Q: Do you have any predictions for 2004?
A: Yes I do, especially in the area of water law because Colorado’s "water rights" are going to be determined not in Colorado, but in two federal cases over which Colorado has no control- one in New Mexico and one in Florida. But, I would like to use this column to give a heads up as to certain personal considerations as the new year unfolds.
If you do not have a Will, get one. It does not matter whether you are young or old, rich or poor, married or single, have no person or entity you want to benefit – do a Will. And do not get caught in the Will vs. Living Trust tempest in a teapot. At least in Colorado – just do a Will so something is in place.
If you have a Will (or living trust), take it out and review the document to be sure everything is still appropriate, even if you are convinced everything is OK. You may be surprised! Better yet, schedule a free consultation with your attorney to review matters.
Whether you are single or married, consider doing a Durable Power of Attorney that is all-encompassing. That way someone has the legal authority to step forward and help, especially in making medical decisions, which have become more difficult because of the privacy laws which have slammed many information access doors shut.
If turning off the machines is important, sign a Living Will even if you have a Durable Medical Power of Attorney in place. You can get free forms at the Aspen Club (located in Poudre Valley Hospital).
Be sure that you have the originals of all of these documents and that someone has access to them (if you have a bank box, have at least one other person on the signature card so that the box is not locked or "frozen").
Check property ownership and beneficiary designations (payable on death designees too). If married and there is no tax will in place (and there is no business or tax reason to do otherwise), everything should be in joint tenancy. If you are single, avoid joint tenancy, especially if the only reason for so holding property is to avoid "probate" (but talk to your attorney about your particular circumstance.) Do not have minor children named as beneficiaries or as property owners without some type of legal entity such as a trust in place.
Make a list of assets and key people to contact which then serves as a road map for your personal representative. And be sure that you have original documents all pulled together in a safe, discoverable place. Revise your list every year. Be sure that you are still comfortable with your choice of fiduciaries (i.e., personal representatives, trustees, guardians, agents, etc.) and that they still wish to act on your behalf.
And finally, make sure that someone you care about has his or her affairs in order. Do not push, but sometimes all it takes is a gentle reminder.
This certainly is not a comprehensive listing and the first few times going through this approach might seem a bit daunting. But if you set up a routine once a year, it becomes a quick but thorough "habit" to reduce problems for those you leave behind.