Estate planning also about unforeseen circumstances

Steve Gammill

My telephone rang and the caller identification was blank, showing only an area code and number. I rarely answer the phone in those situations, since they’re mostly sales call. Besides, if someone wants to speak to me badly enough, they’ll leave a message.

For some reason, though, I broke tradition and picked up. I knew I was going to hear some recorded message. So I quickly announced, “This is Steve” and positioned my finger over the “end call” button.

I was glad I picked up. The voice identified himself, said he was from Arkansas and told me he’d gotten my name from a neighbor of his who’d been looking at my website.

The caller — let’s call him Todd — said his mother and father had retired, relocated from Tennessee to Grand Junction and purchased a 5-acre gentleman’s ranch just north of town, but far north enough the nearest neighbor lived maybe 500 yards away with some pasture in between. Todd’s mother had passed away last year, leaving his father alone to ramble around the property and take care of things. This involves feeding two horses and some chickens, gathering eggs and tending to the garden and ranch property. Dad loves that life and doesn’t resent the extra effort and time he’s putting into it.

Todd told me he’d been trying to get his father to pay attention to estate planning. He was, after all, in his late 70s and had nothing but a 25-year-old will stashed away in some unknown place. Todd said he was growing frustrated because his father just wasn’t doing anything about it except agreeing he should.

“What happens when Dad has a heart attack some morning while he’s out there feeding those chickens?”  Todd asked. “Is there anyone who’ll know he is laying there in the barn or chicken coop and needs help and an ambulance? And if he dies because no one ever came, who’s going to know to look in on the place? What about those horses that don’t get fed?”

I asked Todd if his father had listened to him. He hadn’t. But after some time, Dad finally agreed to sit down with an estate planning attorney just to have a conversation.

I told Todd the hypothetical scenario he described raised one of the most important reasons for elderly people to engage in serious estate planning. It often isn’t about how much money a person has and who’s going to receive it. It’s also nearly always about those unforeseen things that have nothing to do with money. What sort of emergency procedures are in place or could be put in place?

The particular example Todd raised is a difficult one to successfully resolve, but it can be done. In my practice, I’d spend a great deal of time in conversation with Dad. What are his specific concerns? What would he personally prefer to see happen? What suggestions does he have, if any, as to a solution?

It’s very similar to the example of the younger parents killed in a car accident on their way home from a grocery shopping trip and their children are alone, playing in the yard waiting for them. Tough issues require careful thought and planning.

You can bet I called Todd’s father. It wasn’t a big money maker for me, but it sure offered Todd and his father a greater sense of security and relief.