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Law Offices of Ronald W. Rutz
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February 22, 2000: Prospecting for Diamonds; Settling Estate if Assets in Joint Tenancy

Q: I liked your column on gold panning as a hobby and plan to try it this summer. What about prospecting for diamonds?

A: If you enjoy walking around looking at nature, as opposed to standing in cold water, bent over, splashing back and forth a heavy mixture of mud, sand, and rocks, hoping to catch a glimpse of that "flash in the pan," then you will thoroughly enjoy looking for diamonds.

To make sure that the rules had not changed, I call the forest service, BLM, and several agencies in Wyoming. Unlike gold panning, happily no restrictions seem to have been imposed in the last few years.

However, remember to ask permission when dealing with private property, stay off posted claims, and fill any holes that you might make (a lot of digging is probably unlikely unless you are a glutton for punishment an auger works better). Also as a courtesy and to double check on any local legalities, do call beforehand and let the person in charge of the area know your intent. It seems at times that rules and regulations can spring up overnight.

Also remember that the key word is "recreational." A day or two in a general location is tolerated but if you set up shop (leave the bulldozer home) and stay longer, then you start to cross the line and such things as permits, environmental impact statements, etc., probably will be required.

A bit of an inducement to motivate you to look for diamonds, two of the best sites are still open and a third area remains, in my humble opinion, the pick of the litter here in Larimer County and Southern Wyoming. It will be interesting to see if you can locate any of them for yourself, or even discover a new area.

Do not expect to find a significant number of large gem quality stones. But what you find certainly can be used in jewelry (isn't it the thought that counts, not the value) or just collected and kept like we used to keep marbles and cat- eyes in elementary school. I am told that you do not have to report the value of what you find on your income tax return until you actually sell or otherwise dispose of any of them (readers if you disagree, please call me).

One afterthought, be a responsible visitor to the area. Leave any antiquities and interesting biological or geological discoveries where you happen to find them. To remove, damage, or destroy such items could be against the law, depending upon where you are. But just remember the joy and adrenal rush you will experience in finding something like that. Let someone who comes after you have that same chance.

Q: I lost my wife. Since everything was either in joint tenancy or I was named as a beneficiary, do I need a lawyer?

A: It is unlikely that you will need Court assistance to settle your wife's estate, but you should at least go over the list of assets with an attorney to be sure that all of the technical issues are addressed.

Briefly and in general, I advise that at least ten death certificates be ordered from the Bureau of Vital Statistics. It is easier and cheaper to order more than you think you will need because you probably will use all of them once you start changing titles and collecting proceeds.

One checking account in both names should remain open for up to eight months. It is amazing how many unexpected checks arrive in the deceased's name, which then can be deposited using a teller's endorsement. Otherwise the checks would need to be returned and may never be reissued in a way to permit them to be cashed or deposited without starting a probate. Since that would be cost prohibitive and our small estate affidavit is not often honored by out of state firms, the checks never are cashed.

You can not just record a death certificate and expect that title to the joint tenancy house has been changed. If your wife's name on the death certificate differs from her name on the deed, an affidavit saying that she is indeed one in the same needs to be recorded in addition to the death certificate.

Items such as C.D.s can be cashed in without interest or penalties if one owner dies. Unless the Will directs otherwise, secured debts such as mortgages on real estate do not have to be paid and go along with the asset to the beneficiary.

There are many other issues, but these are all areas that an attorney will help you not only to identify but make the proper decisions.

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