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Law Offices of Ronald W. Rutz
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November 30, 1998: Lease Arrangements; Tax Living Trusts

Q: As a college student, I think that the landlords in this town rip us off. For instance, every decent place requires a one-year's lease, so of course we have to pay for the three months when we are not here. Hasn't anyone heard of a month-to-month arrangement?

A: Do not become too enamored with a month-to-month lease. If rent is paid monthly, then a landlord can alter the terms of a lease (like the amount of rent), or terminate the lease, by giving the tenant proper written notice at least ten days prior to the date when the next rent payment is due. If a tenant does not comply with the changes, or receives notice to leave, then the renter must find another place before the next rent payment is due. And the landlord would have the right to evict anyone who stayed (held over).

A more formal lease will permit a tenant to know what to expect and what his or her obligations are for a specific set period of time. At the least, a 'time certain" lease gives a tenant some stability and security. Speaking in general (and not intending to refer to Fort Collins specifically or any landlord here), certain owners will only tender a month-to-month arrangement and then alter the terms after the lessee moves in, knowing that the people will usually give in and avoid the cost and hassle of moving with only ten days available to them. Thus, I would normally caution anyone against a month-to-month relationship unless there were specific reasons to do so. It may work but the sword of Damocles will always be present.

As to the lack of suitable leases for less than one year, the lessors will say that it is not fair to have property sit vacant for three months each year. So I have no answer for you on that point. Sorry.

Q: I totally agree with your recent column that "death taxes" are, for the most part, a self-imposed expense and if a family faces such a loss, they should look at the deceased as being primarily responsible. But you only mentioned Tax Wills as an easy and cheap solution. All you attorneys talk about are Wills so you can then get all of those very expensive, long, complicated probates. What about tax living trusts?

A: In Colorado, unlike most states such as California or Hawaii, the normal cost (including attorneys' fees) to run an estate through Court is around $2300 or less, and even the more complicated or larger estates will usually experience extra expenses and fees of only an additional $1000 or so. Attorneys in Colorado, for example, are supposed to only charge a reasonable sum for the reasonable time that they put in, not a percentage of the estate assets. In contrast, tax living trusts usually cost much more than a Will to do, generate periodic maintenance and upkeep expenses, require expenditures to disassemble after death, and often trigger a probate anyway (if at death certain assets are titled in the deceased's name and not in the trust).

If assets are administered through the Court in Colorado, the assets are not frozen inside the estate until the probate ends (bills can be paid immediately and assets distributed), inventories and accountings do not have to be filed with the Court, proceedings can be settled within six months after opening (although the work is usually finished much earlier), and in fact an attorney is not even required to handle matters.

Due to the lack of time and space, I purposefully highlighted the Tax Will advantages in Colorado, since I have found that people are normally given living trust advantages but are not exposed to the advantages of a Will and Probate. But the bottom line is that unlike almost every other state, attorneys who recommend Tax Wills here in Colorado are not going for the big "probate bucks" but are attempting to use a very fast, inexpensive, easy, and "user friendly" way to settle things.

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