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Law Offices of Ronald W. Rutz
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April 10, 2004: A Simple Estate Plan

Q: You have written a series of columns about dangers to be concerned about in estate planning. So what do I need to have in place as my basic plan?

A: Because over the last few months I have received so many questions such as your inquiry, I decided to write on this topic again.

Unlike the vast majority of states, here in Colorado we can keep the Estate Plan simple and relatively inexpensive.

A Will works just fine as contrasted to a Living Trust, even for couples who have an estate tax problem. A Standard Will, usually costing less than two hundred dollars, should work for someone with a net worth under $1,500,000 (no tax problems) and with no beneficiary needing trust protection.

A Testamentary Trust Will is designed for someone without an estate tax problem but with a beneficiary that needs help or protection, such as minor children or a parent in a nursing home. The cost is normally under $300, even though the document is both a Will and a Trust combined.

Tax Wills work just fine in Colorado for couples who have a combined net worth over $1,000,000. (For those who read the column you know why I do not use $1,500,000.) The cost is usually less than $500 for each Will.

Besides Wills, each person should have a set of comprehensive Durable Powers of Attorney in place to avoid the need to set up a court administered conservatorship to handle his or her affairs in case that he or she is alive, but cannot or is not available to handle his or her own affairs. A set of four originally executed Durable Powers of Attorney will probably cost less than $100 here in northern Colorado.

Even with a Durable Power of Attorney in place, it is wise to sign a living will if you desire to have the machines shut off. The form that you can pick up and sign at most hospitals is free and thus, it is not necessary to pay an attorney to do this document.

Make a list of assets, which also includes where the various original legal documents are located and who are key people to contact such as financial advisors and accountants. The list will act as a road map or guide to help your personal representative locate assets and handle matters.

Keep your documents together, if possible, so your personal representative can have an easier time locating the necessary documentation.

As between a couple, everything should be in joint tenancy or with each other named as a beneficiary. If a Tax Will is in place, ownership should be in tenants in common or in individual names. If a Living Trust is in place, all assets should be listed in the Trust.

Unless there is only one child (and no greatly appreciated assets), do not add the childrenÕs names as joint tenants. The two exceptions would be to add another name to the signature card of the safe deposit box or an additional name to the checking account so checks could be written after death.

Thus, in Colorado it is very possible to have a Will, Durable Powers of Attorney, and a Living Will in place for less than $300. Ask your friend living in California what his or her estate plan cost.

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