I was recently introduced to Amy Refeca, an estate planning and elder law attorney focused on serving women in Georgia and Florida.
She owns Refeca Law, based in Alpharetta, GA, which focuses on estate planning for women.
As you might imagine, given our mutual interest in serving women, Amy and I hit it off immediately and had a lot to discuss.
We even recorded our most recent discussion. Hopefully, it will serve both to introduce you to Amy and give you some things to think about when it comes to estate planning for women.
Here’s a video of our chat:
And if you prefer audio, here’s the audio only recording:
And here’s a complete transcript of our conversation if you prefer to read:
Amy Refeca and Estate Planning for Women
Hi, this is Russ Thornton with Wealthcare for Women. Today I’m really excited to be talking with Amy Refeca. Amy is an attorney here in Georgia. She’s also licensed in the state of Florida. Among other things, Amy is really focused on providing estate planning services to women. I was introduced to Amy recently by a mutual acquaintance, and she and I just hit it off, and I was really looking forward to having an opportunity to introduce Amy to you. So Amy, great to be with you. Why don’t you say hello and tell us a little bit about yourself.
Hi. Well, thank you, Russ, for allowing me to be here. A little bit about myself. I’ve been an attorney for almost 15 years now. Live here locally in Georgia, not far outside of the city of Atlanta. I’m up here north in the North Fulton area. I’m licensed in the state of Florida as well as the state of Georgia, as Russ mentioned. I am also accredited with the Department of Veterans Affairs, as I’m very passionate also about helping veterans obtain benefits that they’ve been denied. That’s 1 of my passion projects as well.
I have an estate planning practice. I am the owner of that practice. I really do try to help women. That’s been an evolution in my practice. I started out as an estate planner and an elder law attorney. Over the years, I recognized this need for women’s voices to be heard in this area. Now I really try to focus on giving them that voice, because there are a lot of unique planning needs that women have.
How long have you been practicing law?
Fifteen years. It’s hard to believe that I’ve been an attorney for 15 years. Giving away my age a little bit. But, yeah, I’m coming up on my 15th anniversary as an attorney, 12 of which I practiced exclusively in the state of Florida. When we moved here to Georgia, I obtained my license to practice law here, and have been doing so now for the last few years.
I know you mentioned it a moment ago. Can you maybe expand a little bit more on the evolution, and why it’s important to you to focus on the needs of women as it relates to estate planning and maybe some elder care planning as well.
Yes. When I opened my own firm, because I have not always for those 15 years had my own law firm. I worked in other law firms and in other capacities. But when I opened my own law firm, I was really ready to serve everyone in the community, and I still do. I’m still very passionate about that. But what I started noticing was 2 things. Those 2 things were that women had really unique planning concerns to worry about, whether or not they were married, in a committed relationship, or not. They have very unique planning needs, and we can talk more about those later. But I noticed that. I noticed that in my clientele. I noticed that in discussions with even potential clients, and folks that I would potentially work with. Then I started noticing it even in my own family, with my own mom, and her special, unique things that women need to be worried about in estate planning.
What I began to do is I really began to reach out to those women. I decided that no one else in the estate planning space was really openly saying, “I want to give women that voice.” I want to give women that voice, and I want to give women that safe place to make their choices known. I’m a firm believer in women’s intuition. I think that comes through in estate planning. I think the choices that you make in estate planning are really deeply seated and emotional on some level, and they have long-lasting impact. I wanted to put a light on that women’s intuition, that instinctive thing that women have, and apply it to the unique needs that they need in estate planning.
About a year ago, I just went all in, and I said, I am a law firm dedicated to helping women protect their family and their future.
Obviously, I was excited to get introduced to and speak with you, because of my focus on women, too. Obviously we have a lot in common, both in terms of our passion and our mission, and then obviously there’s some degree of overlap in the work we do professionally. I do want to circle back to get your thoughts on women’s unique needs as it relates to estate planning and that sort of thing. But before we do that, let’s just briefly set the stage. Because I think a lot of women are either overwhelmed or maybe intimidated by the idea of estate planning. They think it’s for really wealthy people, or maybe they heard the term estate planning, but they don’t really understand what it is. So in simple terms, could you share your perspective on, I guess in somewhat broad terms, you provide estate planning services and advice to women, what does that really involve?
In really simple terms, estate planning is about a choice. It’s really just as simple as that. Every single person, man or woman, has a choice about what they want in their life, either while they’re alive and maybe can’t speak for themselves, and they call that incapacitated, or after they pass away, whether that choice relates to how they wish to be buried or cremated, and how they wish their family to celebrate that, where they want their things to go and to whom they want them to go, and in what percentages.
So that’s really it. It’s really just about the choice. Estate planning is, you have a choice. Let’s put that choice in writing. Let’s think it through. Let’s put it in writing. That’s what an estate plan is. There are tools that you use. Everyone’s heard of a will. There are powers of attorney. Those are tools. But the tools really are just something that is used to put your choice in writing and make it legally enforceable.
I love that description, because hearing you describe it in those terms, to me it sounds like it’s an opportunity for women to be purposeful and deliberate, and to choose their path, as opposed to settling for whatever may come, which can be dangerous on a lot of levels when it comes to estate planning and probate and things like that. But thanks for sharing that.
Back to your comments about women’s unique needs as it relates to estate planning. Is there maybe a scenario or a story that you could share about a woman that you’ve worked with that maybe paints a picture about how you work with these women and how you can help address and solve their unique needs and challenges?
One of the things I just want to start out with is, and I’ll share a story about this particular situation, is women, we live longer. We’ve got statistics on our side, and we’re going to live longer. We’re also so much more likely to be the primary caregiver in 2 different ways, to children in our own families, and we’re also so much more likely to be the primary caregiver for our parents, or for aging relatives. In those 2 regards, we have a lot of external pulls on our time during our lives, for those particular reasons, and our lives are going to be longer. What I always like to say is, we’re going to be here longer, so let’s plan to live longer. That’s just 2 examples of how estate planning can be really critical to women.
I’m going to give you the example of my own mother. She’s given me permission to share, so no secrets there. I’m not outing her. She actually left the workforce the moment she turned 65 years old to care for my aging grandfather. She likely didn’t save as much as she wanted, because she was in a situation where she was in a very rural part of Missouri. My grandfather was living there. She lived in a city, and she couldn’t get to him. So she was very concerned about how he was living, whether he was able to take care of himself. So she used estate planning as a tool to help do long-term care planning for her own self so she could leave the workforce to care for my grandfather. She used a trust to help her, so that when she gets to the point where my grandfather found himself, in his late 80s, and she was living alone, my mother is divorced, that she would have something, some resources available to her. That’s 1 really great example.
Another really good example is that I helped a woman recently who transitioned out of a divorce. During her marriage, she was not the individual who typically took care of the finances as far as retirement investing, or even where those assets were (which is an important part of protecting those assets). She did not normally make decisions about life insurance and how much she needed and how the beneficiaries of that life insurance, who would receive the money if someone passed away. When she came out of the divorce, she was very overwhelmed. Not only was she now a single mother, but she did not have another individual to help her with those things, and she had a learning curve. She had a really swift learning curve.
We walked through that process, and she used her estate plan to basically help her organize that area of her life and get more comfortable making those decisions, get more comfortable about who, if she were to suddenly pass away, who would be in charge of all of the money that she would be leaving her children. Because she wasn’t comfortable with her former spouse doing that any longer. She wanted it to be someone within her family, and so she needed to do an estate plan where she had people in her family taking care of the money that she would leave to her children, who were still under the age of 18.
That’s interesting that you mention that second story, because as you and I have discussed, so often I encounter women who, especially women that are maybe in their 50s, 60s, or later in life, where they’ve gone through a divorce, or they become a widow, and for a lot of reasons they haven’t really been involved in the family finances. While they’re dealing with establishing themselves as a single woman, and all of the emotions and transitional elements that go into play with that, they also have this new financial responsibility thrust upon them. These women are super bright and smart, but it’s just not something they’re familiar with. I think the estate plan is a great example of something that, A) is important and needs to be addressed, but B) it can also be used as a learning tool, a learning process, from an organizational standpoint, which you pointed out, as well as to see how the other elements of her financial situation interact and impact her life. I think that’s a fantastic story.
Amy, in your experience, is there 1 or maybe a couple of common misconceptions or common myths that maybe women have about estate planning or planning for their future?
I would say there are 2 big. One is a general myth. Even men have this preconceived idea about what happens. One is really specific to women. One is, is that estate plans are just for what the general populations thinks is wealthy individuals. I’m not commenting on what I consider to be wealthy or not, but what I’m saying is, is an estate plan is not about money. It’s not even about things. It’s about the choice. That’s why I always present estate planning in that way. Wealthy can be defined very differently by very different people. What I think everyone should really keep in mind is that, a really good, well thought out estate plan should really just be a 1-time investment for someone.
If you’re looking at a 1-time investment, and then you’re looking at the course of your life, and maybe you own a home, and then over the course of that home you might downsize it and reinvest that money in some other way. Which is typically the largest asset that someone makes as far as a purchase. Then you have a small retirement account. Now that all can play into how you work your estate plan. But it’s really just about that choice. I think 1 of the biggest misconceptions is, is that estate planning is just for wealthy people. I think, generally speaking, wealthy people, most people define as people with a couple million dollars or more, in either retirement accounts and homes and properties and other things. I would say that the average person, especially in our communities that we live in, they don’t feel that they need an estate plan. I think that’s 1 of the biggest misconceptions is that it’s just for wealthy people, and I don’t quality.
I think the second misconception is that I only need a will, and I have a will. I think wills are very, again, it’s a really great tool. I use them in estate planning. But they’re not the only piece of paper that you should have in your tool shed. One of the biggest things that I try to, I’m a proponent of, is powers of attorney. I think they’re really important for when you, if you become ill. They’re also really important for helping you nominate someone to take care of your children in the event that you’re even temporarily unable to take care of your children. There are a lot of documents out there outside of the will, while you’re still here with us, while you’re still on earth, that can really be very powerful tools for you in an estate plan. I think those are the 2 biggest misconceptions.
The latter of the 2 misconceptions, I think, really is very specific to women, because we caregive so, so much, and we’re the longest to live. We’re going to be the ones left without a partner, say, or someone there, because we’re the ones caring so much. We really need to plan, who’s going to help us when we need help.
One question about the women assuming the role of caregiver. Have you found that, and I’ve experienced this sometimes, have you found that sometimes women are so focused on caring for others that sometimes they can neglect their own welfare. Example might be, oh, I’ll deal with my own estate plan or my own situation later. Right now, I need to take care of mom, or I need to take of dad, or I need to take care of my minor children, or even their adult children. Have you experienced that? Because I know I’ve encountered that from time to time.
Yes, and this is what I tell people. You really want to put an estate plan in place when you’re healthy, when these things are on the top of your mind, when they’re fresh in your mind. I think that when you’re caregiving for someone else, that can be the biggest motivator to help you understand what you need in your own estate plan while it’s in your mind, because you’re doing it. I have small children. I know what it takes to care for small children. I know what it takes to care for aging parents and aging grandparents, because I’ve done that. I know what I’m going to need.
I think that, to exactly your point, that should be the absolute appropriate time to take care of yourself, for 2 reasons. One, you now know what it takes, because you’re doing it. So you know, when you go to plan for it, what it’s going to take for you to be taken care of. Then the second reason is, is that a lot of times, and there’s a lot of data out there to support this, is our own health can be impacted by caring for others, especially in older women. You can have significant healthcare. You don’t want to be doing this planning in a crisis situation for 2 reasons. One, all of your choices might not be heard in that situation, and 2, it will cost you more money to do that planning, I would rather you invest that money early while you’re able to think through and have your voice heard in a full way, even with all the other things going on, than when you’re in a crisis situation.
Thanks for that. Again, I’ve encountered some situations where that seems to be the case. I agree. The story I often tell people is, you need to put the oxygen mask on yourself first before you can be in a position to really help others. I think you’re echoing that same sentiment. I appreciate you sharing that.
As we, Amy, this has been a, I love talking to you. We’re both passionate about the work we do, and serving women and helping them. We can talk for hours I’m sure. My hope is this is the first of many ongoing conversations, dialogues, things that we can capture and share with people that we know in our networks and our audiences. But as we start to wrap up today, what’s the 1 thing that you would like people, women specifically, who watch this or listen to this, to take away from this conversation?
I would think that the 1 thing that I really want people to understand is that you know inside what you want. As a woman, I can appreciate that for a lot of different reasons, in a lot of different ways, you’ve been told not to listen to that voice within you. It’s kind of a societal norm to not do so. What I want you to walk away with knowing is that estate planning is a deeply personal thing, and it’s deeply unique thing. It is by far 1 of those areas where listening to your voice is life changing. I like to say that when I’m helping someone put a plan in place, it’s so that they can really begin living now. Because they’ve taken care of everything else.
I want them to walk away with knowing that their voice is really critical in that it’s a very easy process. It’s not a long, drawn out process, and that there’s a place for that voice that’s inside you telling you exactly what you want, there’s a place for it to be put together.
Got it. Thanks. Yeah, that’s a good one, thanks. One other thing I just remembered, and you and I were talking before we started recording this conversation about the benefits to women of working with professionals that are both able, and more importantly willing to collaborate with each other. The takeaway here is, I’m not assuming I’m the right financial planner or financial advisor for every women out there, nor are we assuming that Amy is the right estate planning attorney, but, and I’ll let you comment on this, Amy, we both share the belief that it’s very important for your professional advisors to act on your behalf as a team. Amy, do you want to comment on that?
I do. I’d shared with you, Russ, this particular situation. I believe that what I do, I’m an inch wide and a mile deep in. What I do is I like to work with professionals, like you, Russ, that I know have the best interests in mind with my clients, and other professionals as well, CPAs, life insurance, various other professionals that need to be worked with. When I’m putting together a plan, it’s critical that I can work, that those kinds of professionals work together, because what I do could be in this inch, and what a financial advisor like yourself, financial planner, do is in your inch. They really need to be aligned it’s really critical, whether it’s me or some other attorney that someone works with, that you ask them about working with your CPA, with your financial planner, with your life insurance agent, to align your plan with those. Because if they’re not aligned, then all of that hard work that you’ve done might not work the way that you wanted it to work.
Again, it’s an investment. If they’re not willing to take the time, then I would strongly recommend, move on to someone who will take the time. It’s a holistic approach. You’re in the center of this wheel. I’m just 1 part of the wheel, and there’s a financial planner in another part, and there’s a life insurance agent in another part. There’s all these parts to your life, and they need to work together.
I know, Russ, you feel strongly about that as well. I’m never more shocked when I call someone and they’re like, “You’re the first attorney that’s ever really wanted to talk to me about this.” I would just say that that should be one of those questions that you really ask someone. Are you willing to work with other professionals in my life to make sure that everything’s in alignment.
Yeah, couldn’t agree more. I think that’s another important takeaway from our conversation today. Amy, again, thanks again for your time. I love what you’re doing, and the passion that you bring to serving your women clients. As we wrap up, if someone listening to this or watching this is interested in learning more about you, or perhaps even reaching out to you, what’s the best way for them to learn more about you, get in touch if they’re interested, and that sort of thing.
I’d be happy to talk to anyone. Just to let everyone know, I do have free consultation with individuals, and I do that for a reason, because it’s an opportunity to get to know me, to make sure that it’s a good fit, to ask me those kinds of questions that I just mentioned should be asked. Are you willing to work with others? And for me to tell you about the process. That’s a free consultation. I just wanted everyone to know that.
To reach out to me, you can call my office at (770) 508-6525. I am located in Alpharetta, but I can also do by appointments in other areas such as Marietta. As far as learning more about me, you can go to, I have several online profiles. I’m on LinkedIn. They can see my LinkedIn where they can check out my educational history and check out my success in this area, and the organizations that I’m involved in, which is really important to check out for attorneys, and make sure that they’ve got no background history that you might not feel comfortable with. I do have a website. It’s at www.RefecaLaw.com. You can also reach me by email. I’m not shy about giving out my email. It’s perfectly fine. My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. That is R-E-F as in Frank E-C-A Law.com.
Thanks, Amy. When I, when we get this all cleaned up and ready to publish for public consumption, I’ll be sure to share a link to Amy’s website, and her email address, and her phone number, and all that good stuff. Amy, as we wrap up, anything else you want to share before we call it a day.
I’d just really like to thank the opportunity to share this message. I know you’re very passionate about helping women, especially through journeys through becoming a single parent household. I know that that’s important to you as well. I look forward to sharing the message some more.
Me too. Amy, thanks again. We will look forward to doing this again soon.
All right. Bye-bye.
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