Trademark Infringement - How to protect your original ideas and company ID

I recently shared a link to a New York Times article on a t-shirt company that was being very publicly “chastised” for creating and successfully marketing t-shirts with the text from some other gentleman’s twitter feed. Several clients have reached out to me since then wondering about their own trademarks and how to protect them. Every day, legally protected trademarks are used without authorization by a company's competitors and customers. The trademark owner has every right to want to protect their creative work.

Its important to protect your creative ideas and company identity by applying for and enforcing your trademarks.  

Its important to protect your creative ideas and company identity by applying for and enforcing your trademarks.  


Trademark infringement is a serious legal and business concern in today's marketplace. Brand names, logos, domain names, and slogans tied to successful businesses are now all on the internet and readily copied and used by others with a simple cut and paste. This not only causes confusion in the marketplace but also dilutes the distinctiveness of the mark and the program or merchandise that the mark represents. 

Taking action to enforce trademark rights is now a cost of doing business, and it is required to maintain the integrity of the trademark and company that it represents. Trademarks receive legal protection primarily to prevent buyers from being confused about the source of goods or services. If a company that owns a trademark fails to control who uses the mark their underlying legal protection collapses. As a practical matter, the greater the use of the mark on related goods or services by persons other than the trademark owner, the less effective the mark becomes.

Creating and managing an enforcement program is vital to protecting these valuable intangible assets. The most obvious strategy is to send a C&D letter and, then if a satisfactory result is not obtained, resort to litigation.

A typical C&D letter will delineate the trademark owned; explain why the recipient is infringing on that right; and set forth legal claims for trademark infringement (such as: confusion in the marketplace, unfair competition, cybersquatting or dilution under federal and state laws). The letter concludes by requiring that the infringer send written assurances that the infringement will cease, under threat of further legal action. 

The greatest advantage of sending C&D letters is that it can be a relatively low-cost way to resolve trademark infringements. Infringers often recognize that it is in their own best interest to stop the offending activity and cooperate with the trademark owner to resolve the matter amicably. When infringement is questionable, a C&D may be the first step toward negotiating an agreement that keeps the dispute out of court.

For cases that require actual litigation, the C&D is an important first step. The C&D establishes actual notice of the infringement claim and may give rise to a claim of intentional infringement if the activity continues after receipt of the letter. Courts often look to whether the parties attempted to resolve the matter before asking for judicial intervention, and the C&D letter is evidence of such an attempt.

Another way of dealing with a trademark issue may be to send some kind of modified C&D letter. In some cases, a less legalistic or formal communication may better address the situation and avoid hard feelings and negative public perception.  

If the trademark infringement is not cut and dry, a C&D letter might not always be advised.  The infringer might go to court first, and seek a declaratory judgment that it is not infringing on the rights of the trademark owner, and that the trademark set forth in the C&D letter is invalid or otherwise unenforceable. Thus, the goal of the C&D, to cost effectively stop the infringing activity, is thwarted.

Another concern to consider before sending a C&D is to make sure that the recipient of the letter does not have superior rights in the mark. Sometimes when two parties are using the same or similar trademarks, it is not obvious who has better rights. This is true particularly when neither party has a federal trademark registration that carries a presumption of validity as to ownership of rights. In such a case, common law trademark rights must be analyzed to determine who has a priority of use. It is vital to avoid sending a C&D until these issues are sorted out to avoid the recipient of a C&D letter replying with proof of a better right to the mark.

If you would like more information in either applying for a trademark registration or enforcing your ideas or company identity give me a call or shoot me an email.  

 

 

Asset Protection- Irrevocable Trusts and Marital Agreements

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Asset Protection- Irrevocable Trusts and Marital Agreements a Brief Overview

 

When I tell people that I am an estate planning attorney, they often ask about trust planning and wonder if they "need a trust." If a person is engaged in a high risk activity, where they risk having creditor's come after them I explore irrevocable trusts and marital agreements with them as a way to protect their assets.  

  Irrevocable trusts can provide asset protection by protecting the assets in the trust from the liabilities of trust beneficiaries and the trust creator (or settlor).  Assets placed in an irrevocable trust are protected from the liabilities of the beneficiaries if the beneficiaries do not have a certain and defined interest in the trust (the beneficiaries interest is contingent on a future event or subject to the discretion of the trustee); or the trust agreement includes a spendthrift provision which prevents creditors from making claims against the beneficiaries’ interest in the trust and prevents the beneficiaries from transferring or pledging their interests.  If the trust language includes these provisions, the only time assets would become subject to the beneficiaries' creditors is after the assets are distributed from the trust to the beneficiary.  As long as the trust assets are retained in the trust they are protected and can continue to provide for and benefit the beneficiaries beyond the reach of their creditors.

The irrevocable nature of a trust can also limit the reach of the trust settlor's creditors.  Since the trust is “irrevocable” the settlor cannot change his mind and either terminate the trust or take back the trust assets.  Upon transfer into the trust, the settlor has no power or authority to change the terms of the trust, use the trust assets or derive any benefit from the trust except as provided in the trust agreement.  As a result, in the absence of fraud, generally the creditors of a settlor cannot reach an asset within an irrevocable trust.   However, if the settlor retains any interest in the trust or the power to change the trust terms or dispositions, the settlor’s creditors may be able to reach the trust assets to the extent of the settlor’s retained power or interest.

 Off-Shore Trusts

Sounding quite glamorous and mysterious, off-shore trusts are trusts established outside the United States in a foreign jurisdiction.  These trusts attempt to provide the settlor asset protection, while still allowing the settlor control of the trust and the benefit of the trust assets.  Often the asset protection is derived from the fact that it is a difficult undertaking for a creditor to not only obtain a judgment against the settlor’s assets in a foreign jurisdiction but then also to collect against those assets.  In fact, some foreign jurisdictions implemented laws to make this process difficult for creditors to thereby encourage settlors to establish trusts in their jurisdictions (i.e., the Bahamas and the Cook Islands).  However, some of the same aspects that make these trusts unattractive to creditors also create risk for the settlor, as the assets are located in a foreign country and are subject to foreign laws and regulations.  The viability of off-shore trusts has been further eroded by increased reporting requirements for offshore trusts and holdings since 9/11 and recent court rulings such as the Anderson case, wherein the court held that the debtors could be jailed for failing to make assets held in an offshore trust available to the Anderson’s creditors. 

 

Self-Settled Spendthrift Trusts

A self-settled spendthrift trusts (“SSST”) is a form of irrevocable trust that offers greater creditor protection to the settlor while not requiring the settlor to give up absolute control and benefit from the trust assets.  Under a SSST, the settlor can be a beneficiary of the trust and can retain certain controls and authorities within the trust, such as the ability to direct investments or change the trust beneficiaries.  Once an asset is transferred to the trust, a creditor of the settlor has a limited period of time within which to challenge the transfer as an attempt to avoid a debt and assert a claim against the asset.  If the creditor does not make a claim within the proscribed time period, the asset is protected.  Even if the settlor later incurs a debt to the creditor, the creditor cannot reach the asset if the claim is not asserted within the proscribed time period.  The SSST is now authorized in Alaska, Delaware and Nevada.   

Marital Agreements:  Separation of Assets Between Spouses

A final technique asset protection technique that may be considered is the separation of assets and potential liabilities between spouses.  It may be possible to isolate the risks of one spouse (i.e., liabilities through a job or profession) to only that spouse’s separate assets, thereby gaining asset protection for the other spouse’s separate assets.  To achieve this separation, a written agreement between the spouses (a pre- or post-nuptial agreement) that clearly defines the separate property of each spouse is required.  Maintaining the separation of assets requires diligent management of assets and resources during the marriage to ensure that no marital property is created.  This technique would also only be effective to the extent that in the event of a creditor claim, the debtor spouse can show that the liability was incurred by the one spouse individually and not through a marital undertaking.  This type of asset protection planning also has additional ramifications.  In the event of divorce, the marital agreement would apply.  In addition, this technique could have estate tax consequences.  Careful planning is suggested when using this strategy.

Conclusion

When considering taking steps to protect your assets, it is important to keep in mind that no asset protection technique will shield assets from a creditor if the transfer is made in attempt to defraud or hide assets from a creditor with a potential claim.  In fact, such attempts may only compound the problem by turning a financial liability into a criminal liability.

It is also important to keep in mind that much like an estate plan, an asset protection plan must be carefully considered and tailored to meet each person’s individual circumstances.  With many life-legal planning techniques available and a myriad of ways to apply them, asset protection planning should only be done with the guidance of experienced professionals who can correctly analyze your situation and help you formulate a plan to best meet your needs.

Small Business Owners - Business Succession Planning

Business Succession Planning for the Small Business Entreprenuer

Business Succession Planning for the Small Business Entreprenuer

 

When you go on a vacation, you have a plan.  You decide where you are going, how much you have to spend, you buy your tickets, make reservations, and create an itinerary (or not) for your time away.  If you own a business, you also probably have a plan in place for your time away.  Who will be in charge, what needs to be done, and who will be responsible. 

But what happens if you pass away or become incapacitated? You also need a plan for your business should something happen to you.   If a business owner dies without a clearly thought out plan, the partners, employees and family members of the deceased are left without direction and as a result potential conflict. Administering someone's affairs after their death can be a difficult, confusing, and conflict-ridden process if there is no plan in place, especially if there is a business involved.  Communicating with your family and business associates to come up with a plan and then implementing a plan that is clear and concise can help avoid this.

There are several strategies that can be implemented as part of a business owner’s estate planning. 

Companies with more than one owner. 

A buy-sell agreement is a contract between LLC members, shareholders or partners which establishes a plan for the business in case one of the owners dies or becomes incapacitated. The principal benefit of a buy-sell agreement is that it establishes a sale price for the business (or how such a price will be established) and what your share of the business is. A buy-sell lets you document whether you want your partners to buy out your share, if you want to avoid certain individuals from having a role in the business, or if you want your heirs to sell your portion outright, either to co-owners or to the public. Since the business price has been established or a method to establish the price has been predetermined, family members know they are receiving a fair price.

As part of this buy-sell agreement, if the business assets are not liquid, partners often get the capital to buy out a deceased partner's shares from life insurance. A common business practice, each partner takes out a life insurance policy which names the other owners as beneficiaries. This strategy gives surviving owners tax-free proceeds to purchase the deceased's portion of the business from his or her estate.

In a family-run enterprise, you may have some beneficiaries who are involved in the business and others who are not.  You may want to create a buy-sell agreement between the heirs; leave the business ownership to all heirs equally; or leave the business to the heirs that are involved and provide other assets for the ones who are not.  There are many ways to plan for this scenario.  Not planning for it is almost sure to lead to sibling strife,  

Good business planning anticipates the future.   A buy-sell agreement is a very simple, concrete way to ensure that your wishes for your business and estate beneficiaries are implemented without confusion or conflict.

Sole Proprietors

If you're a sole proprietor, your business is you. You need a clear plan of action for what should take place after you're gone. Choose and prepare your successor if you want to pass on the business to another person. If you want your heirs to sell the business, make sure you communicate these wishes and provide a plan for the process.  As with any small business owner, the key to successful estate planning is communication and implementation. You want to communicate with your family about your wishes for your business and you want to implement whatever documents are necessary to facilitate this process. 

 

Estate Planning Must Dos Before Summer Vacation

Get your estate planning done so that you can enjoy your vacation knowing your life legal plan is in place!

Get your estate planning done so that you can enjoy your vacation knowing your life legal plan is in place!

Summer is fast approaching and most of us have already made plans for our vacations, whether it be a trip home to see family, a trip to an exotic country, or camping in our own home state.

Understandably, most of us put more time into planning our adventures then we do in our estate planning. Its a lot more fun!  I can’t tell you how many times clients have reached out just before they take off for a big trip with what I now call the “estate planning itch." Their bags are almost packed, house sitter on board, etc., then the phone call:

“We are leaving next week and are wondering about an estate plan – can you help us quickly get this done.”

Estate planning is a daunting topic to think about. What if something were to happen and one of your family members were to get seriously injured on the trip? What if catastrophe struck? It’s natural to shelve these thoughts and also natural to have them “itch” a little bit.  Why not be proactive and address this now.  Estate planning itself, is actually not that daunting and can be an important tool in not only getting your affairs in order but also in understanding where you are right now in terms of your life planning.  In just a few conversations I can help you sort out and complete your estate planning and almost always clients inform me that it was much easier than they had imagined with great relief. 

Here are seven estate planning tasks that you might want to take care of before you go anywhere this summer.  That way wherever you go you won’t have to worry about the inevitable estate planning itch. 

1. Make a Will

Have you been putting off making a will? Perhaps you don’t think you need one-you do. Or perhaps you don’t think you have enough assets to require one-you still do. These are a few of the many common excuses that could cause turmoil and uncertainty for your family and loved ones were something unforeseen happen to you or a loved one.

Another misunderstanding is that a will is not necessary because the state makes a will for you. True, (these “wills” are actually called intestacy statutes), leaving your final wishes up to the state is fool hardy.  The state decides based on order of relation and not on individual and personal circumstances. 

I’m not even going to try to touch the tip of the iceberg with reasons for why you need a will. The point is, making a will before you go on your summer holiday will let you rest easier while you’re on vacation knowing your life plan is in place.

2. Check Beneficiary Designations

Almost always, a will is not enough to distribute your assets. Some of your largest assets, such as your IRAs, 401(k) plans or life insurance will be distributed outside of your estate to your named contractual beneficiaries. 

Each major financial account lets you designate a beneficiary. Usually you’ll designate the beneficiary on the spot and in a rush while setting up your account. Sometimes your snap decision will be the right one but other times, you might be making your assets more available to certain people than you’d like. For example, do you want your 18-year-old child to have access to your entire retirement savings? Are you certain s/he will spend that large sum of money in the way you’d like him/her to?

It’s worth revisiting who your beneficiaries are in case something happens to you before you travel.  This can be achieved via a simple phone call to your agent or representative.

3. If You Have Children, Please Name a Guardian or Guardians

Regardless of whether or not you make a will, you should always name a guardian (or guardians) for your children. 

It’s devastating to think about something happening to you before your children grow up, but it’s important to name the friends or relatives who can take care of your children according to your values and beliefs.   In Colorado, you can name a guardian to take care of the children and a guardian to take care of the finances if that is appropriate.  If you do not name a guardian it will be up to the Court and relatives to decide who will care for your children. 

You can also create a Pet Trust to care for any animals that you have, providing funds for their care.   

4. Complete your Medical Power of Attorney/Living Will

Sometimes, catastrophe doesn’t mean death. Sometimes, a person is left incapacitated and unable to make decisions about his/her healthcare (being in a coma or otherwise unable to communicate). Who would make the decisions for you if you were incapacitated? If you don't name an agent your loved ones will have to resort to the Court in order to speak to medical personnel on your behalf.  

Signing a medical power of attorney and living will also allows you to specify what type of medical treatment you want and don’t want if you are unable to communicate your wishes.

Why is this necessary? Because without this, your family will have to resort to the the court, who will then appoint a guardian to make those decisions for you. That’s costly both in terms of finances and emotional trauma to your loved ones; and you risk that your wishes won’t be adhered to.

5. Make a General Power of Attorney

Your health care power of attorney allows other people to help make medical decisions for you if you’re incapacitated, in conjunction with the wishes you can specify in a living will. A durable general power of attorney is equally important. This person makes decisions about what happens with your assets and other interests when you are unable to manage them yourself.  Again, if you don't name an agent your loved one's will have to petition the court to appoint a conservator for you.

6.  If your estate plan is complete

Review your fiduciary and beneficiary designations and update them if needed.   Are your choices still appropriate?  If not make the changes now.

7.  If you have children over 18

Once your minor child turns 18, you need to be named as their agent in powers of attorney in order to speak to medical personnel and/or banking and financial institutions, etc.  Whether your child is going off to college or you are just simply trying to schedule a vaccine for travel, it’s important to have these documents in place so that you can be there for them if needed.  

Your Summer Vacation Awaits You….

Think about how good it would feel to have these legal documents completed.   Although chances are good that nothing will happen to you or your loved ones, you don’t want to take the risk that your life plan will be decided by someone other than yourself. 

 


Hoping that your family makes many happy memories this summer!

Hoping that your family makes many happy memories this summer!

How to protect your personal assets from your business liability - five keys.

 

Five key steps to keep your business separate and protect you personally.

Five key steps to keep your business separate and protect you personally.

If your business has its legal planning in place – your personal assets will most likely be protected from any liability that might occur as a result of your business operations.   Following the five key guidelines below will help to create and maintain your business as a separate entity- protecting your family, home, and other personal assets from being “up for grabs“ should someone sue your business.

A properly formed business in Colorado is legally created and regulated by state laws and thus legally separate from the individuals who own them. To retain this separation, certain legal requirements and formalities regarding the maintenance and operation of the business must be followed. If these requirements are not met, the separation may be disregarded, with disastrous consequences.

The following is a brief summary of some of the benefits of having a properly formed legal entity for your business, no matter how large or small it is:

  • Protection of Limited Liability:  If you treat your business as an entity, separate from yourself, it is highly unlikely that the business entity will be disregarded by a court or government agency like the IRS. If it were disregarded, the result could be financially devastating. If the business entity cannot pay its debts, whether from regular operations or from liability attaching as a result of lawsuit or government action, your personal assets would be made available to the creditors of the business entity.
  • Continual / Perpetual Existence: If businesses are properly planned for the death or disability of the owner does not mean that the business is dissolved (in the case of death) or unable to conduct business (in the case of disability). Changes in ownership and management are specifically addressed in the by-laws of corporations, in the operating agreements of LLCs, and in the partnership agreements of LPs.
  • Access to capital: A business entity is a more attractive vehicle for investors than a sole proprietorship. Private investors are able to invest in business entities with confidence. This confidence comes from being able to invest and receive either a debt obligation (which may be convertible into equity under certain circumstances) or a portion of the ownership of the entity.
  • Potential tax benefits: The owners of corporations and LLCs taxed as corporations may be able to receive tax benefits by sheltering business income in the entity—thus reducing the owners’ overall tax liability.
  • Commercial credibility: American consumers are more accustomed to purchasing goods and services from businesses than sole proprietors. This instant reputability is another leading reason individuals use a legally separate entity as the business vehicle of choice.
  • Employee benefits: Under certain circumstances, the ability to offer more comprehensive and deductible fringe benefits may result from the use of a business entity.

THE CHALLENGE
All too often, the requirements of just keeping a small business running leave little time for the owner or owners to engage in corporate/LLC/LP “housekeeping” and “maintenance.” Without some level of diligence on the part of the owners, a gradual merger of the life of the business and the life of one or more of the owners or managers may begin. When this happens, the separate legal status of the business entity begins to fade.

WHAT YOU NEED TO DO TO PROTECT YOURSELF AND YOUR BUSINESS
The following  five key steps should be taken by all business entities, even those owned and managed by only one person.

1.  Compliance with the Secretary of State:

As an initial matter, you should ensure that your business entity is in good standing at all times with the Colorado Secretary of State. You will receive an annual report from the Colorado Secretary of State each year (for entities other than Limited Partnerships). It is important that you complete and return this annual report with the required fee. Even if your entity is delinquent in annual filings or other matters, it is usually very easy to bring your entity into compliance with the Secretary of State. Typically, this will involve the filing of a delinquent annual statement or, possibly, reinstating your entity if it has been deemed dormant or inactive.

2.  Internal Governance in Compliance with State Law:

It is important to keep your internal entity governance up to date. This step can not be over emphasized in its importance. Being in good standing with the Secretary of State is only the initial step in having your business entity recognized as separate from you (as the owner) at some future time whether in court or by a government agency.

3.  Corporate Book
The most important action item is to ensure that your business document binder remains up to date. (This binder is universally referred to as the “Corporate Book” irrespective of whether you own a corporation, LLC or LP.) The binder should contain your entity’s organizing documents (articles of incorporation or articles of organization), the operating documents (by-laws, operating agreement, or partnership agreement), evidence of ownership (signed stock certificates, membership certificates, or partnership certificates), transfer ledgers, resolutions and agreements to extraordinary actions (opening bank accounts, signing a lease, making tax decisions, appointing officers, etc.), minutes of each annual meeting (discussed further below), tax documents (such as the Request for Employer Identification Number on Form SS-4 [the tax identification number for domestic business entities], S-Corporation Election on Form 2553, Tax Returns on the applicable forms [1065, 1120, 1120-S, etc.]), required permits and licenses for your type of business, leases, loan documents, and any other documentation that is evidence of your respect for the separation of the business entity from yourself.

4.  Annual Meeting

Reviewing the actions of the entity and planning for any upcoming changes on an annual basis is important. The documentation of this annual review/meeting in the Corporate Book is one of the first items a future judge will review if ever asked to disregard your entity.

5.  Keeping It Separate - Day to Day

You should also make sure the following tasks are accomplished and used in the daily running of your company:

  • Open a bank account (usually a checking account) in the name of your entity.
  • Ensure that you can document all moneys put into your entity in return for your ownership.
  • In any interactions your entity has with other commercial enterprises or individuals, make certain that it is clear that you are acting on behalf of your entity and not as an individual.
  • Use letterhead on all of your correspondence and contracts.
  • Include the entity designation (“Inc.,” “Limited,” “Ltd.,” “LLC”) whenever possible on business identifiers such as business cards, advertisements, etc.
  • Always sign documents in your representative capacity, and not as an individual:

YOUR ENTITY NAME

______________________________________________
by: YOUR NAME, YOUR TITLE (Manger, President, Owner, etc.)

  • Ensure that all assets that are meant to be owned by your company are titled in the name of your entity and not in your name personally.
  • Never commingle the funds or assets of your entity with your personal funds and assets. If you need to fund the operations of your company with your personal assets, document the transfer as either a loan or a contribution to the capital of your entity. If you need to use assets of the company for personal reasons, distribute the assets out of the company to yourself first as income, profit distributions, or a return of your capital contribution.

 

 

Medical Power of Attorney - Choosing Your Agent

In completing your POAs its important to choose an appropriate agent. Here are five criteria to think about in relation to choosing an agent for your medical power of attorney.

1.  Personal belief:  Since the concept of withholding artificial-life support runs contrary to the teachings of some religions and is a very personal decision, it is helpful to find a healthcare agent who understands your feelings in this regard and whose own beliefs are not contrary to your own.

2. Communication: It is important to choose someone you are comfortable speaking with about your health care wishes and it should be clear to you that not only do they understand them but they will be able to communicate these to your health care providers and family members if necessary.

3. Practical reality:  Its critical that the person you choose is willing to accept responsibility and agree to act as your agent - "ready and able to serve".

4.  Voice:  In choosing an agent be sure that they will be able to speak up and stand firm on your behalf - even if faced with physicians who are advising otherwise or other close family members who disagree.

5.  Availability: Make sure this person is likely to be accessible and capable of serving as your agent well into the future.

 

 

 

 

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.

 

Pre and Post Nuptial Agreements in Colorado

What is a Marital Agreement?
Pre- and postnuptial agreements (marital agreements) are important tools for couples to manage their assets and avoid conflict, both before and during their marriage and as part of the process of separating if the marriage ends. Prenuptial agreements are contracts executed prior to marriage and post-nuptial agreements are contracts made between the spouses during the marriage, that allow the parties to agree to and delineate the division of assets should a legal separation, divorce or death occur. These agreements are legally binding contracts which can protect both parties by creating a plan that if conscionable will be enforceable and predictable – thereby taking the potential conflict out of the difficult process of separating.

Every couple should consider a marital agreement as a potential tool to enable them to plan for the future, protect their assets and avoid conflict. Couples who do not have a marital agreement are subject to the provisions of the Colorado Uniform Dissolution of Marriage Act, which will determine their rights in the case of separation or divorce; and the Colorado Probate Code, which will determine the rights of the surviving spouse and other heirs, upon death if proper estate planning has not been completed.

How Colorado Law Works for Couples without a Marital Agreement
Individuals that are married and living in Colorado have statutory rights if the marriage terminates by divorce. Colorado law defines two types of property that can exist during the marriage. Separate property is the property owned prior to the marriage, and all property received by gift or inheritance during the marriage. Marital property includes all property earned by either spouse during the marriage, including deferred compensation; and all income and appreciation on separate property, whether realized or not – regardless of how the property is titled.
When a couple divorces in Colorado, each party keeps his or her separate property – if it was kept separate during the marriage and not co-mingled with marital property. If the parties cannot reach an agreement about the division of property during a divorce, the court is directed to divide the marital property in the proportion that it deems just after considering all relevant factors.

In addition to dividing marital property, a divorce court can award maintenance if it finds that one of the parties lacks sufficient income or property to provide for his or her reasonable needs. The amount and length of a maintenance order is determined by the court’s just determination after considering all relevant factors. Colorado courts have been unpredictable in awarding maintenance and thus it could have a significant financial impact on both parties.
Why Should Couples Consider Marital Agreements
Marital agreements can be used to define the parties’ rights in regards to the appreciation of separate property and all marital property accrued during the marriage. Couples who have children from previous marriages are able to provide for these children and protect their inheritance in the event of a divorce from a subsequent spouse. If one of the spouses owns a business, a marital agreement can ensure that the new spouse does not become entangled in the company should a separation occur.
Marital agreements identify, define, and resolve legitimate issues related to the couples’ finances, estate plans and business interests – while the parties are free of the emotional turmoil created during a separation process. Advantages of premarital agreements for both parties include:
Avoiding litigation costs
Protecting against fears of family members such as children from previous marriages
Protecting family assets
Protecting business assets
Protecting against creditors
Predetermined and thus predictable disposition of property

Contents of a Colorado Prenuptial Agreement
A marital agreement may address the following issues:
1. Spousal Maintenance: whether it is waived, set at a predetermined amount, based on years of marriage, etc.
2. Division of property and debts: whether assets acquired after the marriage are kept separate; whether future appreciation on existing assets are separate property; how to apportion pension funds, retirement benefits or other intangible assets.
3. Inheritance: a spouse may agree to waive his or ability to take an elective share of the estate thereby protecting children from a previous marriages’ legacy.
4. Rights and obligations under insurance policies, employee benefit plans, and other assets such as these.
5. Waiver of Rights Upon Death: a common provision in prenuptial or postnuptial agreements designed to prevent probate laws or prior wills from trumping the terms of the prenuptial or postnuptial agreement.
6. Alternative Dispute Resolution: a provision requiring the complaining party to mediate or arbitrate any dispute and preventing him or her from filing a costly lawsuit.
7. Attorney’s fees: who pays for attorney’s fees if the parties are unable to abide by the terms of the agreement.
If the parties have children during the marriage, a marital agreement cannot legally bind either party to agreements made regarding child support, physical custody, parenting time and decision-making authority. The parties may agree on proposed terms for these issues but these terms would be subject to the court’s later approval.

What does a Marital Agreement do?
A marital agreement allows the engaged or married couple to negotiate around Colorado law in order to define separate property and marital property. By means of a marital agreement you can define separate property to include all income from and appreciation on your separate property. You can also protect your earned income by defining that as separate property, so that assets purchased or investments made with your earned income will remain your separate property upon divorce. Thus, by altering the definitions of separate property and marital property from those provided by statute, you can protect not only the core of your separate property which you amassed prior to your marriage, but also the earnings from and appreciation on that property. If you wish to restrict your spouse’s rights upon divorce to your earned income, including retirement benefits, you can do that as well.
Spouses can waive their rights to maintenance payments in a marital agreement or they can agree to a certain amount of maintenance to be paid to the less wealthy spouse in the event of a divorce. However, if at the time of a divorce, the court determines that the spousal maintenance terms in the agreement are unconscionable, the court can render that portion of the prenuptial null and void.

Finally, a marital agreement can allow couples to determine what rights a surviving spouse will have upon the first spouse’s death. For example, in many marital agreements, each spouse waives his or her right to reject the terms of the others’ will and elect to take up to half of the estate outright (depending on the length of the marriage). Such a waiver ensures that the estate plan of the first spouse to die will be honored by the surviving spouse.

Why Couples Choose to Alter Spousal Rights Provided by Law.
Couples choose to alter their statutory rights for a number of reasons. Some people simply wish to have certainty as to property rights and maintenance payments upon a potential divorce. By entering into a marital agreement, they eliminate much of the financial uncertainty associated with a divorce. A fairly negotiated marital agreement can provide some assurance to the wealthier spouse as to the extent of the financial impact of a divorce and provide the less wealthy spouse with some guarantee to his or her entitlement to property distribution and maintenance.

People who have children from a previous marriage may wish to protect their assets for these children’s benefit. A marital agreement that addresses the rights of a surviving spouse can protect the deceased spouse’s estate for the benefit of children from a previous marriage as well.

Sometimes parents encourage their adult children to enter into a marital agreement in order to protect assets owned by the child that were accumulated by previous generations. Usually, a wealthy family wants to ensure that assets that have been gifted to adult children do not become vulnerable to the spouse in a divorce situation.

Enforceability of a Marital Agreement.
Colorado adopted the Colorado Marital Agreement Act in 1986. This statute allows the waiver of statutory property and maintenance rights of spouses either before or during a marriage. Thus, the general statutory rule is that marital agreements are valid and binding contracts. However, one party can have the agreement voided if he or she did not sign it voluntarily or if the other party did not provide a fair and reasonable disclosure of his or her property and financial obligations.

When one spouse challenges the validity of a prenuptial, the court will look at several factors to determine whether the agreement should be enforced. The two most important factors the court considers are the adequacy of the financial disclosure and whether either party was under duress when signing the agreement. Full and complete disclosure of all assets is required prior to the signing of the prenuptial agreement because a party cannot knowingly waive rights unless he or she has sufficient information about the potential value of those rights. Duress is reviewed as a question of fact and the court may consider factors such as the timing of the agreement (i.e., was the spouse forced to sign it right before the wedding, etc.) and whether each spouse had
independent counsel. It is extremely important that both parties have their own legal adviser during the preparation and execution of a marital agreement.

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.

Colorado Advance Directives and Do Not Resuscitate Orders FAQs

Medical Power of Attorneys, Living Wills, DNRs, CPR Directives. Many clients want to make sure their medical choices are adhered to if they are unable to speak for themselves. To help them understand the basics - what are these documents and what do they do - I have written a brief summary, below.  I strongly recommend that all of my clients, friends, and family have these documents completed so that their choices are honored about the care and control of their health care treatment if they cannot speak for themselves.  This also avoids the terrible and onerous burden of having their close family members or friends have to go to court to obtain an order allowing them access to the care and treatment of their loved ones, should something happen, if these documents are not complete.

What is an advance directive?

An advance directive tells your doctor what kind of care you would like to have if you become unable to make medical decisions (for example, if you are in a coma). If you are admitted to the hospital, the hospital staff will probably talk to you about advance directives.  If you are not hospitalized these documents are still important to have on hand.

A good advance directive describes the kind of treatment you would want depending on how sick you are. For example, the directives would describe what kind of care you want if you have an terminal condition or illness that you are unlikely to recover from, or if you are permanently unconscious. Advance directives usually tell your doctor that you don’t want certain kinds of treatment. However, they can also say that you want a certain treatment no matter how ill you are.

Colorado’s advanced directives are called Medical Powers of Attorney. The signer is making statements in advance about his or her preferences for medical care should he or she be unable to speak for themselves.

What is a medical power of attorney?

A medical power of attorney (POA) for health care states whom you have chosen to make health care decisions for you by allowing you to name an agent to step into your shoes and also allows you to express legally binding decisions about end of life choices. It usually becomes active any time you are unconscious or unable to make medical decisions. A POA is legally binding, so long as the named agent is present. If the agent is not present then the medical personnel will look to the language and wishes expressed in the living will and most likely adhere to the wishes expressed therein.

What is a living will?

A living will is another type of advance directive. It is a written, legal document that describes the kind of medical treatments or life-sustaining treatments you would want if you were seriously or terminally ill.

If your agent for medical power of attorney is not available to speak on your behalf the medical personnel will generally adhere to the wishes expressed in a living will, so long as it is properly executed per Colorado statute.

What is a do not resuscitate order?

A do not resuscitate (DNR) order is another kind of advance directive. A DNR is a request not to have cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) if your heart stops or if you stop breathing. Unless given other instructions, hospital staff will try to help any patient whose heart has stopped or who has stopped breathing. You can use an advance directive form or tell your doctor that you do not want to be resuscitated. Your doctor will put the DNR order in your medical chart. You both must sign this form in advance.

A medical ID allows you to communicate your choice when you cannot speak for yourself. A DNR request is usually made by the patient via a valid form, bracelet or agent named in the medical power of attorney, and allows the medical teams taking care of them to honor and adhere to the patient’s wishes.

In Colorado, CPR and advanced cardiac life support (ACLS) will not be performed if a valid written DNR order or CPR directive form is present. In Colorado, it is typical for emergency medical services personnel who are presented with a valid DNR form, signed by your doctor, or who identify a standard DNR bracelet on you, to comply with the DNR order.

Advanced Directives are an important part of your life planning necessities.

Advanced Directives are an important part of your life planning necessities.

 What is a CPR Directive

A CPR directive is similar to a DNR order.  The Colorado CPR directive must be signed by both the individual  and his/her physician.  CPR directives must be immediately visible to emergency personnel. At home, the best locations are right by the front door, on the refrigerator, or by the bedside of a home-bound individual.

For more active clients with strong feelings about CPR directives, I recommend a special no-CPR bracelet or necklace that can be purchased from the Award and Sign Connection or MedicAlert Foundation.

Should you complete your advance directives?

By completing your advance directives, you are making your preferences about your medical care known before its too late. This will spare your loved ones the stress of trying to make decisions about your care and you receiving care against your wishes or beliefs. Any person 18 years of age or older can and should prepare their advance directives. Parents who send their children off to college should make sure the kids have medical POAs completed, so that should something happen they can make medical decisions for their children without having to get a court order for guardianship or conservatorship – same with adults with elderly parents, spouses, and single people.

Review your estate plan to make sure it still fits your life plan.

Many clients have an estate plan in place - but for these documents to really serve the purposes they were created for they sometimes need to be updated as life circumstances change and time marches on.  

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Periodically reviewing your plan estate plan ensures it accurately reflects your current life plan - both your present needs and your goals going forward.   Make sure you review and update your estate plan if your personal or financial situation changes or if a number of years have gone by and for instance your minor children now have children of their own.

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Some of the most important triggers for updating your estate plan include:

Divorce. Once your divorce is finalized, your plan should be revised as quickly as possible to reflect your current situation.   In addition, you can take steps to protect your heirs from potential future relationships that might impact their legacy unintentionally.

Re-Marriage. If you and your new spouse both have children from a previous marriage or relationship, working with an estate planning attorney is essential to navigate the complexities of providing for the children of both parents.   

Birth or Adoption of Children. In addition to providing for your children’s financial future, any good estate plan will also allow you to appoint a legal guardian (both for finances and physical care) in the event you and your spouse die or are incapacitated.  The guardian designation should be updated as needed depending on circumstances and should always reflect the best interests of the child/children NOW.

Illness or Injury. If you or one of your family members becomes seriously ill, you may want to consider changing your plan to reflect increased needs and or the creation of trusts for special needs, etc.

Changes in Tax Laws. Tax laws are constantly changing and can dramatically affect your estate plan.   An estate lawyer can  help ensure that your plan takes advantage of new legislation and makes sure you have a viable, current asset protection plan in place so that your estate avoids taxes as much as possible.

Inheritance. If you receive a large inheritance, this could shift your estate planning considerably.   The increased value of your estate may cause you to change how your assets are distributed upon your death, as you might want or need to add trusts for your beneficiaries and or more charitable contributions or both.

These are just a few examples of when a meeting with your estate planning attorney is in order to make sure your estate plan meets your life plan.  I am happy to discuss my client's current plans with them any time they feel the need for such a review: and always available to review a new client's "old plan" as part of my complimentary initial consultation.  

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.

On Gratitude

Luke at 9 weeks old in 2003.

Luke at 9 weeks old in 2003.

I recently lost my 14-year-old, yellow lab, Master Luke. After many days of tears and grief, I woke up this morning feeling soothed by a deep sense of love and gratitude.  My aching heart, my sadness, and my sense of loss are being gently transformed by my appreciation for the great gift I have received in having this incredible being of light and love in my life for so many years and through so much change.

Since gratitude is such an important and healing thread in all of our lives I thought to pay it forward a little by reminding us all of some simple ways that we can express our appreciation and gratitude to those who touch our lives.  There are many ways to say thanks and it is always nice to reach out to those who have touched us or made a difference.

Some simple ways to express gratitude include:

  • Bake some cookies or other special treat or buy some from a bakery and deliver them or have them delivered.
  • Send a handwritten card or thank you note via snail mail.
  • Brighten someone’s day by sending or delivering flowers or a nice plant.
  • Give a small but useful gift or gift card to someone as an expression of appreciation.
  • Make a donation to a charity in someone's name who has touched our life as a way of saying thanks.
  • Chocolate, specialty coffee, a nice tea, healthy treats that can be enjoyed are always appreciated!
  • Give them a shout out on social media and let others chime in as to how special they are as well.  

These might seem a bit old fashioned, but when was the last time you got a card in the mail or flowers delivered as an expression of appreciation? Life is precious and our connections to each other are a big part of that so why not reach out to say thanks now and then without using the strokes on the keyboard.  If you have a special way of expressing gratitude please share here by posting a comment.

Framing Your Work: a Legal Plan for Artists and Healers

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As a solo practitioner with 20 years of experience practicing law, I have been truly touched by the myriad of entrepreneurs that I have counseled in making their vision a reality. One area that I have particularly enjoyed is representing artists, healers, and other creative people in the legal aspects of their unique endeavors. Thus, allowing them to focus their time and energy on their creative work and not the legal framework necessary to protect and support it.

I represent, counsel, and advocate on behalf of the creative small business entrepreneur, artists, and practitioners in the healing modalities. It is an honor for me to represent, value, support and protect these creative independent artists and healers and the work they contribute so that they can focus on shining their bright light amongst us.

To this end, I believe that the law and legal problem solving methods are very powerful and I use these tools to empower my clients. This means making sure their contracts actually protect their interests and work. It means putting processes in place to make sure that they get paid on time and that their original ideas and work are protected. Staying ahead of the game by being properly informed is good planning. Legal planning is life planning.

What I actually can do for you if you are an artist or healer is to provide multi-faceted representation to facilitate your artistic work (whether it be painting or massage or some other unique form of expression). This may include but is certainly not limited to:

Establishing and helping to implement a new company – separating personal assets from business assets is a must.

Protecting original ideas through trademarks, copyrights, licensing agreements and enforcement efforts.

Advocating for your needs and priorities to help resolve disputes.

Negotiating and drafting contracts for artists, therapists, and other independent spirits so that you get paid for your work and your work is protected and only used with your consent.

Advising and providing guidance on laws and regulations that impact your work.

If you are an independent spirit and would like to discuss how I can help get your legal framework up and running give me a call to explore this further.  I am happy to meet with you for a complimentary consultation.

Writing a "last" letter when your healthy

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I recently read an article in the New York Times that I thought was important.  I work in estate planning and so I meet with people all the time to discuss their end of life wishes in regards to both the care and control of their body should they become incapacitated and who they want to inherit their estate when they die.  Inevitably, as we discuss these important issues, we end up talking about and exploring their own views on both death and family.  I feel very blessed to participate in these conversations as I learn so much about life and the myriad of ways that it unfolds.  What is always apparent and such a constant teaching for me is that each of us is unique and all of us are full of love.  Sometimes the decisions are clear and easy and sometimes my client's really struggle with filling in the "estate planning blanks" such as who they would like to serve as their personal representative, who they would like to serve as their agent for their medical power of attorney, etc. Once my services are complete, I advise my clients about how to let their loved ones know where their documents are and to make sure their agents understand their wishes by having conversations with them about the documents that I have prepared.  The one thing that I am missing in these conversations because it is not a "legal issue" is that other conversation:  what is left unsaid that you would like to to say to your loved ones.  In this article from the New York Times, I learned that there is a letter writing project that encourages people to write to their loved ones.  The template allows people to complete seven life review tasks: acknowledging important people in our lives; remembering treasured moments; apologizing to those we may have hurt; forgiving those who have hurt us; and saying “thank you,” “I love you” and “goodbye.”

Here is the link to the article in the Times.  Here is the link to a template for people who are seriously ill.  Here is a link for healthy people who want to leave a letter for their loved ones.

What a great gift both for the letter writer and the recipients - I intend to tell my clients about this from now on - this is an idea worth sharing!

Beneficiary Deeds In Colorado - Avoid Probate for Small Estates

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Beneficiary deeds can help avoid the need to probate small estates. Under Colorado’s simplified probate process, Colorado's probate code allows the beneficiaries of an estate to collect the estate assets by using a small estate affidavit, rather than a going through a full probate procedure, if the estate consists only of personal property with a value not exceeding $64,000.00 in 2016.

No such procedure is available in Colorado to clear title to real property at death. However, if a beneficiary deed has been filed prior to the death of the property owner, marketable title to the beneficiary can be transferred after death, without the need for probate administration. The beneficiary deed transfers the property outside of the estate and the value is not included in the estate.

Colorado’s beneficiary deed statute carefully defines the interest of the beneficiary in order to protect the rights of other parties interested in the property. First, during the lifetime of the owner who grants the beneficiary deed, the beneficiary has no legal right or interest to the property whatsoever, and the owner retains full power and authority with respect to the property without the need to notify or obtain the consent of beneficiary for any purpose.  The beneficiary deed also provides an alternative method to transfer real property to an owner's trust at death, avoiding issues with lenders that might occur when mortgaged property is transferred to a trust during an owner's lifetime.

Under Colorado’s beneficiary deed law, the beneficiary deed must be recorded before the death of the owner. If not recorded before the death of the grantor, the property will then eschew to the deceased’s estate. A beneficiary deed can be revoked during the owner's lifetime by recording a revocation of the deed, or by recording another beneficiary deed executed after the revoked deed. A subsequent beneficiary deed revokes all beneficiary designations in their entirety, even if the subsequent deed doesn't convey the owner's entire interest in the property. At the owner's death, the most recently executed beneficiary deed or revocation of all beneficiary deeds or revocations recorded before the owner's death controls. It is important to note that if there is an effective beneficiary deed in place at the owner's death, the owner's Last Will does not control disposition of the real property, regardless of the date of the Last Will.

An owner of an interest in real property in joint tenancy may execute and record a beneficiary deed, but the deed is only effective if the joint tenant-owner is the last joint tenant to die of all the joint tenants. If the joint tenant-grantor is not the last joint tenant to die, the beneficiary deed is not effective at his or her death, and the grantee-beneficiary does not become a joint tenant with the surviving joint tenants. The law specifically provides that a beneficiary deed does not sever a joint tenancy.

The grantee-beneficiary named on a beneficiary deed effective at an owner's death does not immediately receive marketable title. The grantee-beneficiary's interest is subject to all conveyances, encumbrances, assignments, contracts, mortgages, liens and other interests affecting title to the property, regardless of when they were created, as long as notice of the interest is recorded within four months after the owner's death. After this four-month period, the grantee-beneficiary can pass marketable title to a purchaser of the property. However, the grantee-beneficiary may remain accountable for the proceeds of the property to persons interested the owner's probate estate for up to three years. If the probate assets are insufficient to cover claims by creditors, by a surviving spouse or children for statutory allowances, or a Medicaid recovery claim, the personal representative may bring a proceeding against the grantee-beneficiary to recover a share of the equity in the property, to the extent necessary to discharge the claims. The personal representative must begin such a proceeding within one year after the death of the deceased owner. Other persons whose claims against the grantee-beneficiary might be brought as late as three years after the owner's death can be barred earlier, if the owner's death certificate is recorded in the real property records.

The beneficiary deed statute specifically provides that a person cannot qualify for Medicaid assistance if the person has a beneficiary deed in effect. To ensure that a revocation can be made should a person require Medicaid assistance, any person executing a beneficiary deed should also execute a power of attorney specifically authorizing an agent to execute and record a revocation of any beneficiary deed, if necessary for purposes of qualifying for Medicaid.

Shimer Law can answer your questions about the possibility of using a beneficiary deed in your estate planning to avoid probate and ensure that your real property passes as you intend it to.

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.

Estate Planning is Life Planning!

Having an estate plan in place is an important part of your life plan - if not for you, for your loved ones!

Having an estate plan in place is an important part of your life plan - if not for you, for your loved ones!

Regardless of whether a loved one in your family is facing a debilitating disease such as Alzheimer’s, ideally you should have your legal planning in place for such an event – thereby taking one less major stressor off the table should something occur. Legal life planning should include: Estate planning documents including Last Will, Powers of Attorney and Living Will. If you have already completed these documents then it is important to review existing legal documents and make necessary updates. This allows you and your family to:

  • Make legal plans for finances and property
  • Put plans in place for enacting your future health care and long-term care preferences
  • Name another person to make decisions on your behalf when you no longer can

At a minimum your estate planning documents should include:

General durable power of attorney .  The power of attorney allows you (the principal) to name another individual (called an attorney-in-fact or agent) to make financial and other decisions when you are no longer able. A successor agent or agents should also be named in case the original agent you choose is unavailable or unwilling to serve. Power of attorney does not give the person you appoint (agent) the authority to override your decision making. You maintain the right to make your own decisions, as long as you have legal capacity. A durable power of attorney for finances/property allows you to designate another person to make decisions about your finances, such as income, assets and investments, when you can longer do so.

Power of attorney for health care.  A power of attorney for health care allows you to name a health care agent to make health care decisions on your behalf when you are no longer able.

Health decisions covered by the power of attorney for health care include:

  • Doctors and other health care providers
  • Types of treatments
  • Care facilities
  • End-of-life care decisions, such as the use of feeding tubes
  • Do not resuscitate (DNR) orders
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Discuss your wishes regarding care with your chosen agent early and often to make sure that this person understands your wishes and is willing and able to act on your behalf when the times comes.

Living will .  A living will, a type of advance directive, expresses your wishes for what medical treatment you want, or do not want, near end of life, such as life-prolonging treatments. In Colorado, this document should be respected and adhered to by medical personnel so long as it has been signed in front of two witnesses and notarized. It is a document you should prepare and sign before any disease such as Alzheimer’s progresses.

Last Will and Testament.  Your Last Will and Testament provides information about how your estate will be distributed upon death. In your will, you may name a personal representative, the person who will manage your estate, and beneficiaries, the person(s) who will receive the assets in the estate.

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.

Probate: Estate Tax - Filing Returns

Probate and state and federal tax returns.

Probate and state and federal tax returns.

Probate and Estate Tax Returns If you are the Personal Representative or an estate, you will need to work with an accountant to file the last tax return (1040) for the deceased person whose estate you are administering. This tax return should be filed by April 15th of the year following the death and should be marked at the top Deceased Final Return. You will need to gather and collect the financial records and 1099s that the deceased receives to complete this process. Ideally, you can work with the accountant who handled the deceased’s previous tax returns, but if not the accountant you hire will most likely need a copy of the deceased’s tax return form the previous year and all the regular documents to complete the Final Return.  Its a good idea to start a file right away and then as you come across pertinent documents or as they come in the mail you can place them in the file for the accountant.

As a personal representative you may also have to file an estate tax return (IRS form1041). A deceased person’s estate is a separate legal entity for federal income tax purposes. You will need to acquire a federal identification number for the estate.

There are two different scenarios in which an estate must file a return with the federal government. If the estate is over the federal estate tax exemption amount of $5.43 million for deaths in 2015 the estate must file a return. If the estate does not fall into this category, the personal representative may still have to file a tax return for the estate.

Does the Estate need to file a tax return?

This is a common question that I get from my Probate clients. The Personal Representative must file a federal income tax return (Form 1041) if the estate has either:

  • Gross income for the tax year of $600 or more
  • A beneficiary who is a nonresident alien

What constitutes income in regards to the Estate?

Common examples are rents from real estate, monetary benefits received by the person after death, or interest on an estate bank account.  Your accountant should be able to tell you whether income generated after the person’s death should go on their personal 1040 for that year or be considered estate income, requiring the filing of the federal estate return 1041. It is important to keep accurate records and present these to the accountant for a through review

If the personal representative promptly distributes all the estate assets to the people who inherit them, the estate may not have income, and the personal representative may not need to file an income tax return for it but its a good idea to discuss this with the accountant who prepares the final return to ensure that all income is accounted for.