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Trusts & Estates Law/Estate Planning - Special Needs


I'm a resident of Colorado. I need to establish an estate plan that would provide for the care of my disabled wife, should she outlive me. A professional fiduciary would be needed. Choosing an attorney is an intimidating process, because there's very little impartial information available. I'm in contact with a firm that has the expertise I need. The two senior partners are members of ACTEC, but both have served as Public Administrators in Denver.  That worries me, because the probate scene here is a long-running horror show. Is that a good reason to be worried?  Also, would it be best to designate a corporate fiduciary, rather than relying on the firm that draws up the estate plan? The firm that I'm considering offers both services. Thank you for your generous help.

Thanks for your question.  Although I'm a member of the Colorado Bar, I'm on "inactive" status there, so I cannot give you advice based on Colorado law.  I can tell you that members of ACTEC are very highly respected.  I would be shocked if they did anything that wasn't 100% above-board.  However, there are advantages (and disadvantages) to hiring a bank as a fiduciary.  The main advantage is that the bank won't decide to retire or die unexpectedly - even if a bank merges or goes out of business, its trust department is a lucrative asset and another bank is always eager to pick it up.  So the bank offers continuity.  Banks, of course, usually charge more annually than an individual.  And banks can be impersonal.  You can ameliorate the impersonality by requiring that the bank hire a "care manager" or other professional whose duty it is to check on your wife regularly and make sure her needs are being met.

There are a number of factors that go into deciding whether it's better to use a bank or a private professional as trustee.  Price is one consideration.  Reputation in the community is another.  Depending on the type of disability your wife has, you might be able to talk to some people in a local support organization (for example, there are local Alzheimer Association chapters) and find out what their experience has been with various types of fiduciaries.

Good luck

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Janet Brewer


BE CAREFUL about taking legal advice from non-lawyers.

I am a licensed attorney in California. I am available to answer questions about probating estates, preparing wills and trusts, administering estates and trusts, forming family limited partnerships and limited liability companies, and establishing a wide variety of estate and gift tax-sensitive trusts (charitable trusts, children's trusts, irrevocable life insurance trusts, etc.).

I can also answer questions regarding the preparation of estate tax returns (Form 706) in taxable estates. Please note that I do not prepare trust income tax returns and cannot provide you with any information about that type of return.

Please note: I am only able to practice law in the State of California. I cannot answer specific questions about other states' laws; I can only provide some "general" information that may or may not apply to your situation.


I have practiced California estate, gift-planning, and probate law exclusively since 1991. I am certified as a specialist in estate planning and probate law by the California State Bar Board of Legal Specialization (there are less than 125 such specialists practicing in Santa Clara County and fewer than 7,000 practicing in California - out of over 170,000 lawyers statewide).

I have served as an Instructor in the CFP (certificate in financial planning) program at University of California Santa Cruz, teaching the estate planning segment.

Silicon Valley Bar Association
Wealth Counsel
Wealth Advisors' Forum
Executive Committee Member, Solo and Small Firm Section of the California State Bar (appointed to a 3 year term by the California State Bar Board of Governors)

I received my law degree (J.D.) from University of Denver Law School in 1975. I was admitted to the Colorado Bar in 1975 and to the California Bar in 1977 (NOTE: although I am a member of the Colorado Bar, I am on INACTIVE status there). I earned an M.B.A. in 1982, and I earned a Masters Degree in Taxation Law (LLM) at Golden Gate University Law School in 2010 (with honors).

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Awards and Honors
2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, & 2012 - chosen as a "SuperLawyer" - one of the top 5% of Northern California lawyers practicing in the estate planning and probate area ( Avvo Rating of 10.0/10.0

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