Frequently Asked Questions about Estate Planning

Helping Clients in Denver and Fort Collins

Estate planning can often seem overwhelming and confusing. To add some clarity to the process, our attorneys have compiled a list of our FAQs about estate planning in the space below. If you have further inquiries, do not hesitate to contact our office, and we will happily answer your questions.

Probate is the court and process that looks after people who cannot make their own personal, health care and financial decisions. These people fall into three general categories: Minor Children (under age 18 in most states); Incapacitated Adults; and People who have died without legal arrangements to avoid probate. Probate proceedings can be expensive and time-consuming. Additionally, the court proceeding and associated documents are all a matter of public record. Many people choose to avoid probate in order to save money, spare their heirs a legal hassle, and keep their personal affairs private.

This is the most common form of asset ownership between spouses. Joint tenancy (or TBE) has the advantage of avoiding probate at the death of the first spouse. However, the surviving spouse should not add the names of other relatives to their assets. Doing so may subject their assets to loss through the debts, bankruptcies, divorces and/or lawsuits of any additional joint tenants. Joint tenancy planning also may result in unnecessary death taxes on the estate of a married couple.

The document a person signs to provide for the orderly disposition of assets after death. Wills do not avoid probate. Wills have no legal authority until the willmaker dies and the original will is delivered to the Probate Court. Still, everyone with minor children needs a will. It is the only way to appoint the new “parent” of an orphaned child. Special testamentary trust provisions in a will can provide for the management and distribution of assets for your heirs. Additionally, assets can be arranged and coordinated with provisions of the testamentary trusts to avoid death taxes.

Sometimes called an Advance Medical Directive, a living will allows you to state your wishes in advance regarding what types of medical life support measures you prefer to have, or have withheld/withdrawn if you are in a terminal condition (without reasonable hope of recovery) and cannot express your wishes yourself. Oftentimes a living will is executed along with a Durable Power of Attorney for Health care, which gives someone legal authority to make your health care decisions when you are unable to do so yourself.

If you die without even a Will (intestate), the legislature of your state has already determined who will inherit your assets and when they will inherit them. You may not agree with their plan, but roughly 70 percent of Americans currently use it.

You may avoid probate on the transfer of some assets at your death through the use of beneficiary designations. Laws regarding what assets may be transferred without probate (non-probate transfer laws) vary from state to state. Some common examples include life insurance death benefits and bank accounts.

These allow you to appoint someone you know and trust to make your personal health care and financial decisions even when you cannot. If you are incapacitated without these legal documents, then you and your family will be involved in a probate proceeding known as a guardianship and conservatorship. This is the court proceeding where a judge determines who should make these decisions for you under the ongoing supervision of the court.

This is an agreement with three parties: the Trust-makers, the Trustees (or Trust Managers), and the Trust Beneficiaries. For example, a husband and wife may name themselves all three parties to create their trust, manage all the assets transferred to the trust, and have full use and enjoyment of all the trust assets as beneficiaries. Further “back-up” managers can step in under the terms of the trust to manage the assets should the couple become incapacitated or die. Special provisions in the trust also control the management and distribution of assets to heirs in the event of the trustmaker’s death. With proper planning, the couple also can avoid or eliminate death taxes on their estate. The Revocable Living Trust may allow them to accomplish all this outside of any court proceeding.

Whether you are young or old, rich or poor, married or single, if you own titled assets such as a house and want your loved ones to avoid court interference at your death or incapacity, consider a revocable living trust. A trust allows you to bring all of your assets together under one plan.

Estate planning at Legacy Law Group is not “one size fits all” or “cookie cutter.” We offer three levels of planning to suit your varying needs, and you get to choose the level of planning that best fits your family. From starter plans designed primarily for families with young children and not yet much in the way of financial wealth, to more robust plans for well-established families concerned with matters of asset protection, preservation and increased growth, we have you covered.

When we meet for your Family Wealth Planning Session, we will review our three planning levels with you, and you will choose your own fee based on your budget and the planning options that are most important to you and your family.

Our lawyers represent families and businesses throughout varying stages of life:

  • Traditional two parent families or single parents wishing to provide for and protect their children and themselves;
  • Unmarried couples who are either solidifying their relationship through proper planning or dissolving their relationship with the assistance of caring counsel;
  • Blended families negotiating the challenges of creating new relationships with varying expectations;
  • Families looking to ensure that their children with special needs will be taken care of and able to continue to receive government assistance;
  • High net worth families seeking strategies for minimizing estate and income taxes;
  • Family business owners seeking ways to protect and expand their companies and considering how and when to transition to the next generation of ownership;
  • Estate executors and beneficiaries navigating the court process of probate administration; and
  • Family members or trustees carrying out the legacy left behind through a trust administration.

Your plan needs to evolve with you as your life changes and as the law changes. We have designed unique annual membership programs to ensure your plan continues to work throughout your lifetime, that your assets are always owned in the right way and that you are able to feel confident calling us with any legal issue without ever worrying about receiving a bill in the mail for hourly fees. Whether you participate in one of our membership programs or not, our legal professionals keep all of our clients updated about changes in the law and issues that might affect your life. Legacy Law Group often serves the whole family and multiple generations of the same family. From free estate checkups for elderly parents to basic planning documents for young adult children, become part of our client family and feel how much we care.

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