few ... My focus initially in undergraduate school was Native American populations. So basically the prehistory, precivilization, I guess, is the kind of term that people use in education to refer to native religious practices here in the North American continent. And so, yeah, I could probably go on a whole hour, but yes, there's some fascinating ways in which they viewed the world view and the different levels that you seek on your journey through this world.

Russ Thornton:
Well, that certainly classifies as an interesting tidbit. So I'm glad you shared that. And maybe you and I will have to have some offline conversations about that another time, because I don't know much, but I do find that fascinating and interesting as well. But back to your day job. What would you say, and there's probably more than one, but what would you say the biggest challenge is that you helped people address or solve through your work?

Amy Refeca:
Education. And I say that super quick, because when you are putting in place an estate plan, you are solving someone's problems, they have concerns, right? They come to you with, I call them their whys. When we work with clients, we ask them, "What is your why? Why did you pick up the phone? Why did you reach out? Why did you send an email? Why did you use my contact form on my website to reach out to us? What's going on?" And then we'll dig a little deeper. But then what I realized is what we're really solving is them really understanding that they do have to plan for this. There are real issues that can arise when there is not a plan in place. So I think the number one thing that we really get to the heart of, and I think we are exceptionally good at it at Atlanta Wills & Trusts Law Group, is educating them on why, at the heart of it, why do they need an estate plan? You know, why do you need this document?

Amy Refeca:
And then even if you feel everyone in your family knows why is it important to put it in writing, and then various things like that. And then the second thing I think that we do really, really well is explaining what their options available to them are. And so I think that's the number one thing that we actually do for clients. And we do satisfy their whys. We'll give them the appropriate plan for their specific reason that they did pick up that phone, but the real why and the real heart of it is just letting them understand why this is so important and why it is of so much more value than they could ever possibly give me in return. And that's kind of my philosophy in life, is I want them to have so much more value than they could ever give me financially in return out of this. And I want them to walk away feeling it deeply and knowing it.

Russ Thornton:
So I heard the word why in there several times, which I think is great. Could you give us an example of, if you ask a client, "Why did you pick up the phone?" Or, "Why did you send the email?" Or, "Why did you fill out the contact form on the website?" What's an answer that you ... Clearly, everybody's going to come at this from a little different perspective, but what's an example of a what prompted them to pick up the phone or reach out to you?

Amy Refeca:
I want to make sure that my sister, who I want to take care of my children, is the person who will be taking care of my children. I want to make sure that my children don't have a burden when I die, that they ... I watched someone else and it just seemed like there were so many unanswered questions when my sister died, and my nieces and nephews had to do this and that, and they didn't even know where she banked, or they didn't know where all of her accounts were. So I don't want that to be my children. I don't have that much, but I don't want them to not know these things. That's a second, a really strong one.

Amy Refeca:
Third I would say they want to protect what's theirs. They want to make sure that the people who they want to have everything, gets everything that they want, or gets everything that they want them to have. So whether that be as a mom who has three adult children they all may be married or may or may not have children, but she wants those three children to have what she has worked hard for her whole life, or her and her spouse has worked hard for their whole life to get it, to get it with ease, without a lot of disruption, without ... Maybe they're worried about estate taxes, or maybe they're worried about attorney's fees after they pass away, but they want to make sure that it goes to whom they want it to go to. I would say those are three big major whys.

Russ Thornton:
Well, those are all great specific examples, which I think are fantastic. And something that jumps out to me is you didn't say I've, for example, you didn't say, a woman reaches out to you and says that, "We've achieved a certain net worth or we've ..." It doesn't seem to be driven by financial resources or a certain level of wealth. It seems to be more driven by wanting to care for others, whether that's family, friends, organizations, or I also heard you pretty clearly state that you want to prevent your death from being an undue burden on your children, or your siblings, or your surviving spouse or whatever your personal situation may be. Is that fair to say?

Amy Refeca:
Yeah. So again, just like yourself, I work with a lot of women and I would say that's where they're motivated, and sure, they could be very proud of what they've accumulated, and earned, and achieved. At the end of the day, those are the things that they usually come to me and are concerned about. I work with a lot of women who don't have children, and they may or may not be in a committed relationship with someone else. But I think, especially I see those women not being served well by my colleagues in the space of estate planning, because there's not what is perceived as a natural heir to receive everything. There's also not a natural person to help them.

Amy Refeca:
And so in their eyes, they get a little lost, and they're not being provided a lot of options and they especially don't want to be a burden on nieces and nephews. Or they see it as a burden, but until we work through planning with them, and then they see it as more of a gift to others, what they've done for others is more of a gift to others, but yes, I would definitely say that that's a big thing. It's not motivated by money. It's very much motivated by ensuring that others are taken care of in the way that they've always maybe thought of them, is being a caregiver for them.

Russ Thornton:
And something that I'm wondering, maybe some of our listeners are as well, is there, of the women that either approach you or are introduced or referred to you, is there a typical age range or is there a typical kind of like profile of the women that you most often find yourself working with? Or is it really kind of across the board?

Amy Refeca:
I would say there's three or four, if I can indulge a little bit and just say there's like three or four.

Russ Thornton:
Yeah, please do.

Amy Refeca:
Yeah. So I would say that definitely I have, sort of starting at the group where the most women that reach out to me, I would say they're in their 50s. And they may or may not have adult children, but they're thinking, "Hey, I don't want ..." They're starting to see their friends become ill, or their friends potentially get a diagnosis that is concerning, or maybe themselves have had a diagnosis. I would say that they're typically educated in terms of they have college degrees, they've worked in the workforce at certain points during their lives. And they have some wealth, but it's not necessarily, I mean, it's not necessarily overwhelming amounts of wealth. And I say that very specifically because one of the first things they talk to me about, or I wouldn't call it dispelling the myth, but they're like, "Well, I just never really thought I needed it because I never thought I had enough to worry about. But I realize now that there are so many other things."

Amy Refeca:
That might not be true when we get to the details of it. They may actually have a larger estate than they actually realized, but that's not, like you said, what motivates them to come see me. They're in their 50s, they just know they need to get this done. They've never gotten it done before, or if they did, it was right when children were born like 35 years ago or something. That's one. Their highest priority is typically to organize and make sure that things are not going to be a burden on anyone.

Amy Refeca:
I do work with women who maybe married and they have young children. And so they have really high priorities for taking care of children who are under the age of 18. Here in Georgia, we call them minors. Well, every state they call them minors, but in Georgia, that's under the age of 18. As many states, it's 18 as well. And so they're in their 30s, their wealth building mode, right? You probably use a term similar to that. They have children, all sorts of age children, but usually under 12-ish. And they're more worried about making sure that something happens, somebody is taking care of those children, and the money that they have will be there for their children if something happens to them.

Amy Refeca:
I would say, honestly, I hate to use terms like net worth, like what their total estate is worth. I mean, because I feel like that can put some people off, because most people don't realize what they do have until you sit and talk to them about it. I mean, I don't know what is your experience with individuals such as women, but most individuals don't realize their estate value until you sit and break it down for them.

Russ Thornton:
Yeah. I mean, I agree. I think there's a couple of things there, and I'm glad you brought it up. I think most people, generally speaking, don't have a true understanding of the breadth of their financial situation, both assets and liabilities and what that nets out to to give them a worth figure. And then when it comes to someone's estate, they may have a $500,000 term life policy, which doesn't really add to your net worth, but it is included as your estate. So there are other things that can contribute and increase the value of your gross estate, even though you might not consider it when you're putting your net worth together. And I think that's a point worth highlighting because I think people often fail to recognize that.

Amy Refeca:
Yeah, that's definitely my experience with it. And so yeah, I think that those are probably the primary ... I work with women who are in marriages with like a same-sex partner, either married or not married. So we do work with them at Atlanta Wills & Trusts Law Group. And I find that that community again has maybe not received the same treatment as we would have liked for them to have received by some estate planning colleagues. And so I definitely say that that is a demographic that is attracted to us and our ability to educate and make safe places to ask meaningful questions. And so those are, I think the three primary avatars, I guess you could say, or profiles of women that we work with. And yeah, so I think that that's to sum it up.

Russ Thornton:
Yeah. Well, that's helpful. And I suspect that helps give our listeners a nice mental image of the different types of people that you have experience helping, serving, and working with. I know leading up to this conversation, you also shared with me that you've been doing some work with women that either own a business or maybe have recently started a business. And it may be, a business is such a subjective word, it might be something that more recent terminology might consider it kind of a side hustle or something like that. So it doesn't need to be like a business with a physical office location and a bunch of employees, but you've been doing some work there as I understand it to help make sure that these businesses are protected and can live on past a woman's life, if so desired, or ... I don't want to put words in your mouth. Can you speak a little bit about to the work you've been doing around those types of women and their situations?

Amy Refeca:
Yeah. And thank you for bringing this up. I appreciate that. So again, I didn't start out, and I think it kind of follows the pattern that I've suggested once or twice, which is I didn't recognize this and say, "Oh, I'm going to focus on this." But throughout working with women, two or three things have happened. And this is one of those things where I recognize that many of the women that I work with will share with me, almost as a side note, during our conversation when we're talking about what makes up the demographics, what I like to refer to as like the biography of their lives. And they'll refer to an LLC that they might have, which is a form of business. Or they'll refer to the tutoring business that they have, or they'll refer to a baked good business, or a brick and mortar business that they have started.

Amy Refeca:
But it usually doesn't necessarily come first in our conversations when we're talking about assets that we need to protect, or what I like to refer to as assets are like the three buckets of like real property, personal property, they're stuck in money. So when we're talking about the buckets of assets that we protect, they sort of side note, "Oh, and I have this business, but it's not a big deal." They may not even say that it's not a big deal, but the manner in which they bring it up to me.

Amy Refeca:
So I recognize that, one, whether I'm asked or not, I always want to reaffirm to everyone that I work with, male and female, but especially female, that that business is meaningful, that business is worthy, that business has value, and you should protect it. And when I say protect it, that means it is a part of your estate and you should plan for being able to either pass that whole business on to the next generation, to whomever you want to pass it onto, or to pass the value of it on to the next generation. And so we work with a lot of entrepreneurs, business owners, which I kind of find those things to be sometimes two different things. And sometimes we're working side by side with their business attorney, and sometimes we're working side-by-side with the tax person to make sure that what they put their energy into is thought of, and is thought of in a meaningful way in their estate plan.

Russ Thornton:
And I don't know that we want to get too deep in the weeds on this, Amy, but can you maybe just give us a little bit more color around that? So let's say you've got a woman, she has a business of some size, let's say she's got a business attorney and/or a tax preparer or a CPA involved. So does that involve getting a valuation on the business and putting in some sort of succession plan, or some type of buy/sell agreement if there are other owners in the business? Or what does that typically look like? Typical is probably not the right word, but what might that look like given what you've described as those types of clients?

Amy Refeca:
So I'll describe a few things, because I think it's helpful to, like you said, put some color on it. So for the woman that comes and is working with me and she has an LLC and it's her, and she has a virtual business, and she creates maybe courses online for other teachers or other individuals in the education space, what we'll do is we'll ... Typically they don't have a business attorney yet. So one of the things that we'll bring value to is we'll introduce them to a business attorney that can help them create the correct documents that someone would need when they have a business that they're doing, but they haven't actually legally formed it yet. Or maybe they have just some baseline documents and they need something a little bit more so that they can allow their partner to step in, or someone to step in if they become ill, and they don't just lose the benefits of all of that work that they put in the intellectual property that they've actually created in that business. I think that's a good example.

Amy Refeca:
Sometimes they just need an operating agreement. They need their powers of attorney to allow someone to step into a business, to help protect something while they recover, or if they don't recover, to wind down for them and/or sell if necessary. So that's one example. And I think that's a very common example that I find in my business. Maybe I have a woman who has chosen to leave a profession and start something else that's a little bit more home-based, a little more flexible for their lifestyle, so they can raise their child in a manner that they want to. And so they've left behind the classroom, they've left behind corporate America, and they're doing something else, like consulting. So that's a very good example. To your point, when I have a business owner that's in a more formalized business structure, she needs things like key man insurance, potentially, to replace her. Or as you pointed out, something that they don't even realize is she may not even know what the documents say that she can do with her interests in a business.

Amy Refeca:
So I'll point out, "Well, let's get someone else involved so that we can even see what you can do. Can your husband, or can your partner step in and actually be an owner in this business? Or is there something about this business's creation documents that would prohibit that?" And if we need to navigate something and we need to get other professionals in, such as yourself, or such as an accountant or a business attorney, so that some things need to be created so they can allow a spouse or a partner to step in so that those interests are protected, then yeah, I think that's kind of more my role in it. Sometimes I'm just identifying a situation and then bringing in another professional.

Russ Thornton:
And hearing you describe that, even of all the scenarios and client situations we discussed, I mean, what I'm hearing you say is that it really comes back to education, which is how you really kind of said is what you really help people with at the start of our conversation. Would you say that's accurate?

Amy Refeca:
I love that you saw that. Yeah. We have five mission words at Atlanta Wills & Trust, and education is the first one. It's about just knowing. It's about knowing and knowing what you don't know. And that's where, going right back to the very beginning of what we talked about, is if you have a safe place, then you can learn, you can ask questions, you can say, "Hey, could you clarify that for me? Do you mind ... I'm a visual learner, can you draw this out for me?" Like just a safe place to ask those.

Russ Thornton:
Yeah. I mean, hearing you describe all this, Amy, it reminds me of ... The image that comes to, or the words that come to mind hearing you describe this is your ... I think of you as like a compassionate guide, someone that knows the law and estate planning, and wills and trusts, and powers of attorney, et cetera, but can serve as a guide to help people think about things they maybe haven't thought of before, or explore things that may be important to them that maybe they never thought to ask. So I do love that education is kind of a touchstone for you and your law firm and the services you provide. And again, I think that aligns very much with kind of my approach and how I try to help the women that I serve too. So I think it's just fortuitous that we're talking and having this conversation. So I appreciate that. Yeah. Go ahead. Were you going to say something?

Amy Refeca:
Yeah, I was actually going to ask you a question.

Russ Thornton:
Sure.

Amy Refeca:
Yeah. I mean, in your experience in working with women, and you've been working with women longer than I have in a professional capacity, I'm super curious what are your experiences with why you're seeing women gravitate to somebody who wants to work with women, and why education is so important? I guess I'm sort of asking the question of ... I'm sure you get rebuffed sometimes, as I do, saying, "Well, the information is out there. If a woman wants it, she can just go get it." But what is your experience with that? And why do you feel like they still want somebody to ask the questions of, and to be a compassionate guide in a safe place?

Russ Thornton:
So thanks for asking. And I don't want to get too far off on a tangent because I want this call to be about you, but to answer your question, I think in my experience, there are a couple of catalysts. So I'm often referred or introduced to women that have gone through a divorce. Most of my clients are in their 50s and 60s, so they might have been married for 25, 30 plus years, in a lot of, not all, but in a lot of situations their husband handled the finances to a large part. And so these women, again, capable, educated, super sharp, they just don't have the familiarity with the finances. And so they want someone that can not just help them make smart decisions, but understand the context in which the decisions are being made, thus the education.

Russ Thornton:
So whether it's someone coming out of divorce, or the loss of a spouse, and now they're facing life as a widow, like you, I have a handful of clients that are single and have never been married. And what I think is maybe the most interesting is I've actually been approached by some husbands that have said, "I want someone that can partner with us and that can continue to work with my wife when I'm no longer around," which I find just, A, I'm completely blown away and flattered that someone would approach me kind of under the circumstances, but I'm just blown away by that particular approach to decision-making, and that particular why.

Russ Thornton:
So I think I'm just scratching the surface, but those are kind of the few that jumped to my mind where women have gone through a major life transition, whether that's divorce, widowhood, or maybe they're selling a business or transitioning into retirement. Maybe their husband, spouse, partner, maybe ... I've actually had a woman's father approach me one time and say like, "Hey, I'd love for you to work with my adult daughter and just help her educate so she can make smarter decisions." So it's been an interesting mix of situations. But I don't know, does that maybe help answer your question, Amy?

Amy Refeca:
It does. I think it does. I think in general, I would agree with all of the above. I too have been approached by husbands or fathers of daughters who just-

Russ Thornton:
Ain't that the most gratifying thing ever? I mean, I don't know, I'm kind of floored when that happens.

Amy Refeca:
I am too, and to me, it's because they're clearly recognizing what you and I do as a gift to that person, and they don't want anyone to take advantage of a moment of grief. And the fact that they're trusting you with that too. We're both in very traditional fields in terms of like who traditionally made the decisions in our fields. And so when you have a male approach you and say that, yeah, it is fascinating and humbling, but yes.

Russ Thornton:
Yeah. So, we've covered a lot, and this has been a wonderful conversation. Thinking back over your years serving women in your law practice, what's a favorite client success story that comes to mind for you, Amy?

Amy Refeca:
So, I have two, can I share two?

Russ Thornton:
You can share two.

Amy Refeca:
Okay. So, one actually happened not so long ago, and I've helped this individual over several years update a plan several times. And I think most recently, without sort of disclosing kind of the confidentiality around this particular client, recently this woman advised me how absolutely grateful she was to have had us in her corner during the life changes that happened, which precipitated those changes to the estate plan. And she was a widow and she, again, let me navigate it a little bit, she didn't have a lot of individuals outside of her marriage. And she was no longer married when we started working with her. So she didn't have a lot of friends. She didn't have a lot of family. She didn't have a lot of support group outside of it. And so we helped her through a really difficult time after the passing of her spouse, and since updated her estate plan and kind of watched her grow after that, and meet individuals.

Amy Refeca:
And for her to let us know how much we meant for her during that time when she was going through quite a bit and didn't have a lot of people to rely on that she felt safe enough to rely upon us and come back to us, and refer people to us. To me, that meant the world. That meant that we did exactly what we were supposed to do, which was be a safe place for her. We brought her more value than we could ever have in return from her because she found meaningful value in what we did. So that's one of my favorites.

Russ Thornton:
One question on that one, I don't need a specific age, but approximately what age was this a woman when she first started working with you guys?

Amy Refeca:
She was young, in her early 50s. Yeah. In her early 50s.

Russ Thornton:
Yeah. I didn't know, but I think oftentimes people associate widowhood with someone that's in their 70s, 80s or beyond. And that's actually the exception and not the rule. I think the average, I don't have the stat in front of me, I think the average age of widows is ... I want to say it's in the 50s. Not 60s, 70s, or 80s. So, I was just curious. Anyway, share your second favorite story with us.

Amy Refeca:
Yeah. So the second favorite story, it's a little bit sad, because she passed about a year and a half after we helped her with her planning, and it's a favorite of mine because she was one of those profiles that I just mentioned, which is she did not want any burden to be placed on her children. She loved her children dearly and she was unmarried. She had a very vibrant lifestyle in terms of she was very active. She was very active in the arts community. And in terms of the estates that I typically work with, it was middle of the road, she had a few million in assets, mostly in accounts and things, but she wanted it organized. And she never wanted her daughters to have to make a decision about when should they withdraw treatment, if something was prolonging the moment of death. So like end of life decision-making, she did not want her children to have to take that decision on. She wanted to make it for them. She wanted to make it for herself, but give it to them.

Amy Refeca:
She wanted organization, she wanted clear expectations of whose job would do what and when, and we did that for her. And she had all the opportunity in the world to ask questions about how to organize things, because you and I both know that the documents are only so good as the information that your family has about you. We call that at Atlanta Wills & Trusts the plan around the plan. You need a plan around the plan. And so we helped her get that in place, and unexpectedly, she had a diagnosis of a particular kind of aggressive cancer and passed about a year and a half after.

Amy Refeca:
She worked with us and she leading up to it, she let us know that she thought she would pass. And then her children, with whom we've worked with, they were very grateful for us that we helped their mother put everything in place. And there was very little to do. And it was just organized. And so for me, I was so eternally grateful to have had the opportunity to help her do exactly what she wanted to do. And so in terms of favorites, plus she was one of my favorites, because she was so vibrant, and she was younger too. She was in her early 60s when she got that diagnosis, an unexpected diagnosis, she had not retired for very long. So, yeah.

Russ Thornton:
Which my takeaway from that particular story is if she had just gotten busy or kicked the can down the road another 18 months or so, she might have unintentionally done the exact opposite of what she wanted to. She might have been a, she wouldn't have, but her passing might have been a burden on her daughters and it could have had the exact unintended consequences that she wanted to actually in fact have happen. So I think that's a great testament to the fact that, A, she stepped up and put the necessary planning in place to make an otherwise difficult situation a little bit less difficult when it comes to having things organized and having her final wishes documented and things of that nature. So I think that's a bittersweet, but a great story about the importance and the power of the work that you're doing for your clients. So I'm glad you shared both of those.

Amy Refeca:
Thanks. I appreciate the opportunity to do that. And yeah, I think that what you and I do, we come at something from similar angles, but slightly different angles. And I'm just really grateful that I discovered this, that I recognize this and that I'm doing it, and that you recognized it and that you're doing it. And I just feel like it's ... I always tell people, I have a son, I have a 16-year-old son, I have a 17-year-old daughter, and I talk to my son a lot about this has nothing to do with me not wanting a man to succeed, or not wanting men to succeed, or not want men to make decisions. This is just about wouldn't it be wonderful if there was never a question of equality, there was never a question of like, "Who's going to be empowered to make a decision at any given moment? Or who has the knowledge to make a decision?" It's just about bringing things sort of into balance a little bit. And so what you and I do, I think that's what we do, is we're bringing things into more balance.

Russ Thornton:
I agree, and I think that's actually very well said. I think even in a happy, committed relationship, one of the benefits of being in a relationship is division of labor. I mean, there's nothing wrong with one spouse, whether that's the husband, wife, regardless of the situation, kind of taking a lead on the family finances, but that does not give the other person a license to abdicate or like check out from the finances, or from the estate planning, or from the other major decisions. So I think there's a fine line, and a lot of gray area, frankly, around letting one spouse handle more of one topic than another, but also finding a healthy way to include everyone when it comes to decision strategy, where are we going? Why are we doing things the way we are? And I think that presents a huge opportunity, which you and I separately are kind of doing our best to put a dent into that. And I think it's great work and it's very rewarding work. So I'm happy to learn more and share more about the work you're doing through your law practice, Amy. We're coming up on an hour. We could probably easily talk for another hour or two. But as we start to wrap up, what surprised you most about your work?

Amy Refeca:
How well received it was. So I remember making the decision to say, "Nope, I'm all in on women." And being afraid as a business owner that I was excluding half of the population out there, that it would be offensive or that I would not be successful. So from a pure business owner standpoint, I'm surprised by how well received it is, you and I touched upon it. Even men seek out our services because they are in a relationship with someone with whom they want to be an equal partner with, or they want to have somebody to go to ask questions, or their daughters. So that's partly I guess an answer to your question.

Amy Refeca:
The other thing that I am so surprised by, and I know this is a little strange, is I'm so deeply grateful when someone comes to me and they have already had an estate plan in place and they share with me that they never knew what they didn't know about the estate plan that they had in place. And that they're grateful for a chance to go through the estate planning process with us, because we spend so much time on education and sharing with them the pros and cons of answering something, or I let them decide what's a pro and what's a con, and I just share, "Well, this is what this is." And so I'm very surprised by the desire for that piece, that education, even with individuals who have estate plans in place already. So I think those would be the two things that I'm surprised at the most.

Russ Thornton:
It's interesting, that last point. I too have experienced women or couples that have come to me and maybe they have a financial plan in place or a portfolio. Maybe they've made some decisions, but when I asked them why they did, not in an accusing or judgmental context, but just ask them like, "Help me understand, why did you make this decision? Or why did you choose to do this instead of that?" And oftentimes, well, not often, but occasionally I just kind of get a deer in the headlights look, like they're not really sure because somebody advised them to do that. And I don't know that they really had the benefit of understanding why they were being told they should do this or shouldn't do that.

Russ Thornton:
So I think that's both an interesting editorial on the state of a lot of professional advice, whether that's legal or financial, but I agree. I think it presents a wonderful opportunity to go back and help people better understand what they have, why they have it, and then they can make better decisions as to whether or not they need to make any adjustments or accommodations to, looking forward, once they have a fuller understanding of what's going on. So I think that's pretty cool. Amy, you good on time? I've got a couple of other things I wanted to cover.

Amy Refeca:
I'm good.

Russ Thornton:
So this is Women's Retirement Radio. Everything that I do and talk about and write about has a tie into retirement for women and their families. So when you think of the word retirement personally, what comes to mind for you?

Amy Refeca:
Okay. So I'm actually about to be an empty nester in the next two years. So I'm in this phase of like, "Oh, when is that going to be? What does that look like?" I'm there. I'm kind of moving past this particular chapter right now, because my daughter heads off to college as well. So personally I cannot see myself not working or not doing something of meaning. And of course, very subjectively, whatever that means to me. Honest to goodness, I think of retirement as having opportunities, more opportunities to be able to do maybe some of the things that now because of certain financial obligations, because I chose motherhood, or motherhood chose me, whatever. We chose to live a certain lifestyle as a married couple.

Amy Refeca:
And so I have certain obligations and so I'm working and I love what I do, but I am working for certain financial goals and to meet obligations and to save for the future. But what I see as retirement as is having fewer of those needs on me and more of flexibility and ability, I mean, some people call it freedom, to make more choices every day on what I do, because I will always do. Like whether it's creating this or that, or tutoring, or my passion for learning and teaching and educating and whatever but ... Does that answer your question, or did I just ramble?

Russ Thornton:
No, you didn't. It does. And it's interesting how often the word or the idea of freedom, or choice, or options comes up. But no, you answered that nicely. So thank you for that. And from your perspective, as an attorney working with women, helping them put estate plans and protection plans in place for themselves, or for the people that they care about in their lives, how would you say that your work impacts women and their families as these women are planning for their own transition into retirement?

Amy Refeca:
Yeah. So I think the impact is twofold, if I may. The first is that bit that I mentioned about organization. I truly think that what we do, again, it's a little different a lot of time, and I didn't know it was different until people started telling me it was different, but we worked pretty intentionally with our clients to help them organize what they do and don't know about their lives from an asset perspective. Many clients, again won't know who they have named as beneficiaries won't even remember where that life insurance policy is. And so we're helping them organize, doing that planning around the plan that I mentioned earlier. So I think when women are heading towards retirement or even just entered into retirement, that's a really critical time to know all of that information and understand all of that. And so I feel like that's one major thing that we do to benefit women during that time.

Amy Refeca:
The second thing is the conversations that happen after, or even sometimes during estate planning, and the conversations with family members, because we encourage conversations depending on the situation, but for the most part, almost all of the women that we work with have individuals in their life, whether it be adult children, or siblings, nieces and nephews, having conversations about what that looks like for them, that caregiving piece that they will need one day in retirement, because we're so busy caring for others, sometimes we never stop and think about who's going to carry it for us or what we want, do we want to be at home doing it? Do we want to be elsewhere? What does that community look like?

Amy Refeca:
The conversations that we encourage individuals to have are actually some of the things that our clients come back and tell us after the fact, or even during that they're very grateful for, because they never really stopped to think about explaining to their children what these documents mean, or explaining to their sister or brother who is going to be using these documents, what these documents will do for them, where to find them, what information they're going to need to do something with a financial power of attorney, or an advanced directive. So the organization and conversations.

Russ Thornton:
Yeah. I don't know that you, just from my perspective, I don't know that you could have wrapped that up more nicely than you just did. I mean, between the organization piece, which I found always super helpful and super appreciated by the women that I work with, but the conversations is really powerful. And you mentioned earlier in the conversation, how women often are so wired into this caregiver role, whether they're caring for aging parents, or maybe siblings, or maybe even their children at some stage or another, that they often forget to put the proverbial oxygen mask on themselves first.

Russ Thornton:
And so I think going through these conversations, the estate planning process, making sure that they have a bulletproof estate plan in place to make sure their wishes are carried out, to make sure they're not a burden on their children or their family, or whatever is most important to them, I think is a wonderful gift that people can give themselves with the help of a compassionate guide like you. So I think that's awesome.

Amy Refeca:
Thank you.

Russ Thornton:
A couple of more things as we start to wrap up. I know you've got a couple of teenagers at home, one of whom is playing travel baseball. One of them who is going to college here in the not too distant future. You're running a thriving law practice. When you, maybe I should say if, but when you have an hour or two all to yourself, how do you enjoy spending your downtime, Amy?

Amy Refeca:
So, I have gotten better at this. I was not good at allowing myself to play. I think as adults, we always, especially as women, we feel like we have to be productive every moment of the day. And I think there's been ... So I see self-care, I think it's an over cliched word, but I see it as a revolutionary act, or inaction, I guess, a revolutionary action or inaction. And so I like to play and sometimes play for me means I am creating something. Again, I like to study religion. So sometimes that means that I'm comparing to religious texts or sometimes that honest to goodness means that I am binge-watching something like Parks and Rec, or something else on Netflix, or Amazon Prime or something. But I have allowed myself to be fluid with that hour, and it's whatever in that moment I feel like I need, and sometimes I need to just pick up a romance novel, or pick up a very technical, theological text. So I'm kind of all over the place when it comes to what I like to do to relax. I do like to sit on my back porch. It's something that I love to do too.

Russ Thornton:
Nice. Well, from one Parks and Rec fan to another, I think that's a wonderful and diverse answer. So thanks for sharing that. Amy, we've covered a ton today. This has been a lot of fun. If there were one thing that our listeners could take away from our conversation today, what would you want that one thing to be?

Amy Refeca:
I would say that if something is inside of you saying that you think you need to find out more about estate planning, or if you've asked yourself the question, "Why do I need a will?" Just reach out to us or reach out to an estate planner near you and get that little nagging inside question answered. To me, I just sort of feel like there is a reason that you're asking it in your gut, and follow that. I don't know. Does that answer your question? I think it does.

Russ Thornton:
It does. And the next logical question is for people that either have that nagging question in the back of their mind, or they just listened to this and said, "Amy sounds like the coolest person ever. I need to reach out to her and learn more about her law practice." What's the best way for people to learn more, or to reach out, or get in touch?

Amy Refeca:
So they can reach out to us by phone, (770) 508-6525. We are in the Metro Atlanta area, which is where primarily we help our clients. And we are in the Northern Metro area. And again, the majority of our clients are from the Northern Metro area of Atlanta. I'm licensed in Georgia just to be super clear about that, Georgia and Florida, but primarily Georgia is where we practice. You could also go to our website, www.atlantawills, W-I-L-L-S, and, A-N-D, trusts, plural, T-R-U-S-T-S, .com. So atlantawillsandtrusts.com, and you can reach out our contact page.

Amy Refeca:
We also have a lot of good information on our website and it links also out to our YouTube as well that you can get a lot of, if you're a video person and you want to watch videos, you can link out through our website to them. We also have a Facebook page. I mean, we're on all the places, so we have a Facebook page as well. And so, yeah, we're the only law firm in Georgia that's really serving women. So if you type women based or women focused law firm, we should be what pops up on Google if my SEO is working properly.

Russ Thornton:
And we'll be sure to include links to your website, your phone number, your Facebook page, YouTube channel, LinkedIn, all that stuff in the show notes, so people will be able to reach out and discuss things further if they're inclined to do so. So Amy, this has been a blast. I've enjoyed the conversation. I'm happy we got to share this conversation with our listeners. Anything else you want to touch on before we wrap it up?

Amy Refeca:
Not specifically about me. I just appreciate you having this opportunity in this moment for professionals to come have a conversation with you and talk through these important issues, especially, again, focusing on women, but focus on this particular stage for women, because there are so many questions and so many resources that can get lost on Google land out there. But to have it here in one place is a great thing. So I appreciate the work that you're doing here.

Russ Thornton:
Well, thank you. And having conversations like this is a lot of fun and it doesn't feel like work at all. So I'm glad we were able to do it and we'll have to have a followup conversation down the road. So thanks for joining us today, Amy. And thanks everyone out there for listening. Again, this is Russ Thornton. This has been Women's Retirement Radio, and we look forward to catching up with you on our next episode.