Tax Filing Tips for Same-Sex Couples in Oakland County

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Tax filing tips as a result of the Windsor ruling on same-sex couples

By Marc Wander

Cincinnati residents James Obergefell and John Arthur lived together and were in a committed and intimate relationship for more than 20 years. When John was dying from Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), both men knew it was a priority for his death certificate to indicate that he was “married” and not “single” when he died.

(Related: Long-Term Care Costs More Than Expected)

Ohio does not recognized same-sex marriages, and as a result the couple flew to Maryland in a private plane accompanied by medical personnel. They were married on the tarmac in Anne Arundel County and immediately flew back to Cincinnati. Next, they filed a lawsuit to ensure that Ohio officials listed John “married” once he passed away.

Judge Timothy S. Black of the U.S. District Court for the Southern district of Ohio said that “This is not a complicated case.” In his ruling he identified that, “Throughout Ohio’s history, Ohio law has been clear: a marriage solemnized outside of Ohio is valid in Ohio if it is valid where solemnized.” For example, Ohio law forbids marriages between first cousins and minors, yet it recognizes these marriage if they happened in states that permit such unions.

(Related: Obamacare: GOP’s NEW plan to repeal and replace)

“How then can Ohio…single out same sex marriages as ones it will not recognized,? asked Judge Black. “The short answer is that it cannot.” He ordered state officials to enter “married” on John’s death certificate and to list James as his “surviving spouse.”

This is likely just the beginning of the barrage of state-level decisions that have been filed since the Windsor decision was handed down.

For example, in Michigan, where voters approved a ban on gay marriage, April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse, women that have lived together as a couple for seven years, wish to adopt each other’s children.

(Related: Gifts for Caregivers: Music, Magazines and Informative Videos)

However, they cannot “because Michigan law states that only single individuals or married couples can adopt.”

The couple sued Michigan’s governor and attorney general on grounds that the state’s adoption code violates the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Despite trying to get the case thrown out, Judge Bernard A. Friedman of the U.S. District Court Eastern Michigan ruled that the women’s claim had enough merit to proceed.

Friedman quoted the Windsor decision, emphasizing that “of particular importance to this case, the justices expressed concern that [the government’s definition of marriage would]… ‘impair the rights of ‘tens of thousands of children now being raised by same-sex couples.’”

And in Pennsylvania, the Department of Health has filed suit to stop a county clerk from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Since that Windsor decision more than 100 have been issued.

“These are the complications we’re going to get because there’s no uniformity across the United States right now,” says Nanette Lee Miller, a CPA who heads up the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender division at Marcum, a tax and estate planning firm. These cases will continue to be decided on a state-by-state basis until clarification is achieved on a nation level.

Read more:

Contact Michigan estate planning attorney Marc Wander at 248-481-4000 for a free consultation, today.

Obamacare: GOP’s NEW plan to repeal and replace

Obamacare proposed to be repealed and replaced in GOP’s new bill

By Mike Witzke

A health-care bill will be unveiled by the Republican Study Committee in the House of Representatives to replace Obamacare.

(Related: Gifts for Caregivers: Music, Magazines and Informative Videos)

Titled the Republican Study Committee’s American Health Care Reform Act, the bill ”dramatically opens up options for families, and dramatically lowers costs” compared to the Obamacare law, committee chairman Louisiana Rep. Steven Scalise told The Daily Caller.

The budget-neutral bill would provide $20,000 in tax deductions to families and $7,500 deduction to individuals to enable them to purchase insurance from vendors in any state. Additionally, it would let American retain the money they save by choosing lower-cost providers.

(Related: Recognizing the Early Signs of Dementia)

Drafted by a committee subgroup leaded by Rep. Phil Roem the Republican bill would also create a 10-year, $25 billion fund to reduce costs for Americans afflicted by pre-existing conditions like cancer.

The new bill would allow people to maintain their insurance from job to job, eliminating wasteful legal costs by reforming medical lawsuits.

Authority from Obamacare’s regulators would be transferred to citizens because “we think people are smart enough and will find the best plan for their family,” Scalise said.

(Related: Seven Questions To Ask When Searching for Assisted Living)

As the result of a reformed national health insurance market, Americans would be able to buy a number of the provisions in Obamacare that are lauded by the White House, like coverage for Adult children up to age 26.

The bill doesn’t set any changes for Medicare or Medicaid, Scalise said. However, those programs will be improve by certain elements of the legislation, like more marketplace competition and legal reform.

The study committee includes close to 190 House legislators that are attempting to advance “a conservative social and economic agenda in the House of Representatives.” Included in the group are conservative Rep. Steve King and House budget chief Rep. Paul Ryan.

Sponsors of the bill hope to pass it through the House’s budget-writing committees via “regular order.”

The new bill comes in part as a refute to claims by the White House that the GOP has abandoned plans to replace the controversial Obamacare regime.

Read more:

Contact Michigan estate planning attorney MIke Witzke at 248-481-4000 for a free consultation, today.

Gifts for Caregivers: Music, Magazines and Informative Videos


Gifts for caregivers are a great way to show your appreciation of their hard work!

By Chris Berry

Music is another one of the many wonderful gifts for caregivers. It has been show to help heal, reduce stress, and enhance sleep for both caregivers and receivers. Music triggers a tremendous emotional response that allows people to connect with and draw inspiration from. Music that creates a relaxing tone is recommended for caregivers when bathing or offering other care to a care receiver. In addition, music has been shown to enhance reminiscing activities with care receivers.

(Related: Gifts for Caregivers: Meals, gift baskets, massages)

Those with dementia have shown the ability to sing, listen to music, play instruments, and even compose songs. Consider gifting audiotapes, CD’s, or iTunes gift cards to a caregiver that you want to show appreciation to. An MP3 player also makes for a useful and special gift for a caregiver that enjoys music.

Magazine subscriptions, videos, and books online also prevent quality gift-giving opportunities for caregivers. Some videos teach caregiving skills, while the books and magazines contain information that help reduce feelings of isolation with stores of other caregivers and the most recent caregiving new.

(Related: Gifts for Caregivers: Time)

A six issue year’s subscription to Today’s Caregiver Magazine can be purchased through the Today’s Caregiver/ website, or by calling toll-free 1-800-829-2734. Some of the books available for purchase on the same web site are The Fearless Caregiver: How to Get the Best Care for Your Loved One and Still Have a Life of Your Own. Caregivers are encouraged to trust themselves through stories and advice from other caregivers.

(Related: Losing Money On Bonds and Interest Rate Risk)

The Educated Caregiver video is another great resource that offers tools, tips, and advice for caregivers. A set of three video by Life View Resources is available by calling 1-800-395-5433 or by visiting Caregivers will receive a 20% discount when ordering if they use a free membership number from the Caregivers Marketplace website,

Read more:

Christopher J. Berry is an elder law lawyer in Michigan Dedicated to helping seniors, veterans and their families navigate the long-term care maze. To learn more visit  or call 248.481.4000

Gifts for Caregivers: Meals, gift baskets, massages


By Marc Wander

Caregivers work extremely hard and endure tremendous mental and physical stress while caring for a loved one, a friend, or even a complete strangers. Below you will discover a number of ideas for gifts to show them you appreciate their effort and would like to alleviate their burden.

(Related: Gifts for Caregivers: Time)

If you live close enough to the caregiver you’d like to support, consider making meals and delivering them. However, many caregivers don’t have relatives within close proximity. If this is the case, look into purchasing frozen meals from a company that can deliver to your friend or relative’s door.

For as low as $5.00 per complete meal, some companies offer special diets, regular diets and delivery. Purchasing say, 10 meals will save caregiver many hours each week by using frozen meals.

(Related: Losing Money On Bonds and Interest Rate Risk)

Research at Rutgers University has shown that flowers help with depression, inspire social networking, and refresh memory. Sending flowers can go a long way in helping a caregiver hang in there after a really tough day, or week. Caregivers often neglect their own needs and flowers are a nice reminder to take a step back and consider themselves for just a little while.

A third option is to order care package from websites on the list of Caregiver Websites. Look for gifts for caregivers on, where they offer packages like the Caregiver’s At-Home Spa set. For between $15.00-$30.00 you can purchase a care package and benefit the non-profit Center for Family Caregivers.

(Related: Estate Planning and Divorce in Oakland County)

Be creative and tailor a care package specifically to the preferences of your friend or relative that is a caregiver. If they like chicken wings and football include a gift certificate to Buffalo Wild Wings. If they love beer include a six pack of their favorite brew. There is no limit to the items you could include, and goodness you can offer by taking a little time thinking about what they might appreciate.

If you really want to show your appreciation, include other family members, neighbors, a faith community and make a care basket with different people contributing different items.

Massages are another great gift to help a caregiver reduce stress and pain. Most licensed massage therapists offer gift certificates that could be included in a gift basket, or stand alone as gifts.

Contact Michigan estate planning attorney Marc Wander at 248-481-4000 for a free consultation, today.

Gifts for Caregivers: Gift Certificates


By Marc Wander

In our previous article we discussed the most valuable gift that a friend or loved one can give to a caregiver, time. But not everyone has time to offer to a caregiver whom they’d like to show appreciation.

Gift Certificates and Prepaid Gift Cards

If you are unable to provide time-saving services, consider giving a gift certificate for services that can be purchased that will save the caregiver time: landscaping, house cleaning, home handyperson, swimming pool cleaning, etc. It is very likely that either the care receiver or primary caregiver are spending money they don’t have for these services, or neglecting them.

(Related: Long-Term Care Costs Rising)

The occasional gift in the form of a gift certificate could go a long way in providing a lift so a caregiver that needs one, or perhaps you could take a collection with family and friends to provide a year-round service that’s needed. If gift certificates aren’t offered, consider paying in advance or having the bill sent to you. To discover errand-running services, look up “Errands” in the Senior Resource Directory.

Additionally useful are prepaid gifts cards that allow the freedom to be used as credit cards when necessary until the balance is spent. These can be used for anything from online ordering, restaurants, grocery store, etc. Some drug stores sell prepaid gift cards for various restaurants and stores that you can often find at the check-out line.

(Related: The Importance of Durable Power of Attorney)

Often times caregivers can be reluctant to accept help. In these instances consider making your own gift certificates, redeemable at their convenience. Examples include, “One free massage”, “Home-cooked dinner for two”, “A night on the town”, or if you’re feeling really generous, “A weekend getaway for two”. These can be from an individual or a collaborative effort from a family, neighborhood, or company. Be sure to remind the caregiver to use the gift certificates!

Contact Michigan estate planning attorney Marc Wander at 248-481-4000 for a free consultation, today.

How to double your estate-tax exemption


By Mike Witzke

In this article we will examine the portability provision of the federal estate-tax law and see how it could potentially double your federal estate-tax exemption.

1. What is the portability provisions?

The portability provision is the allowable transfer of the federal estate-tax exemption from the estate of spouse that dies first to the estate of the second spouse to die. As part of the fiscal cliff, this portability provisions was set to expire. Currently, the provision is still standing and there is no expiration scheduled yet. In Washington, administration is attempting to change the limits on the $5.25 million federal estate tax exemption to $3.5 million but portability isn’t on the table.

(Related: NY to refund gay couples forced to pay estate tax)

2. Double your federal estate-tax exemption

For those dying in 2013, the maximum federal estate-tax exemption is $5.25 million per person. The federal exemption of $5.25 million may pass directly for couples who are legally married from the first-to-die surviving spouse, providing a federal exemption upon the second spouse’s death that will increase from $5.25 million to $10.5 million.

To double your estate-tax exemption you must timely file IRS Form 706 — within nine months of the first-to-die. The surviving spouse can receive a six-month extension by filing Form 4768 — within nine months of the first spouse’s death. The extension will provide the surviving spouse with a total of 15 months to file Form 706.

(Related: Estate taxes and farm transitions)

3. Beware of potential complications

It is no secret that estate-tax planning and the interpretation of the provisions, laws and related rulings can be challenging. Even the calculation of the gross and net estate-tax liability can complicated as it relates to your particular state’s laws on estate and inheritance in addition to federal estate-tax laws.

A small error in calculation can cost the named heirs hundred of thousands of dollars in additional tax and the lack of awareness of the need to timely file Form 706 following the death of the first spouse can create major repercussions for the eventual beneficiaries.

4. Plan well

Most people don’t establish formal estate plans, instead, they create wills and trusts and assign an executor to their estate. Important considerations are often overlooked without a professional estate plan created by an attorney who specializes in estate tax planning.

(Related: Losing Money On Bonds and Interest Rate Risk)

Estate tax planning can be overwhelming and complicated. Seek your own professional legal tax guidance for each particular situation. The fees that you will pay will be minuscule when compared with the potential penalties and taxes due for miscalculations or misinterpretation of the IRS code as it relates to your estate tax liability.

Read more:

Contact Michigan estate planning attorney Mike Witzke at 248-481-4000 for a free consultation, today.

Gifts for Caregivers: Time

gifts caregivers

By Chris Berry

Caregivers work extremely hard and endure tremendous mental and physical stress while caring for a loved one, a friend, or even a complete strangers. Below you will discover a number of ideas for gifts to show them you appreciate their effort and would like to alleviate their burden.

To the friends and relatives of a caregiver, please consider giving your special caregiver some gifts he or she could really benefit from.


We all wish that time was on our side, but the reality is, it’s not. For this reason time is very likely the most appreciated gift for a caregiver. Offer your time for whatever services they need: picking up groceries, making a meal, spending a few hours with the person needing care. Never underestimate the value of a few hours of your time to a caregiver that is treading water, likely overwhelmed by the multitude of tasks on his or her plate!

(Related: Recognizing the Early Signs of Dementia)

Visit regularly or make a phone call to remind them that they are not alone, and you are thinking of them. Ask them how they are doing and give them the love, attention, and prayer that you would want in a similar situation. Continue visiting even if the care receiver no longer recognizes your or loses the ability to communicate.

Find someone to stay with the care receiver and take the caregiver out to a baseball game, or dinner, or a concert. If the caregiver is willing and agrees to register the care receiver in advance, the care receiver can be taken to an assisted living facility day program. Paying for this service could be part of your gift.

(Related: Family Caregiver Distress Assessment)

Since the care receiver must be willing to go to an assisted living day program or adult day care, discover ways to inspire cooperation in The Four Stages of Caregiving, Stage Three, Section Two. Read the topic called “Overcoming Resistance To Outside Help”.

And don’t be shy to offer your support to your caregiving friend or relative. Offer your help several times and don’t take no for an answer! Caregivers can often be reluctant to accept help from others, even though research indicates that the sooner a caregiver accepts help, the longer he or she will be able to provide care, with fewer mental and physical health problems.

(Related: Long-Term Care Costs Rising)

To make helping easier, some caregivers divide their caregiving workload into little pieces that can be given to those who offer help.

Christopher J. Berry is a Michigan elder law attorney Dedicated to helping seniors, veterans and their families navigate the long-term care maze. To learn more visit or call 248.481.4000

NY to refund gay couples forced to pay estate tax

Andrew Cuomo

New York has said it will provide same-sex spouses refunds for estate taxes they were forced to pay since federal law didn’t recognize gay marriage.

(Related: Estate taxes and farm transitions)

Tuesday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said that the refunds for overpayment of estate taxes are the result of the recent decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court rejecting part of the Defense of Marriage Act.

Previously, same-sex spouses were required to pay thousands of dollars more in New York estate taxes when their partner died, because they were treated differently than they would had they been in traditional marriages.

(Related: Long-Term Care Costs Rising)

Same-sex marriage was legalized in New York in 2011. It remains to be seen how much money will be refunded.

Read more:

Contact Michigan estate planning attorney Marc Wander at 248-481-4000 for a free consultation, today.

Estate taxes and farm transitions

farming estate tax

By Marc Wander

Until six month ago, it appeared that Welsh-born Charles family was one of the hundred of thousands of other rapidly aging members of the nation’s farm families facing the daunting challenges of federal estate and gift tax laws.

Scheduled to snap back to 2001 levels this year, federal estate and gift tax laws had become more lenient through the first decade of the 2000s when land prices quadrupled in some parts of farming country. This would have potentially lead to estate tax problems for anyone owning a one-square mile wheat field in Kansas, a cornfield one-fourth that size in Iowa or a half square mile of Missouri farmland.

(Related: Recognizing the Early Signs of Dementia)

The last minute rules passed on by Congress on Jan. 1 allow $5 million of farmland and other property per person to pass estate-tax free opposed to the $1 million that was the old limit in 2001. That is a $10 million exemption for married couples.

But even with the last minute rules the tax changes will make enough waives that farmers, ranchers and their families will want to take a seat to sort out the details.

Duane Hund, an extension farm management specialist at Kansas State University in Manhattan says the new rules will benefit farmers and ranchers three ways.

(Related: Family Caregiver Distress Assessment)

First, the $5 million exemption is indexed for inflation and already expanded to $5.25 million for 2013, Hund said. Potential taxes on property over that amount are capped at 40 percent, or 10 percentage points lower than if Congress remained stagnant.

The last change is that the exemption is portable, Hund said.  If a husband or wife perishes and leaves an estate that is less than the $5.25 million exemption, the surviving widow or widower can add the unused amount to her or his own $5.25 million exemption at the second death.

“Portability is something new. We didn’t have that before,” Hund said.

Additionally, the new law allows farmers to transfer $5.25 million of their property during their lifetimes to another person tax-free.

But Dave Goeller, deputy director of the North Central Risk Management Education Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, says good estate planning for farmers and ranchers is more than tax management. A good plan will resolve legal issues, financial issues and the emotional triggers of the participants as well.

(Related: Long-Term Care Costs Rising)

A number of multigenerational farm families have members who’ve got off the farm. Even more have members who have desire or need the financial purse of a farm estate more than they value the family legacy. And of course, some families have members that wish to carry on the legacy.

These situations require business succession planning, Goeller said.

Those are situations that go beyond traditional estate planning and become a more immediate need for business succession planning, Goeller said.

“Fair often isn’t the same as equal” in farm succession planning, he said.  “But ultimately, it is hard to be a farmer without land.”

Read more:

Contact Michigan estate planning attorney Marc Wander at 248-481-4000 for a free consultation, today.

Recognizing the Early Signs of Dementia


By Chris Berry

A number of particular symptoms can foreshadow dementia, and that means it’s time for the members of a family to prepare for what’s coming next.

Repeating yourself, asking a question or telling a story two or even three times in the same conversation. A formerly decisive person that now struggles to settle on a decisions. A usually strong driver experiencing minor accidents. All of these are potential signs of dementia, but it’s not an easy thing to talk about. Mom gets defensive; dad blows you off; and siblings insist that their mother is doing just fine.

(Related: Family Caregiver Distress Assessment)

All of these are common when families are dealing with the early stages of an illness, but especially with dementia, said Carolyn McClanahan, a physician who became a financial planner and who specializes in end-of-life issues.

“Nobody wants to admit they can’t live independently anymore,” said McClanahan, director of financial planning for Life Planning Partners in Jacksonville, Fla. Denial is common in family members, too, because acknowledging what’s happening can be too painful and frightening.

(Related: Seven Questions To Ask When Searching for Assisted Living)

Denial often results in great cost:

  • The individual with symptoms could be suffering another, resolvable issue, like a reaction to medication, a vitamin deficiency or an infection.

  • Even if they do have Alzheimer’s, detecting it early allows for treatment with medications that may allow her prolonged independence.

  • Delay often prevents the individual from making his or her wishes about their future treatment known, placing the burden on the family. It can rid her of the chance to make imperative financial and legal plans, like protecting her assets and designating someone to make decisions for her when she no longer can.

  • People with dementia are more vulnerable to scams, and their poor judgment can leave them financially barren.

“Elderly men are the worst . . . for getting the wool pulled over their eyes,” particularly with investment scams and schemes, McClanahan said. Women are also women.

Certainly people make bad financial decisions without the influence of dementia, but it’s something to watch for. The ability to make good financial choices tends to climax in our late 40s and early 50s, sliding downhill from there, according to research by Federal Reserve economist Sumit Agarwal.

(Related: Losing Money On Bonds and Interest Rate Risk)

The occasional financial mistake may not indicate a problem, but when they become frequent or severe in consequence, it may be a sign of dementia. The Alzheimer’s Association offers some tips for discerning the difference between normal age-related memory issues and incipient dementia:

  • Forgetting a word now and then is a normal part of aging. What’s not: using made-up names, such as calling a watch a “hand clock,” or having difficulty carrying on a conversation. Kelley Mercurio of Washington, Pa., said one sign of her grandfather’s early Alzheimer’s was that he got quiet. Avoiding conversation is one way people may try to disguise their inability to keep up.

  • Getting confused about the day of the week? That can be normal aging, if the person figures it out later. Likewise, misplacing things isn’t a cause of concern if the person eventually can retrace her steps to find what she’s lost. But if she can’t figure out where she mislaid her keys or what day or season it is, there may be a problem.

  • Becoming more set in our ways can be a typical part of aging, and we may get irritated if our routines are disrupted. Big personality or mood changes, however, usually aren’t normal. If someone becomes anxious, easily upset, defensive or suspicious when he didn’t used to be, dementia may be the cause.

“The more angry they get, the more worried you should be,” said Amy Florian, CEO of Corgenius, a Chicago-area company that trains advisers and other professionals how to help clients deal with transition and loss. ” People often resort to anger to cover their emotion for fear and embarrassment. Anger is often a cover emotion for fear and embarrassment. If the family member is wondering about themselves, that can come out as anger.”

One strategy to dismantle their anger and get them to agree to make a visit to the doctor is to mention all of the non-dementia causes of memory problems.

“You might say, ‘Mom, it might be nothing. Maybe you need a shot of vitamin B12 and it will all go away,’” Florian said. “‘You don’t want your friends to accuse you of having dementia and you don’t.’”

(Related: ESOP’s and Retiring Baby Boomers)

Even if the diagnosis is dementia, there still may be time to prepare for what’s to come. Some tasks that need to be done include:

  • Drafting powers of attorney and other documents for dealing with incapacity.

  • Creating wills and other estate plans.

  • Discussing what kinds of care she does and doesn’t want. The Five Wishes document and the site may be helpful.

  • Figuring out how to pay for care. A financial planner and an elder-law attorney may be helpful.

  • Finding all the paperwork like life insurance or military service records, while she still remembers where it is.

It may be helpful to record family stories and personal reminiscences, Florian said. Short-term memories go first, so ask mom about recent vacations and family events, then work back to earlier memories. If you can’t record a video then write them down.

This will allow you to grow closer with your loved one while helping them prepare for difficult reality.

“People learn things about their parents that they never knew,” Florian said. “It’s comforting to the patient when they can talk about their memories with someone.”

Read more:

Christopher J. Berry is a Michigan elder law attorney Dedicated to helping seniors, veterans and their families navigate the long-term care maze. To learn more visit or call 248.481.4000