Q: I know that you recently wrote about this, but we are about to start a New Year. Any estate planning resolutions?
A: All of us are bombarded this time of year with suggested New Year resolutions. My New YearÕs wish is that at least a few readers of the column will act on one or more of the following suggestions.
Do a Will if you do not have one. And if you do have one, take your Will out and look at it again if more than a year has passed, and even if you are sure nothing has changed. Also be sure you have the right kind of Will. If a beneficiary is a minor, has special needs, or likely will be in a nursing home, then a Testamentary Trust Will, not just a Will, needs to be considered.
Wills should be adjusted as life changes. So do not hesitate either to do a new Will or a Codicil (an amendment to the current Will).
Besides a Will, durable Powers of Attorney also need to be considered. The unexpected happens which means that without a Power in place, the Court must be used and a judge then decides who is in charge of making decisions for you. The Power should be comprehensive so all decisions, including medical decisions, can be made.
It is not true that by law a Living Will must be signed before entering a hospital, although in the absence of a medical power of attorney, it might be a good idea. A Living Will should be signed if you want "the machines shut off" after the Colorado statutory threshold has been met. Living Wills should not be signed if you do not like the lawÕs threshold implementation language or you want someone other than two doctors to take one last look before "unplugging" the life lines.
Before the "Five Wishes" document or the nonresuscitation directive is signed, have a "neutral" person explain the disadvantages. Neither document is technically a Living Will, although labeled as such by many proponents.
Either do or update an asset list, which should include key people to contact and special matters to be noted. The listing should also note how assets are titled, or if something has a beneficiary (payable on death) provision, to whom the proceeds will be paid. Reviewing (or constructing) the list will also help insure that the over all estate planÕs documents and the asset titles fit together.
The general rule is that a married couple usually holds everything in joint tenants, unless there is a personal or business reason not to do so, or unless a Tax Trust Wills are in place.
Try to keep all documents, titles, or certificates in one or two key places so it is not necessary to force the family to hunt for the documents, some of which may never be found.
If you have a bank box, be sure that there is an extra name on the signature card at the bank and that someone knows where the bank box key is kept. If there is a safe used to store documents, someone needs to know the safeÕs combination. For a computer, access information must be provided. Better yet, be sure that hard copies have been run and are kept with other records.
There are numerous other details to consider so check out my website or catch one of my presentations.
Remember one of the best and lasting gifts that you can give is to have your estate matters in order.