Attorney Bruce Fowler featured in the DBJ's Law Issue: The Challenge For Estate Attorneys Is Getting People To Take Action

April 7, 2017

Related Attorneys: Bruce A. Fowler

Denver Business Journal; The Law Book

Despite the changes in technology that make the process easy, many citizens with ordinary incomes and typical net worth do not have a will.

The consequences of not having a document that specifies how assets should be distributed to heirs can be devastating for survivors. The state will often administer the remains without knowing the deceased’s wishes.

“Now more than ever it’s easy to get a will or basic estate planning documents done but statistics show traditionally 60-70 percent of Americans don’t have a will or document in place,” said Griffin Bridgers, an associate at the Denver law firm Spencer Fane specializing in tax and estate planning.

Bridgers knows from personal experience the trauma that stems from a premature death in a company and little planning ahead of time. It’s important for individuals and especially for businesses to make specific plans to deal with the changes that affect family members and employees.

Shelley Thompson, a shareholder and estates, trust and probate litigation attorney at Burns Figa and Will, said the widespread misunderstanding about estate planning prompted the firm to create a website to help clients with technology tools to aid in the planning process.

The firm’s new website, iwillandtrust.com, is the first online will planning website that engages an attorney to answer clients’ questions and make recommendations on wills and trust issues.

Besides providing accessibility, Thompson says that iwillandtrust.com, “services a market that wouldn’t otherwise engage in attorney…typically very small estates but that need a plan nonetheless.” Iwillandtrust.com services those who do not have a substantial trust or are too young to otherwise engage in an attorney.

Bruce Fowler, chair of Fairfield and Woods’ estate group, works with high net worth clients and faces a different set of issues in estate planning. One is the uncertainty of the federal estate tax, whether it’ll survive the current administration in the White House and Congress.

Fowler said if the estate tax is removed, ultimately much of the high net worth planning may become unnecessary, because most of the planning today is aimed at avoiding tax liability. While the estate tax currently remains in place, Fowler advises all clients that their current work may have to be redone if there’s a change in law.

Thompson said the adjustment in capital gains during the Obama administration has provided flexibility and has eliminated complications for mid-size clients. She doesn’t think that the Trump administration will remove the affordability provision for capital gains, but predicts inflation changes based on the increase in exemptions at the state level.

Bridgers and Fowler said the trend is toward more technology in estate and will planning. The new Revised Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act in Colorado is an important consideration because many people have online accounts such as social media or digital assets and the act makes it clear that the designated fiduciary can access the accounts of the deceased.

Colorado is one of the first states to pass the RUFADAA act. Fowler said it’s a trend in law that provides clarity for digital asset control, preventing the loss of online information.

Bridgers said the psychology of planning for death thwarts efforts to plan for the distribution of assets following death.

“(It’s) the core issue that holds people back, not the availability that holds people back…the challenge for any practitioner is how do you create a sense of urgency for their clients driven by age, wealth, death of a loved one. What would happen if I suffered the same fate? Am I prepared?” Websites that don’t distinguish all the necessary components of planning, or don’t involve an actual attorney throughout the legal process can give users additional legal headaches.

Fowler said so-called blended families can have complex estate documents, even in those with modest estates and can expect potential heirs to fight over ambiguities in a document, or items left out if there are complications or lack of clarity in the documents.

Another recent trend in high net worth client focuses on protecting children’s inheritances through trust arrangements.

Whether it’s through discussions with the children or other heirs to prepare them for a possibility for a large inheritance, giving them the training and skills prior to inheritance to know how to better manage their funds is crucial.

Authored by DBJ's Danielle Ivanovich