Q: I know that you have written about this before but just tell me straight up, what should a senior have in place for a basic estate package and how much will it cost?
A: For starters, everyone should have a Will. If you do not have a beneficiary named in your Will who might need protection and should not inherit directly, or unless you are married and your combined taxable net worth exceeds $2,000,000 (in 2006), then a trust inside a Will is not necessary (but be sure to review your particular circumstances with your attorney). A Standard Will is all that you need and in northern Colorado a Standard Will should cost less than $200.
Durable Powers of Attorney are also very important. The Powers should be all encompassing (any decision including medical ones can be made by the agent), durable (incapacity would not invalidate the Power), revocable (changeable by the maker), and with more than one agent authorized to act. I would also recommend executing four originals (signing the same format four times) so that if the agent does not receive back a Power from the person he or she is dealing with, or an original must be mailed along with the paperwork, and the maker of the Power can not sign additional ones, then there are still originals available to be used by the agent. The cost to have a set of four prepared should be less than $100. Even though forms are available, I would suggest that an attorney do the documents so that it is formatted ColoradoÕs way, contains the necessary Colorado wording to permit the agent to do certain elder law matters, and conforms to recent federal cases. As a cautionary matter, even though you have signed "Five Wishes", I would urge you to sign a conventional Durable Powers of Attorney also, although I am told signers of "Five Wishes" are advised otherwise.
If shutting off the machines is important to you, then a "Living Will" needs to be signed, even though under an all encompassing Durable Power of Attorney, your agent does have the authority to do so. Signing a Living Will takes that particular medical decision away from your agent. But if you want your agent to take one last look before the machines are disconnected, then do not sign a Living Will. You should not have to pay for a Living Will because free forms are available from local hospitals.
Finally, except for a married couple, I would advise not to put anyone elseÕs name on any assets and let the Will distribute assets. Two exceptions would be for the safe deposit box and maybe adding an extra name as a signer on the checking account (even though the Durable Power of Attorney authorizes signing checks).
But wonÕt that trigger a probate? Yes, but remember what a privilege it is to live in Colorado and this is just one more benefit. Probate in Colorado is very straight forward and inexpensive. Even for large estates, the Personal Representative can do the process without an attorney and then the out-of- pocket expenses would be less than $300. With an attorney, the costs probably would run less than $2,000 plus out-of-pocket expenses.
Thus for less than $300, having a Will, Durable Powers of Appointment, a Living Will, and assets in your name alone means that you can have the peace of mind knowing that you have the estate plan in place that is the best for you.