DIY Estate Planning in Colorado

Making a solid plan is a gift to your heirs

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You don’t have to be rich, or own a quote-unquote estate, to need estate planning. The possibility of becoming incapacitated may be enough.

“Planning ensures that the right people are making important health care and financial decisions for you when you are unable to make those decisions for yourself,” says Stephanie M. Tuthill, of Tuthill & Hughes in Denver.

When you die, she says, planning is “a gift to those left behind, because it provides a road map to your wishes.”

Stephen M. Brainerd, with Davis, Graham & Stubbs in Denver, agrees. “Non-planning is taking an enormous chance,” he says. “Even persons with uncomplicated family situations and limited assets have no certainty that the laws and the people they’re counting on will, at an unknown future time, function as they’d hope. So one of the great benefits of estate planning is the greater certainty it offers. You don’t have to wonder whether you’ve left unnecessary room for error or dispute.”

At its most basic level, Tuthill says, estate planning should include:

  • A medical power of attorney: naming someone to make medical treatment decisions for you if you cannot make them for yourself
  • A living will: leaving instructions for the administration and withdrawal of life support and artificial nutrition and hydration
  • A financial power of attorney: naming someone to make financial decisions for you and manage your assets for your benefit and care
  • A will or revocable trust: disposing your assets upon death 

This isn’t exactly a do-it-yourself project. “Homemade or hand-drawn documents normally are disastrous and are penny-wise and pound-foolish, because of the cost to clean up the legal messes left in their wake,” Tuthill says.

It’s also wise to revisit your plan periodically. “A frequent issue arises out of the belief that one’s assets and beneficiaries’ circumstances will remain constant, or at least be predictable,” Brainerd says. “A lot of careful estate planning is devoted to minimizing the problems that occur when behavior, economics and needs take unexpected turns.”

Douglas M. Cain, of Sherman & Howard, encourages his clients to discuss their estate plans and reasoning behind it with family. “That way there are no surprises. The family knows what to expect,” Cain says. “Families are naturally curious, but they may well feel it is improper for them to ask about what happens upon the death of one or both parents. If you have laid that out and taken responsibility for the decision-making, that is a nice gift and gesture to your descendants.” 

One common mistake, Brainerd adds, is to assume your family is immune from conflict. “Even in the closest families, with a complete absence of bad motives, people can react to a death and new family dynamics in surprising ways,” he says.

Tuthill’s most memorable plan was for a couple in their early 30s—with three children under the age of 7—who were diagnosed with terminal cancer within weeks of each other. “They planned thoughtfully for their children’s guardianship and created trusts to provide for their children financially,” she says. “The parents both died and the children went to live with their guardian, thrived and grew up, knowing that their parents’ final thoughts and efforts were an exercise of love to provide for their best care and raising.” 

Colorado

“Even in the closest families, with a complete absence of bad motives, people can react to a death and new family dynamics in surprising ways.”

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