wills and trust

Pet Trusts in Colorado

Clients often ask me if they can provide for their pets in their estate plans. The answer is yes – Colorado does allow for pet trusts – and many people use these as a means to ensure that their beloved companions are provided for if they are either disabled or upon their death.

My dear sweet Master Luke.

My dear sweet Master Luke.

Pet trusts are extremely useful in a number of situations. For most household pets, pet trusts are used as just-in-case planning, very similar to naming a guardian in your will for minor children. This ensures that your pets are provided for without burdening your loved ones.  For pets with a long lifespan, such as tropical birds, pet trusts may be viewed as a necessity so that pet owners can provide certainty of care for pets that will almost certainly outlive their human companions. 

In general, trusts need certain types of beneficiaries before they will be recognized and upheld by the law. Typically, these types of beneficiaries have been either ascertainable individuals or charities. Therefore, historically, it was difficult to provide for the continuing care of pets after death. In the past, estate planning to care for pets involved leaving assets to a trusted friend or family member with the understanding that they would use the assets to care for the pet. Although this method has certainly worked, there have undoubtedly been times when the pets have not been taken care of in the way that their human counterparts would have expected or the pets have not been cared for at all, with the trusted friend or family member using the assets for self-benefit instead of the benefit of the pet. Finally, the most obvious person to care for a pets physical needs may not be the best choice to manage the assets placed in the trust for the benefit of the pet.  Pet trusts can accommodate this practical reality. 

PET TRUSTS IN COLORADO

Many Colorado estate planners draft their pet trusts to allow pet owners to leave assets for the benefit of their pets as well as to allow the pet owners to designate both a pet guardian to manage the care of the pet and a trustee to manage the assets in the trust and make appropriate distributions to the guardian. Because of this separation of duties, the creator of the pet trust can ensure that the best person is selected to care for the pet and the best person is selected to manage the assets funding the trust for the pet.

SPECIFICS OF THE COLORADO PET TRUST

Under Colorado law, pet trusts operate in the following manner:

  • Assets can be placed in trust for the benefit of a pet.
  • The trust can be written so that if the pet is pregnant at the time the trust goes into effect, the trust will remain in force to provide care for the offspring of the pet.
  • The trust will remain in effect until there is no living animal covered by it, unless an earlier termination is provided for in the trust itself.
  • The trustee is not allowed to use any portion of the principal or income of the pet trust for the trustee’s benefit or in any way that is not for the benefit of the animals covered by the trust.
  • The creator of the trust has complete freedom to designate where any assets left in the trust upon its termination should go.
  • The appropriate use of the trust funds can be enforced by a trust protector designated in the trust instrument, by any person having custody of an animal for which care is provided by the trust, by any beneficiary designated by the trust creator to receive assets at the termination of the trust, or, if none of the above, by an individual appointed by a court if someone makes an application to the court to review the use of the funds.
  • If there is ever a situation in which a pet trust comes into effect but there is no trustee able or willing to serve, a court has the authority to designate a trustee and make other orders and determinations so that the intent of the creator of the pet trust will be carried out.

WHEN TO SET UP A PET TRUST

  • Pet trusts can be set up at death, at disability, or immediately upon signing a trust instrument.
  • Pet trusts are typically set up in a last will so that upon the death of the creator of the will, the pet trust is established and funded.
  • However, pet trusts can also be established in a revocable living trust so that upon the disability of the creator of the revocable living trust, a pet trust will be established to provide for continuity of care of the pet or pets.
  • Additionally, at any other time, any individual can set up a stand-alone pet trust to establish a trustee and fund a trust for the benefit of a pet.

 

Revocable Living Trusts In Your Estate Plan

Estate Planning: The Use of a Last Will versus a Revocable Living Trust


Many clients come in asking about setting up a Trust rather then a Will for their estate planning. Trusts are very trendy right now, especially in states like California where the probate process is expensive and complicated.

Each of these estate-planning tools has pros and cons. The following information is meant to make sure you understand the differences and enable you to make an informed decision about which estate-planning method is right for you.

When a Last Will is used, it does not become an effective document until death. A Last Will requires the property of the decedent to go through the probate process prior to being distributed. Probate is the process by which a Last Will is presented to the court, the court authorizes the representative of the estate to take possession of the decedent’s assets, the creditors of the decedent are notified, and, approximately four months later, the representative pays the creditors and then distributes the assets to the intended beneficiaries.

When a Revocable Living Trust is used, the assets titled in the name of the trust are not part of the decedent’s estate, and do not need to go through the probate process. As soon as the individual who set up the trust dies, the alternate trustee named in the trust is entitled to take control of the assets without any court involvement. Importantly, this process also happens when the person who set up the trust becomes incapacitated.

Colorado has an informal probate process. The probate court is minimally involved with the process, and thus most probates here are both inexpensive and efficient. However, as noted above it does take about four months to complete the process.  In a Revocable Living Trust based plan, the immediate ability of the alternate trustee to access the assets in the trust upon the incapacity or death of the settlor of the trust is definitely an advantage if time is a consideration.

If you choose to use a revocable-living trust based estate plan, your personal residence, vacation home, and investment accounts and other types of property are usually transferred into the name of the trust, requiring retitling of these assets, but tax advantaged retirement accounts are usually not. This process of retitling the assets is one of the two disadvantages of using a Revocable Living Trust when compared to a Last Will-based estate plan. The second disadvantage to the Revocable Living Trust is that it is typically more expensive than a Last Will based plan.

I generally recommend a Last Will based estate plan here in Colorado because of our informal probate process. I recommend a Revocable Living Trust based plan to my clients who meet any of the following criteria:

➢ complex asset management needs or diverse types of investment assets since Revocable Living Trusts provide a very strong asset management tool;
➢ property outside the state of Colorado (since such property can be placed in the Trust, no additional probate proceeding will need to be opened in the other states);
➢ the need for privacy (Wills are filed at death and become pseudo-public documents) or the wish that their at-death disposition not be public; and
➢ impending disability (at the disability of the individual, the alternate trustee will be able to take control of the assets in the trust).

Feel free to call or email me if you have further questions regarding the differences between these two types of plans.

Estate Planning and Personal Effects

Who gets mom's wedding ring?! When clients hire me to create their estate planning documents, we have a thorough conversation about their assets, how they are held, and to whom they want them to go to. This conversation is focused primarily on the large assets, such as the family home, retirement accounts, insurance policies, other properties and investment accounts. Part of the initial estate planning process is to really look at these and then clearly designate beneficiaries.

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Inevitably during this discussion, the client’s personal effects come up. In Colorado, personal effects, such as grandmother’s antique ring, grandfather’s favorite chair, mom’s jewelry, dad’s watch, etc., can be designated in a separate Memorandum of Personal Effects that is incorporated into the Will by reference. This allows my clients to keep a running inventory of bequests and beneficiaries for personal times that can be changed over time.

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I provide this memorandum as part of the estate planning notebook I create for my clients. The Memorandum, referenced in the Will, is binding and it simply has to be dated and signed. This allows the personal representative or family members peace of mind and ease. It avoids the stress and conflict of having to figure out who gets what. An analogy I recently read about in the New York Times is that without this Memorandum, its like waking up to a house full of kids on Christmas morning and having no name tags on any of the wrapped gifts – chaos!  To read this article click here.

The article, references a workbook called Who Gets Grandma’s Yellow Pie Plate, by Marlene Stum. She says that the process starts with recognizing that dividing up a loved ones’ belongings is laden with emotions and can be a real mine field for family members and friends. The workbook helps sort out the process by helping people:

  • Determine what you want to accomplish, decide what's fair to your family.
  • Understand belongings have different meanings to different individuals.
  • Consider distribution options and consequences
  • Agree to manage conflicts if they arise.

To learn more about this workbook, click here.

In representing my probate clients, I have seen sibling relationships torn apart because they don’t agree about how to divide up the personal property of the deceased.   My clients that are appointed as personal representatives really struggle, during a time of personal grieving, to try to figure out how to divvy up personal effects fairly, without hurt feelings.

All of this can be avoided with an estate plan that provides for a Memorandum of Personal Effects. I advise my clients to use this Memorandum as a living, breathing document that they can continue to add to and change as time goes by. So when a loved one expresses a sentimental attachment to a certain item, my client can simply add that to their Memorandum and know that that beneficiary will receive that heirloom.

Demystifying Trusts

Planning our estate with Wills and Trusts.

Planning our estate with Wills and Trusts.

I can’t tell you how many times I get calls from people who want to create a trust of some kind as a part of their estate plan. There are many types of trusts and they all serve different purposes. I have created a summary of the most common types of trusts and what they are used for as a basic guideline to help dispel some of the myths around “trusts” and how they are used. There are many different asset protection tools available, including LLCs and family partnerships and so trusts are an important vehicle but not the only way to protect assets. As an estate planning tool, trusts are an important planning technique but not always either necessary or advisable. If you are curious about trusts and how they are used, I hope the summary below gives you some helpful information.

First, there are revocable trusts and irrevocable trust. Revocable living trusts are generally used as part of an overall estate plan and are important planning tools in Colorado when a client has assets in multiple states or a very complex asset structure, has an imminent disability that would require a successor trustee to be able to step in seamlessly, or has a need for privacy. While probate avoidance is important in some jurisdictions, Colorado has an informal and relatively simple probate process that can make the expense of trust set up contraindicative for simple estates. Revocable living trusts do not shelter assets from the creditors of the settlor and become irrevocable upon the death of the settlor.

An irrevocable trust cannot be modified or revoked after it is created. Examples of these are Irrevocable Life Insurance Trusts (ILIT) or Asset Protection Trusts, which can be set up in jurisdictions such as Nevada or the Cook Islands that have trust protection laws. ILITs are generally used as an estate planning technique for those who find themselves in the position of having taxable estates ($5.43 million in 2015) and Asset Protection Trusts are used to make sure that future creditors can never access the Trust to satisfy a judgment against the settlor.

Charitable Remainder Trusts are set up to benefit a nonprofit organization.   These are used as an estate planning technique and can help avoid the estate being taxed and gift tax implications. The settlor receives benefits during his or her life and also receives the intangible benefit of being recognized by the charity beneficiary during his or her life.

Special Needs Trusts are set up for people who are disabled and receiving government benefits. The disabled beneficiary cannot control the amount or frequency of the trust distributions and cannot revoke the trust. Parents of a disabled child can establish a special needs trust as part of their estate plan and not worry that their child will be prevented form receiving necessary benefits when they are not their to care for their child.

There are many other types of trusts, including Spend Thrift Trusts which are created to protect a beneficiaries’ interests from creditors, Tax By-Pass Trusts, Totten Trusts, etc. If you are curious about whether a trust might be an important tool to manage your assets, I would be happy to discuss the various types and how they might or might not be applicable to your situation.

Talking to adult children about your estate plan

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twoseniorswalkingadog

If you’ve done your estate planning and have adult children  (single, married, divorced, with or without children), its important to let them know that you have taken care of this. It would be courteous to let your children know: Where your documents are located, both copies and originals.

Whom you have chosen as your fiduciaries, such as agents for powers of attorney, personal representative, and trustees.

It would also be helpful if you can convey to them your wishes should you become disabled.

You may wish to discuss the nuts and bolts of your plan in more detail with them, this is a personal matter, and you may decide to not disclose this at all.

However, it might be wise to discuss any areas that might cause conflict in the family up front and address this with the parties now to avoid future contention. If there are any anomalies in your estate plan, such as leaving money to a more distant relative or choosing to favor one beneficiary over others, it’s a good idea to talk about this – that way there will be no hurt feelings or surprises when the estate plan is implemented and you are unable to explain your reasons for the choices you have made.

Talking to elderly parents about estate planning

How to talk to your parents about their estate planning. Its an old adage and maybe even a cliche - we don't talk about whats in the Will and its not polite to bring up aging or death with our elderly loved ones.  Yet it is important and necessary.  You need to know if they have a plan and where the documents are kept in case something happens.   Here are some guidelines to help navigate this awkward conversation with your parent or parents.

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  • Your intention. Make it clear that your intention in bringing this topic up is to understand their wishes so you can help make sure that they are carried out. If they don’t have a plan it is to encourage them to contact a professional who can help them implement one – tout suite.
  • Their privacy. Your focus in this conversation is not to provide them with advice or haggle over the details of their arrangements, but to make sure that they have a plan and that you are able to locate it should something happen.
  • Concerns that need to be addressed. This conversation is about them. Are they happy with the arrangements that they’ve made; is there potential for conflict amongst their chosen beneficiaries and if so how can this be averted; are they comfortable with the fiduciaries that they’ve chosen or does this need to be updated.  If they don't have a plan why not, what are their fears or reasons for procrastinating and how can you and your siblings help.
  • Include your own circumstances if applicable. If you are in a position where receiving money in trust is important or might be important in the future, convey this or other particular concerns to your parents.
  • If you have siblings keep them in the loop by letting them know you are concerned and are addressing this with your parents.

Ways to break the ice include talking about:

  • Planning gone awry. Talk to them about estate planning horror stories that you have heard on the news (a little celebrity gossip can’t help but break the ice, think Georgia O'Keeffe, Steig Larsson, Thomas Kincaid, etc. ) or through your own experience (your neighbor so and so…).
  • Your own planning. If you’ve done your own estate planning it might be helpful to share with them your experience and what you have decided in regards to fiduciaries, etc., as a way of both breaking the ice and so that they know what your own plan entails and who has been designated to implement it.

If there is no planning in place:

  • If your parents do not have estate planning in place encourage them to seek counsel and get it done. Many clients that I work with are so pleased to finally get this out of the way and express that this is something they have been thinking about for “a long time” and their relief and boost in confidence about the state of their affairs is palpable.  Gently remind  them about the added expense, stress and conflict caused to family members if a person dies without estate planning.  I do not recommend putting pressure on them about this - ultimately its their estate and their responsibility but at least having this conversation in a gentle way might encourage them to tackle this task.

Seniors Getting Married - Estate Planning Considerations

Seniors getting married and estate planning.

Seniors getting married and estate planning.

People are getting married later in life.  Marriages, with one or both spouses being seniors, retired, and  having grown children, have become quite common. And while its fantastic to know that love can blossom at any age and usually children and grandchildren are happy that their parents have companions to spend their later years with, these marriages require unique estate planning considerations.  

Estate planning for later life marriages is complicated for a number of reasons. These "senior" marriages can directly impact the inheritance of the children and other family members on both sides. Remarriages also can affect a spouse’s right to alimony payments from a prior spouse, retirement benefits, social security benefits, health insurance, and the spousal medical care obligations. Its important for both spouses to clearly address who their assets are intended to benefit, whether it’s the new spouse, the children and families or a trust – both while the spouses are alive, upon the death of one of them, and when both die.

Other considerations that should be addressed as a part of the estate planning process should include whether long-term care insurance is needed; should income and assets be blended or kept separate; how the primary residence is treated both during life, and upon the death of one spouse, and then both spouses; is a post or prenuptial agreement necessary or advisable as part of the estate planning process; how do the parties wish to pay for future medical expenses (for example, is it advisable to deplete the assets of one spouse first).

People in later year marriages also should consider the conflicts that could arise between the spouse and children should agents named for medical and general powers of attorney need to act. The best way to avoid this is to think these conflicts through in the planning phase and coordinate the choice of fiduciaries in the documents – with the fiduciaries having a clear understanding of the spouse’s agreements to the later life marriage concerns, as delineated above.

Important Documents Locator and Contacts

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225-dome-top

Clients always ask me how to store their estate planning documents and other important papers once their estate plan is done.   I always recommend that they fill out the attached Important Document Locator and Contact Sheet as a part of this process so that family members and friends know who to contact and where to locate important records if necessary.   I also recommend that they store their estate planning documents as follows:

Originals.  Your original Will should be kept in a safe place, preferably in a fireproof safe or safe deposit box. Your original powers of attorney can be kept in your reference notebook.   If you have revised or updated your documents, any old/former documents—including any copies—should be shredded.

Reference Set.  If I did your estate plan, you have been provided with a reference set of your documents in an estate planning binder, creating complete set for your records.  The copy of the will in this binder is not signed—you have only one valid, executed will, which you should keep pursuant to #1, above.  If you decide to provide anyone with a copy of your will, be sure to copy the unsigned, reference will and not the original, signed will.

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Copies for Agent.  You should provide your agents with copies of your executed Powers of Attorney, both General and Medical.  This will enable them to have the documents and act upon them without the necessity of obtaining copies once a disability or other unfortunate circumstance occurs.  They should also be told about your complete estate planning binder (if you have one) and where it is located.

Copies for Physicians.  You should also provide your physicians with copies of your executed Medical Power of Attorney and Living Will.  They will then be able to keep these important documents in your files so that your agents will not have to search for them in the event of illness or accident.

Copies for Home.  For clients living alone, especially aged clients, I recommend that copies of your Medical Powers and Living Will be kept in a readily accessible location such as your refrigerator or freezer in the kitchen, along with a note on the refrigerator door indicating that the documents may be found inside. First responders are taught to check the refrigerator door for important medical and pharmacological information.  Finding the Medical Power of Attorney and Living Will along with other such information will make their treatment decisions easier, and better insure that your dignity is protected.

Fill out the Important Document Locator and Important Contact Information forms that follow. Keep them in a safe but obvious place such as the inside of a desk drawer or kitchen cabinet near the telephone.   This will help your family members and friends in the event of an emergency and also might result in you feeling more organized and in control of your life!

Important Documents Locator and Contacts

DOCUMENT

LOCATION

NOTES

Durable Power of Attorney

Medical Power of Attorney

Original Last Will and/or Trust Documents

Living Will/MOST declaration

Property Deeds

CD Certificates

Personal Banking Accounts

Promissory Notes

Automobile Registrations

Birth, Marriage and Death Certificates

Medical Insurance

Passports

Retirement/Pension Accounts

Life Insurance Accounts

Credit Card Accounts

Stock and Bond Certificates

Long-term care insurance

Safety deposit box information/key

Internet accounts  and passwords information

IMPORTANT CONTACTS

NAME

TELEPHONE NUMBER/EMAIL

Agent for health care power of attorney

Agent for general durable power of attorney

Person named as personal representative in will

Attorney

Accountant

Insurance Providers

HomeAutoLife InsuranceLong-term Care 

Primary Care Physician

AdultsChildren

Personal friend/housesitterfamiliar with home

Veterinarian

Child care provider

Children’s school contact

Children’s local guardian

Children’s preferred babysitter

If you have a hard time printing these sheets I am happy to email you a copy either as a PDF or as a word document that you can customize to suit your needs.  Just send me an email and let me know.

Medical Power of Attorney: Your Agent and You!

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family-mulitigenerational

Medical power of attorney:  When choosing an agent for your medical power of attorney for health care its important to select someone who will respect your wishes for the care and control of your body should something happen to you. They need to have a good idea of what your feelings and beliefs are in this deeply personal area. Here are some areas to explore with your agent about you:

Lifestyle: How essential are these in terms of your quality of life?

1. Being able to eat and drink 2. Being able to enjoy entertainment, movies, TV, reading, listening to music 3. Physical movement and being able to get outdoors 4. Attending outside activities such as church or other programs 5. Avoiding pain and discomfort 6. Being with loved ones 7. Being self‐sufficient and able to communicate

8.  Spirituality.   How much of your comfort and support comes from your spiritual practices such as personal pray, meditation, or interaction with a spiritual or religious community?

9.  Last days.   What are your wishes in regards to the last days of your life? For instance, quiet meditation, lots of friends, or close family members only.

By getting your powers of attorney in place and conveying your wishes to your agent your wishes will be honored and your loved ones spared confusion and last minute guess work.

Tibetan couple in Dharamasala, India
Tibetan couple in Dharamasala, India

Disclaimer -- Content is general information only. Information is not provided as advice for a specific matter, nor does its publication create an attorney-client relationship. Laws vary from one state to another. For legal advice on a specific matter, consult an attorney.