Probate lawyers focus their work on issues that have to do with the end of life, estates, wills and helping people who are not able to manage their own affairs. As probate lawyers, we are privileged to help people plan for and deal with the challenging topics involved in very emotional and personal matters.
Probate attorneys are uniquely qualified to help you plan your estate and to prepare your financial matters for the end of life. Estate planning involves several components:
One of the most important things a probate attorney does is prepare wills so that clients can decide for themselves how their assets and belongings will be distributed after they die. Being able to make that decision can be very empowering.
Wills can be simple or complex depending on your needs. The attorney’s role is not only to help the testator (the person writing the will) express their wishes, but to ensure that the will itself is executed in accordance with state law, which means that it is signed and witnessed correctly. If a will does not meet Colorado’s requirements for a valid will, it won’t be carried out.
Wills also allow parents of minor children to have a say in who will have guardianship of their children should both parents pass away before the children turn 18.
In addition to creating new wills, probate attorneys also create codicils, which are addendums to wills. If a person creates a will and later wants to make some changes, their attorney can help them create a codicil or an entirely new will.
2. Living Wills and Medical Powers of Attorney
Estate planning includes the creation of other crucial documents that impact the end of your life. A living will is a document that allows you to state your wishes about health care options for when you are unconscious or unable to make your own decisions.
You can make your wishes known about things such as feeding tubes, life support, and ventilators. This not only ensures that you can have control over what happens, but it also eases the burden on your family because they do not need to try to guess what your wishes are. We also help our clients create durable medical powers of attorney, a document that names the person you choose who will make health care decisions for you if you are unable to do this yourself.
3. Powers of Attorney
A power of attorney for financial matters is also part of an estate planning package, and this allows you to select someone who will be able to manage your financial affairs if you are unable to do so. Your attorney will be able to pay your bills, move money, and get repairs done to your home. Knowing that there is a person empowered to handle things for you when you cannot provides great peace of mind.
A trust is another document that may be part of an estate plan. A living trust is a popular estate planning document that allows you to place everything you own in a trust that you control during your lifetime and then have your assets distributed to your beneficiaries after you die without having to go through probate court. Trusts are completely private and do not become public record, ensuring privacy for your family.
Probate attorneys help clients consider all of the estate planning tools available and assist in deciding what will help them meet their own personal goals, whether that includes taking care of their children, charitable giving, or reducing the amount of estate taxes that will be owed. Skilled estate planning attorneys have a deep knowledge of estate tax law, an excellent understanding of their client’s personal needs, and an attention to detail.
Probate attorneys also handle cases in probate court. Probate court is where wills are processed and validated. Probate attorneys represent the personal representative, the person named in the will to carry out the wishes of the deceased (sometimes called the executor in other states).
Since probate law is complex and detailed, personal representatives almost always need an attorney to fulfill all the legal requirements. Probate lawyers make sure that the court approves the will and that all the wishes in the will are fully carried out and assets are distributed to the beneficiaries. They are also responsible for making sure all the estate bills are paid and that all assets are accounted for.
We also take on other roles in probate court when it comes to wills. If someone is seeking to challenge a will because they believe it is invalid, we present their case to the court. We also represent beneficiaries of a will in will contest cases (who usually want the will to be upheld). Probate lawyers might also represent a spouse who was not included in the will and is seeking their fair share of the estate. Some probate attorneys represent creditors who are attempting to get paid by the estate.
Probate attorneys also handle cases involving conservatorships. A conservatorship is the appointment of a legal guardian for someone who is not mentally capable of handling their own affairs. This might be due to a medical diagnosis such as Alzheimer’s disease or a coma, or it could be due to a mental illness or mental disability.
A conservator is appointed to manage that person’s financial and personal matters and ensure they are protected and receive the care they need. A conservatorship can also be created when a person under the age of 18 or someone who is mentally incapacitated receives a personal injury settlement and are not able to manage the funds themselves.
You might have seen or heard about the Netflix movie, I Care a Lot, and we want to assure you that Burnham Law does not ever take on abusive cases like the one portrayed in that film. There is an important role for conservatorships and they can, and should be handled in a compassionate, thoughtful, and supportive manner.
An important role for probate attorneys is to simply give legal advice and opinions. Not every problem should be litigated. Not every situation needs to end up in court. Probate attorneys are available to talk over concerns and questions and help clients understand the law, their rights, and the best possible solution. We are able to review wills and advise whether they are valid, discuss the best ways to disinherit family members, evaluate whether a common law spouse has any right to an estate, suggest ways to maximize an estate’s tax position and put your mind at ease about any end of life matter that is worrying you.
Probate attorneys handle delicate, personal matters with wisdom, discretion, and kindness. Call Burnham Law today at 303-990-5308 to discuss your estate planning or conservatorship question. Our skilled attorneys are ready to help you make some of the most important decisions of your life.