Married for more than 30 years, Terrie and Jon Hull were very close with Terrie’s mother “Jean,” spending every holiday and Sunday together. Their happiness went from good to bad to living a nightmare in the span of just a few weeks. First, Terrie’s elderly mother was in a car accident and suffered a severe traumatic brain injury, which severely impacted her short-term memory, leaving her frustrated and vulnerable. Terrie & Jon rose to the occasion and became her primary caregivers and nursed her through a difficult recovery.
In the months that followed, “Billy,” Jean’s long-time boyfriend who had avoided meeting Terrie and Jon, took advantage of Jean’s disability and confusion to convince her Terrie was stealing money. He persuaded a police officer with no evidence, as well as a judge — who issued a restraining order without a shred of proof. Homecare workers also colluded with Billy, helping to make arrangements for a one day visit to Las Vega, where Billy and Jean were married.
In the blink of an eye, their lives were turned into a never-ending rollercoaster ride as they are thrust into a 4-year legal battle to save Jean from the clutches of a financial predator and a justice system gone terribly wrong.
Terrie & Jon Hull share their tragic story in the new book, A Legacy Undone ….An Extraordinary True Life Experience That Will Make You Rethink Protecting Your Family (Clovercroft Publishing; May 2015)
Fortunately, Jean and her first husband had put their estate plans in place through a family Trust, which made it possible for Terrie to successfully fight for a conservatorship. But not before Billy closed all of Jeans’ bank accounts, opened new joint accounts, cashed some bonds, and even took Jean’s name off one of the accounts! Though still estranged from Jean, Terrie and Jon have made certain that Billy can’t drain Jean’s financial assets through the Trust — nor will he inherit them — assuring that Jean can live out her life financially comfortable.
Throughout their account of their harrowing ordeal in A Legacy Undone, Terrie and Jon emphasize four steps every person should take to ensure their family knows their wishes and plans when one dies, or becomes mentally or physically incapacitated. These are:
- Organize emergency information: This includes more than just a list of doctors and phone numbers, but includes digital assets, bank accounts, storage rental, volunteer organizations, business associates, lawyers, financial advisors, PO Boxes, etc. This will save loved ones additional stress during an already stressful time, and can be critical for quick decision making.
- Wills and Trusts: Decide on a plan, and then see an estate attorney who can easily put these plans in to documents. Make sure everything is as clear as possible and easily understood so there are no questions about what was really meant.
- Designate a durable power of attorney: This allows the person designated to make legal decisions for an incapacitated individual. Provide as much detail as possible, including safe deposit boxes, passwords to online accounts – including Facebook! Without power of attorney, the courts or a third-party designated by the courts will make legal decisions.
- Prepare an advance medical directive. This will save family members from having to make end-of-life decisions, which can forever haunt people afterwards.
Surprisingly, estimates of the number of American’s without an estate plan range from 50 – 60+ percent of the population. Communication is key. Here are some of their most important recommendations:
- Don’t Wait – Open the Conversation Sooner Rather than Later
“If your parent(s) are 50 and haven’t talked with you about putting their affairs in order, you need to start the conversation,” Terrie says. “Find out what they have done while they are still young and aware. Don’t wait till they have an injury, get sick, or you notice that they shouldn’t be driving any more. If you fail to put your affairs in order, there are lawyers who will be glad to take the assets you meant to go to your family.
- Take the Lead with Your Children – Tell Them Your Plans
Your children look up to you and assume you have been smart with your money. Prove them right by putting your affairs in order. Then teach your adult children to put their affairs in order. This opens the door to productive conversations about other important discussion in life.
- Put Your Affairs in Order While You Can
Estate laws in the United States give people the right to put their affairs in order. Not exercising that right means you may forfeit your family’s legal right to help you. It’s about putting the right information in the right place for the right people at the right time.
- Create a Solid Estate Plan
This is the best way to make sure the loved one(s) who will have to carry out your wishes are not burdened when the time comes. It’s one of the most loving things you can do.
- This is all About Life
Putting your affairs in order is not about death. It’s about making sure things get done your way. It is one of the most important financial and lifestyle decisions of your life. It’s about writing the last chapter of your amazing legacy.
Providing a clear call to action to anyone who has yet to “put their affairs in order,” A LEGACY UNDONE is one family’s story that demonstrates exactly why planning for the unexpected is essential. “If you haven’t created a legal plan of action for yourself and your family, it needs to be made a top priority,” says Terrie. “Our circumstance is extreme, but we want everyone to have the confidence and peace of mind that comes from being smart about their family and everything they have worked so hard for all their lives,” adds Jon.
For more on A Legacy Undone, visit www.alegacyundone.com.