Nobody likes to think about their estate plan, because it makes you think about death or disability. It is an uneasy feeling–to brainstorm scenarios of plane crashes or nursing homes. To avoid that, we shelve estate planning for a later date. Procrastinating estate planning is not uncommon. Warren Reams, the founding member of Reams & Reams, did not fully develop his estate plan until well into his seventies. Even estate planning attorneys procrastinate their own estate plan. But you should not.
Putting off estate planning will cause problems. If you die before doing it, your heirs are left without direction. Things may get distributed contrary to your wishes.
A Will, Trust or other estate planning documents give instruction. It tells your heirs what to do with you and your assets after death. One of the more important instructions is who will be responsible to administer your estate? Click here for more general information. The next four questions detail what you should be thinking about for an estate plan:
Who is going to raise your children if both parents cannot?
If you have minor children, your estate plan should nominate a guardian and trustee/conservator of your minor children if both parents cannot. If this is omitted, the court decides, though it will give priority to immediate family. As a parent of a minor child, I have this same issue. My wife and I have to decide who will be the trustee and guardian for her if both of us cannot. This is not an easy decision, as both of our parents live nearby and both are capable of assuming these roles. If you struggle with this, you are not alone.
What happens if your beneficiaries predecease you?
In most estate plans, it is generally normal to give everything to your spouse. If your spouse predeceases you, then everything is given to your children. But what if the children predecease you? Do you give it to your children’s children? What if one of them is disabled or a minor? What if you do not have any children? If your estate plan does not specify a contingent beneficiary, your estate is distributed based on the Colorado Revised Statutes. Your personal representative will search your family tree, he or she will eventually find someone. It could be brother or distant second cousin. If this concerns you, your estate plan should designate contingent (backup) beneficiaries or charities.
Are you omitting any important relationships?
There are two important things about estate plans with family in Colorado: (1) You generally cannot disinherit your spouse; but, (2) you can disinherit your children as long as you do it intentionally. You need to be frank with the estate planning attorney about all your family. If you forget to mention one, that child might have a claim to your estate. The attorney needs to know about everyone in your life to determine the most appropriate recommendation.
What about your digital media?
Your computer media and passwords are becoming more and more part of your life. Digital assets sometimes become part of your estate after death. If you want your personal representative to have access, the attorney needs to know it is important to you, and it can be inserted in your estate plan. You can also also give access to your passwords or media after death or an emergency with certain passwords managers. I recommend Dashlane. Colorado enacted a statute in 2016 to reform how your authorized representatives can access your digital media. If digital media is not part of your Will, your personal representative may have to get a court order first.
If you are considering reviewing or starting an estate plan and need assistance, please contact the Grand Junction estate attorneys at Reams & Reams at 970-242-7847 or firstname.lastname@example.org.