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Law Offices of Ronald W. Rutz
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January 2, 2002: New Year's Checklist for Estate Documents

Q: I know that you have done this in the past, but would you do a beginning-of-the-year checklist? It would be helpful to a large number of people.

A: So many others write about this topic that I am reluctant to do so, but since you and several others have asked I'll give you a quick one.

First, everyone should have a Will, especially after what we witnessed on September 11, 2001. If a person has a Will but has not reviewed it with his or her attorney in the last three years or so, an appointment should be made. Few attorneys will charge, but check beforehand.

Young adults should consider, and older people (over 50) need, Durable Powers of Attorney. These are extremely useful if incapacity occurs, or if you are unable to handle something as a result of, for example, going on a trip. A spouse does not have the legal capacity to represent and to bind the incapacitated. The alternative would be to set up a conservatorship through the court.

If it is the desire of an individual that medical machines be turned off, then a living will needs to be executed, but remember that the Colorado form needs to be signed. Copies can be obtained for free at the Aspen Club of Poudre Valley Hospital. You do not need to be 50 or older to receive the form from them. Just a word of caution, however, because some documents in Colorado called "living wills" are really medical durable powers of attorney. These give the holder of the medical power much more discretionary power, if that is what you intend, so be aware.

A review of property owned should be done. Unless a Tax Will is part of one's plan, property should be held in joint tenancy with right of survivorship, not in tenants in common. Anything with a beneficiary designation should name the other spouse first, but I would recommend that the backup not be children, but your estate. Thus the Will can designate how the property should be distributed, or direct it into the trust. If a living trust is being used, then all assets need to be titled in the trust. Otherwise a probate (the reason for having a trust) may not be avoided.

Make a list of assets, important contact people, and the location of documents. Such information will make things so much easier for your Personal Representative (also called an Executor in other states).

Be certain that someone has access to this information. Leave access codes if the data is stored in your computer. Add someone to the signature card if you have a safety deposit box (avoids the box from being frozen). If you have a safe or strong box, let someone know where the combination or key is located.

Finally get over the attitude that "I don't care because I won't be around anyway." If you do have genuine feelings for those you leave, lessen the stress and burden by getting things in order. The alternative, of course, is to increase the need for an attorney and make him or her a bigger "beneficiary" of what you have accumulated.

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