I get asked this question all the time and the best way to really answer this question is in the most “lawyer” way possible….it depends.
It depends on what you want to accomplish. It depends on how large your estate (all of your combined assets) is. It depends on whether or not you own real property, houses or land, and in what state.
Until about 20 years ago, most estate plans consisted of simply a Last Will and Testament and maybe one or two other documents. This process works fine however, proving a Will requires a process called Probate. Probate typically involves the court so it is very fair and equitable. However, it can take a very long time, 6 months to a year, depending on the number of beneficiaries and amount of assets. It is also very complicated to accomplish on ones own and an average retainer fee for an attorney to handle the Probate is around $5,000. To give you an idea of just how complicated it can get, here is a link to the Colorado Judicial website’s instructions for Probate. There are over 20 different sets of instructions and an accompanying 60+ different forms required at various points in the process.
Nowadays, you can avoid the headache and large fees associated with Probate by creating a Trust based estate plan. With a Trust based estate plan, all of your assets and property are placed in a Revocable Living Trust (RLT). That Trust acts like a vehicle to pass all of the included assets and property from one generation to the next, without having to pay the “toll” of the probate process.
But “estate plans” can also accomplish planning for events during your lifetime, not just your death. Incapacity documents can help make the lives of your loved ones easier in the event that you become incapacitated or unable to manage your own affairs. These documents include Medical and Financial Power of Attorney, HIPAA release (for requesting medical records of another) and a Living Will.
To see the full breadth of documents offered in our Estate Plans or to learn more about each individual document, please see our Practice Areas page