It was reported on the news recently that some of Aretha Franklin’s family members have found what they believe to be her will. It was handwritten, stained, and crumpled up in a couch. The courts may or may not choose to honor it, depending on whether or not they are able to verify its authenticity.

Unfortunately, this type of scenario occurs all too often. A family member unexpectedly dies or becomes incapacitated and they either don’t have the right documents in place or the validity of those documents is questionable. This can make things very difficult for the ones they love. There are four steps you should take now (if you haven’t already) to ensure your affairs are in order should something happen to you.

Step 1: Have a will and/or trust drafted.

A will is a list of instructions to a court that tells it how you would like your possessions to be distributed at your death. It should be drafted by an estate planning attorney who is licensed to practice law in your home state. Wills end up going through the public probate process, which effectively closes out all of your remaining legal and financial matters.

A trust is another type of document that can be used to control the distribution of your assets at your death. It too should be drafted by a qualified estate planning attorney. One of the big advantages trusts have over wills is privacy. Assets that pass to your heirs via a properly-structured trust completely avoid the probate process.

Step 2: Ensure your assets are titled correctly. 

After you have a will and/or a trust in place, the next step is to make sure you have your major assets (homes, vehicles, accounts, etc.) titled correctly. If something is owned jointly between you and another person and you want your share of it to pass to that person at your death, then title it jointly. If you own an asset by yourself and you’d like it to pass according to the instructions in your will, then title it in your name only. Similarly, if you’d like an asset to pass according to the terms spelled out in a trust, then make sure the asset is titled in the name of the trust.

Another important part of the titling process is making sure the beneficiary designations on your retirement plans, IRAs, life insurance policies, and other similar instruments are up-to-date. This is because these designations may, in some cases, override the instructions given in your will. If you have any questions about how something should be titled or who the beneficiary should be, consult the attorney who drafted your will and/or trust in Step 1.

Step 3: Have power of attorney agreements drafted.

These documents specify what you would like to happen to you and your affairs in the event you are unable to weigh-in on these matters yourself.  The laws that govern these types of situations vary by state, but it’s generally wise to have the following agreements in place: (1) a durable power of attorney, (2) a medical durable power of attorney, and (3) a living will.

A durable power of attorney allows you to name someone to conduct your financial affairs in the event you become disabled or incapacitated. A medical durable power of attorney appoints someone to make medical decisions on your behalf if you cannot make them yourself. Finally, a living will instructs medical personnel to either continue or end life-sustaining procedures when you can’t express your position on the matter. As in Step 1, you should have a qualified attorney draft these documents.

Step 4: Prepare a letter of instruction.

A letter of instruction isn’t a formal legal document, but it can provide your loved ones with clarity after your death. You should consider including the following items in the letter: a list of your financial accounts and account numbers (with online user names and passwords), a list of your important documents (like wills/trusts, insurance policies, tax returns, titles, Social Security card, etc.) and their locations, a list of the professionals you work with regularly (attorney, financial advisor, tax preparer, etc.) and their contact information, any creditor information, and your final burial/funeral wishes. You could also include a final message to friends and/or family members if you’d like. When the letter is complete, put it in a safe place and tell your personal representative how to access it.

Once you have completed the steps above, review the resulting documents periodically, and after the occurrence of major life events (deaths, marriages, etc.). The unfortunate reality is that death or incapacity can happen to any one of us at virtually any time. Completing the steps above and keeping everything up-to-date will require an investment of time and money. However, I would argue that it’s well worth it.

Brian Littlejohn, MBA, CFP®, CFA is a fee-only financial advisor serving clients in Glenwood Springs, CO and beyond. His firm, Sherwood Investment Management, provides investment management, retirement planning, and comprehensive financial planning to help clients organize, grow, and protect their assets. Sherwood Investment Management is completely independent, acts as a fiduciary for its clients at all times, and never accepts commissions of any kind.

Read Brian’s article on retirement planning here.

Brian will be teaching a retirement planning seminar at Colorado Mountain College (CMC) in Glenwood Springs on April 23rd from 6:30-9:30pm.

For more information or to sign up, please visit the CMC website.

On April 1st, Brian participated in a financial advisor panel held at Pitkin County Library in Aspen, CO. A transcript of Brian’s remarks can be found below.

MODERATOR: How long have you been in the business?

BRIAN: I’ve been a financial advisor for the past 12 years. I started out working at a wealth management firm down the road in Boulder. Before that, I was an Air Force officer for 8 years.

MODERATOR: Why did you choose line of this business?

BRIAN: This line of business exists at the intersection of two of my favorite pursuits: helping people and personal finance.

MODERATOR: What are your credentials?

BRIAN: I have two Master’s Degrees in Finance and have earned both the CFP (Certified Financial Planner) and CFA (Chartered Financial Analyst) designations. The first designation is pretty much self-explanatory, but the latter designation, the CFA, pertains to possessing a certain level of expertise in investment management.  

MODERATOR: Do you have a minimum account size?

BRIAN: Nothing that’s carved in stone, but it’s generally about $500,000 in investable assets.

MODERATOR: Do you act as a fiduciary for your clients?

BRIAN: Yes and at all times. Only about 10% of financial advisors can say that. In my experience, that’s a figure that the investing public is really surprised to hear. Most mistakenly believe that all advisors have to act in their clients’ best interests at all times. 

MODERATOR: How do you stand out from the competition?

BRIAN: My firm is completely independent; I’m not attached to, employed by, or affiliated with a larger financial institution somewhere else. Why is that important? It means I’m not pushing their products and services on clients in order to satisfy a corporate boss in Miami or NYC. My bosses are my clients and no one else. Additionally, I act as a fiduciary at all times for my clients, not just when I’m providing certain services. As we mentioned previously, that sets me apart from about 90% of the other advisors out there. Lastly, I specialize in retirement planning. I currently teach the subject as an adjunct professor at two different universities. 

MODERATOR: Are financial advisors worth it?

BRIAN: That’s kind of like asking, “Are cars reliable?” They definitely can be. If they’re a competent advisor with a steadfast moral compass, I would say that they become more and more worth it as a client’s or family’s financial situation increases in complexity.

MODERATOR: What services do your provide your clients?

BRIAN: The two major services I provide are financial planning and investment management. Those two services, when combined and provided on an ongoing basis, are usually termed wealth management. I provide all three services.  

MODERATOR: Tell us about your investment philosophy and how you get paid.

BRIAN: I adhere to the notion that financial markets in advanced economies are largely efficient. Therefore, I typically employ passive investing strategies by using tax-efficient, low-cost index funds in client accounts. Where financial markets are less efficient, I’m more apt to use active investing strategies.

I only get paid in two ways: either hourly fees for financial planning or a percentage of the assets I manage for investment management and wealth management. I do not sell financial products nor do I receive commissions for putting my clients in certain financial products. My goal isn’t just to find products and services that are suitable for my clients, it’s to find the best products and services for them.



Monday, April 1, 2019 – 12:00pm

A panel of four Financial Planners will illustrate how different or similar their services are. If you have been wanting to get financial advice but felt you did not have the knowledge or the wealth or the guts, this panel is for you! Come and ask your questions! No fooling…

Before investing in any crypto-related offering, consider…

(1) the three “U’s” (untraceable, uninsured, unregulated),

(2) the substantial volatility and liquidity risks, and

(3) the very real potential for fraud.

This NASAA video highlights that, unlike deposits made to a bank account, deposits into a digital wallet for cryptocurrency transactions are uninsured in case of adverse events such as fraud or insolvency. Cryptocurrencies are often traded on unregulated digital platforms lacking consumer protections. Buyer beware!

Photo credit: André McKenzie

Did you achieve your financial goals in 2018? If you found yourself short on cash flow last year or didn’t reach the savings milestones that you hoped for then it may be time to set some new financial goals for the New Year.

Here are four ways to help set financial goals for 2019:

Prioritize for the short and long term.

Many people have short-term (within 2 years) and long-term (over 5 years) goals; the key to achieving all of them is to prioritize. The amount of money, time, and effort you dedicate to each goal depends on their importance a.k.a. their priority.

According to Investopedia “Setting goals is an important step toward becoming financially secure. If you aren’t working toward anything specific, you’re likely to spend more than you should. Setting short-term financial goals can give you the confidence boost and foundational knowledge you need to achieve larger goals that will take more time.”

Be realistic about all goals.

Setting, working toward, and achieving financial goals is a strong motivator for bigger accomplishments, but only if the goals are realistic. It can be extremely disappointing to want something that you don’t achieve.

When setting financial goals, be realistic about the time horizon, monthly budget allocation and affordability. It’s also important to set mini-goals and check in on your progress regularly. These actions will help determine if you’re on track to achieving your goal or if the plan of action needs to be adjusted.

Seek professional advice.

When it comes to your personal finances, goals are not always easy to achieve – that’s where the advice of a professional can become part of the plan. A financial advisor can help set realistic money management goals as well as create a plan to help you achieve them in a reasonable amount of time.

An advisor can also help create investment strategies for your financial goals that align with your risk tolerance and time horizon. According to Marketwatch “Median annual returns for 401(k) holders who got professional help were 3.32 percentage points higher than returns for people who invested on their own.”

Don’t just save. Invest wisely.

A major benefit of seeking professional financial advice is the advisor’s investment knowledge and industry expertise. Of course, the option to invest on your own is an option, but when it comes to money, paying for service from an expert is definitely worth the cost.

A financial advisor doesn’t just help you find extra disposable income to save; they help you invest wisely so your money grows over time. The more your money grows, the faster you’ll achieve your goals.

If you have specific financial goals for 2019, contact me today and let’s create a plan to achieve them!


Brian Littlejohn, MBA, CFP®, CFA is a fee-only financial advisor serving clients in Glenwood Springs, CO and beyond. His firm, Sherwood Investment Management, provides investment management, retirement planning, and comprehensive financial planning to help clients organize, grow, and protect their assets. Sherwood Investment Management is completely independent, acts as a fiduciary for its clients at all times, and never accepts commissions of any kind.

Brian has been selected to teach a retirement planning course for Franklin University as an adjunct professor in the spring. Here are the details:

FPLN-450 Retirement Saving/Income Plan (4 Credits) – 12 weeks in length

An introduction to retirement planning concepts, procedures, and issues for individuals, businesses, and business owners. Topics include understanding and evaluating client retirement objectives, qualified and non-qualified retirement plans, tailoring retirement plans to client needs, funding retirement plans and investing plan assets, retirement planning for individual clients, post-retirement monetary needs, tax considerations in retirement planning, and retirement plan distributions.

On this Veterans Day, if you know someone who has (a) been seriously injured while serving in the military or (b) lost a loved one who was serving, please encourage them to reach out to me (707-776-7331 or to see if they are eligible to receive free financial planning advice for life. It’s a great benefit for a truly deserving group of Americans!

Americans overwhelmingly believe that all financial advisors should be fiduciaries. However, less than 15% actually are. I think we can safely assume that there are MANY people out there who incorrectly believe that their advisor is required to act in their best interest at all times. The article below does a good job of sorting everything out.