Legalzoom, Suze Orman Trusts, etc vs. Attorney Services

March 25, 2009

Filed under: Do It Yourself Estate Planning Gone Wrong,Estate Planning,LegalZoom,Probate,Quicken Willmaker,Special Needs Planning,Special Needs Trusts,Suze Orman — Christopher J. Berry @ 1:36 am


As a Michigan estate planning lawyer, I am not worried about the effect of the Legalzoom, Suze Orman Trust-in-a-box, or Quicken Willmakers of the world.  What I do worry about is the effect of those products on the general public.  Our Michigan estate planning office has seen far too many people using these cheap products, trying to substitute cheap forms for experienced legal estate planning advice of attorneys, with often times, poor consequences.

Those consequences include, assets going through a Michigan probate, that shouldn’t, disqualifying special needs children from governmental benefits, unintended distributions of assets to individuals not planned for and on and on and on.  Why leave it up to chance that your heirs may have to clean up your mess because you decided to save a few bucks?

There are times where having no plan at all and relying on the Michigan laws of intestacy are better than relying on these cheap forms.

The blog by the Los Angeles Estate Planning Lawyers of the Proviso Law firm had an interesting post on this topic.  You can read it here : Los Angeles Estate Planning Lawyer.

-Christopher J. Berry, Esq.
Bloomfield Hills Estate Planning Lawyer

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Economy Down? Time to Review Your Estate Plan says NYT

March 22, 2009

Filed under: Estate Planning,Holistic Estate Planning,Probate — Christopher J. Berry @ 1:39 am

At the Michigan Estate Planning Lawyer Blog, I have posted a few times that due to this down economy, it is a prime time to review your estate plan.  Well, The New York times blog has an interesting article on the topic as well.

Take a minute to read “Smaller Though It May Be, It’s Time to Look at the Estate” by Paul Sullivan at the New York Times.

Sullivan writes:

But estate planning is not primarily about avoiding a tax that few have been subject to since it was instituted in 1916. The primary goal has always been how to bequeath what you have to the heirs you picked. And if handled wrongly, wills can become a vehicle that destroys families.

“As the economy gets worse, children will be looking at that inheritance,” said Les Kotzer, an attorney and author of “Where There’s an Inheritance: Stories From the World of Two Wills Lawyers” (Continental Atlantic Publications). “They might start looking at the house as their entitlement. I have kids calling me and asking me, ‘When do I get my inheritance?’ ”

The biggest issue, given both the recession and the flux in federal estate tax laws, is whether wills already drawn up still fulfill their intent.

Our Michigan Estate Planning and Michigan Probate Law office has seen a rise of heirs thinking about challenging their inheritance or lack of inheritance.  If you have an estate plan, now is the time to review your estate plan to ensure it is air (heir, sorry bad pun) tight in this down economy as people become more desperate and litigious.

-Christopher J. Berry, Esq.
Michigan Wills, Trusts, and Estate Planning Lawyer

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5 Things To Know About Naming Beneficiaries

March 20, 2009

Filed under: Estate Planning,Holistic Estate Planning,Retirement Accounts — Christopher J. Berry @ 1:41 am

One of the items we review with our clients are the beneficiaries on our clients financial accounts.  This is especially important for clients with Revocable Living Trusts.  If your beneficiaries are named incorrectly it can have drastic and costly effects on your Michigan estate plan.

Money magazine recently had an article on the 5 Things to Know about Naming Beneficiaries.  Their list included:

  1. Your will has no jurisdiction
  2. You can-and should- name a runner-up.
  3. Retirement accounts have quirky inheritance rules.
  4. Naming a minor is a quick ticket to Michigan probate.
  5. Changing a beneficiary is easier than changing the filter in your coffee pot.

If you have any questions on the article or what any of the items mean, contact us to review your beneficiary designations.

-Christopher J. Berry, Esq.
Bloomfield Hills Estate Planning Lawyer

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Willmaker Software | Not Recomended by this Michigan Lawyer

March 17, 2009

Filed under: Estate Administration,Estate Planning,Holistic Estate Planning,Living Trust,Will — Christopher J. Berry @ 1:42 am

As a Michigan estate planning lawyer, I am a little worried whenever I hear someone is using Willmaker, Suze Orman Living Trust, Legalzoom, or any of the other Last Will and Testament or Living Trust document preparation software.

Well, today, I was watching an email exchange between estate planning lawyers and one of the lawyers offered a personal story about meeting with a client and presented a will prepared by Willmaker.

I can talk to you all day about how Michigan estate planning is more than just preparing documents, but reviewing goals, family planning, beneficiary planning, making estate administration easier, etc.

Well, this attorney found the “Holy Grail” reason for not using Willmaker software (or really any of the others).  When he reviewed the Will, it wasn’t a validly executed Will based off state law because the document that purported to be a WIll did not have the necessary execution requirements.  This is a fatal flaw for the person who thought they had everything “take care of.”

In other words, IT WASN’T A WILL, like the client thought.  Pretty scary to think about.

Don’t think that using Willmaker, Legalzoom, Suze Orman Trusts, is really benefiting your loved ones. You could be leaving them a legal mess when you pass and your “estate plan” is put to the test.

-Christopher J. Berry, Esq.
Michigan Estate Planning Lawyer

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Britney Spears’ Conservatorship Compared to Soviet Oppression

March 16, 2009

Filed under: Probate — Christopher J. Berry @ 1:44 am

What does Michigan estate planning and Michigan probate have to do with Britney Spears?  Well, the probate lawyers for Britney Spears are set to appear before a probate Judge this Friday to respond by court papers by Spears’ lawyers, get this, comparing the conservatorship overseeing her affairs to the forced labor camps portrayed in the Russian novel “The Gulag Archipelago.”

You can read more on this story here.

-Christopher J. Berry, Esq.
Michigan Probate Lawyer

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Wayne County Probate | Why to Avoid…

March 13, 2009

Filed under: Estate Planning,Living Trust,Probate,Will — Christopher J. Berry @ 1:46 am

Reason number 2312334 why a Michigan living trust based Michigan estate plan is better than a Michigan last will and testament based estate plan 9 times out of 10.  When you file an inventory in probate court, in this case Wayne County Probate court, the assets on the inventory are used to calculate the inventory fee.  This fee is a percentage of all assets going through the probate process.

This fee can be upwards of $1000+.  Quite a price to pay to either not have a Michigan living trust or have a Michigan living trust but fail to fund it properly.

Our office has a system to help our clients fund their trust.  We call our program Foundations.  It is an annual membership program where we review our clients current situations, including funding, and make whatever tweaks are necessary to their estate plan.  Similar to a check up at the dentist, or an oil change for your car.

-Christopher J. Berry, Esq.
Metro Detroit Estate Planning  and Probate Lawyer

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Jim Cramer | Down Goes Cramer!

Filed under: Estate Planning — Christopher J. Berry @ 1:45 am

Financial “guru” and talking head Jim Cramer appeared on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart last night and took a well deserved beating.  Up next, if I had my druthers, Suze Orman and her ridiculous living trusts in a box.  Why people listen to these over generalizing marketing mavens is beyond me.

You can read about the Jon Stewart vs. Jim Cramer spat on Comedy Central here.

-Christopher J. Berry, Esq.
Michigan Estate Planning Lawyer

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Michigan State To The Final Four

March 29, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — Christopher J. Berry @ 1:25 am

msu_logo.gifBoth of us Michigan estate planning lawyers at Witzke Berry PLLC were Michigan State grads.

So, GO STATE, good luck at the Final Four.

  • -Christopher J. Berry, Esq.

Michigan Estate Planning Lawyer

How the Down Economy and Changes in Federal Estate Tax Effect your Estate Plan | Part 2

March 27, 2009

Filed under: Estate Planning,Federal Estate Tax,Holistic Estate Planning,Living Trust,Retirement Accounts — Christopher J. Berry @ 1:28 am

michigan-estate-lawyer.jpgYesterday at the Michigan Estate Planning Lawyer Blog I discussed two things to look for in your estate plan in this environment of a $3.5 million Federal Estate Tax Exemption and a down economy.  You can read that post here: Michigan Estate Planning Lawyer Blog.

Today we are going to cover three more items to consider in this estate planning legal environment

This down economy and economic crisis can increased the risk of bankruptcy, foreclosure, divorce, and law suits.  On top of this, your beneficiaries irresponsibility in financial management may also reveal it self since times are tight.  Now is a time to make sure that the spendthrift provisions in your revocable living trust (assuming you have a revocable living trust and want to protect your beneficiaries) are iron clad.

The next item to consider with the increase of the Federal Exemption is the need to rebalance trusts that try to minimize the effect of the Federal Estate Tax.  Typically a husband and wife will have a separate trust.  The goal being to stuff each trust up to the Federal Exemption amount, which this year is $3.5million.  Last year the exemption amount was only $2million, so there may be a need to rebalance the trusts.

One bright spot of the economic crisis is the opportunity for gifting.  Gifting is a way to reduce an estate value estate and gift tax free.   This year $13,000 can be passed gift tax free.  This is an increase of $1000 from last year.  Couple this increase with the 50% loss of value for many peoples portfolio and we now have a great opportunity to gift.

These are turbulent times for everyone.  You should sit down with your Michigan estate planning attorney to see how these changing times have effect your estate plan.

-Christopher J. Berry, Esq.
Oakland County Estate Planning Lawyer

How the Down economy and Changes in Federal Estate Tax Effect your Estate Plan | Part 1

March 26, 2009

Filed under: Estate Administration,Estate Planning,Federal Estate Tax — Christopher J. Berry @ 1:31 am

Michigan estate plan recession.jpgThe national economy, and Michigan specifically have had a difficult economic ride.  Many people’s portfolios are down over 50% in the last year or two.  Couple this with jump in the Federal Estate Tax Exclusion amount from $2million to $3.5million and you have a drastic change in circumstances from when many people originally had their estate plans drafted by a Michigan estate planning lawyer.

In light of these changes, many people could benefit from reviewing their estate plans.

First, people should look to simplify their Michigan estate plans if the Federal estate tax is of no concern.  Because peoples portfolios have taken nearly 50% hits along with estate tax exemption increasing by 75%, many people who once had an estate tax concern no longer do.  With Michigan estate plans that plan for the federal estate tax, surviving spouses could incur unnecessary expenses of funding and administering irrevocable trusts of the deceased. This is a prime opportunity to utilize simpler joint-trusts for married couples.

The other effect this down economy has is in regards to general bequests and gifts.  Many individuals in their estate plans have made requests of specific dollar amounts going to charities or individuals.  The amounts people chose when their portfolios were larger may not be appropriate any more.  For example, a gift of $25,000 in an estate plan to the Humane Society would be a larger percentage of a total estate now that people’s total estates have decreased so much in the past two years.  This leaves less to the remainder beneficiaries.

These are two things to look for in this turbulent economic time coupled with a growing Federal Estate Tax exemption.  Tomorrow we will look at other things to look for that may require an update to your Michigan estate plan.

-Christopher J. Berry, Esq.
Oakland County Wills and Trusts Lawyer


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