Who May Witness a Michigan Last Will and Testament?

April 22, 2009

Filed under: Estate Planning,Will — Christopher J. Berry @ 9:13 pm

A common question people have ask us as Michigan Estate Planning Attorneys is, “who may witness my Last Will and Testament?”  This is a state specific question.

The answer in Michigan is twofold.

First, according to EPIC (Michigan Estates and Protected Individuals Code), an individual generally competent to be a witness may act as a witness to a Last Will and Testament.  What that means is the individual must be of sound mind and at least age 18.

The second rung of the explanation in EPIC is that the signing of a Michigan Last Will and Testament by an interested witness does not invalidate the will or any provision of it.  What this means is that you can be an interested beneficiary and receiving assets in the Last Will and Testament and still witness the Will.

However, if the Will is challenged, this provision of EPIC does not preclude a Will contest to determine if a witness who is also a beneficiary exerted undue influence.

-Christopher J. Berry, Esq.
Michigan Wills and Trusts Attorney

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Our Process for Our Michigan Estate Planning Clients

April 21, 2009

Filed under: Estate Planning — Christopher J. Berry @ 9:14 pm

One of the typical questions people ask Mike Witzke and I, Michigan estate planning lawyers, is what is the estate planning process?

We have a three step process to take care of our client’s needs.  (Don’t be surprised if other attorneys find this post and begin to copy our process).

We first have a Family Planning Meeting.  In this meeting our clients educate us on their family situation, we educate our clients on the Michigan estate planning laws, then we work together to come up with a Michigan estate plan that meets all of our clients goals.

After the planning meeting, we take at least two weeks to actually draft the plan.  Then we bring our clients in for the second meeting.  This meeting is the Signing Meeting.  At the Signing Meeting, we briefly review the completed estate plan with our clients.  Then we sign and execute the documents.

Next we have our Family Review Meeting.  This meeting takes place at least one week after the signing meeting.  In this meeting our clients bring in family and people appointed to server roles in their estate plan so that everyone is on the same page.  We review funding of any trusts

Next we review our Foundations program, which is absolutely key for our clients to ensure that their estate plan remains as effective the day it is signed as it is 20 years from the signing day.  Does your estate planning attorney have a membership program as robust as our Foundations program?

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

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Michigan Estate Planning Tools of The Trade

April 19, 2009

Filed under: Do It Yourself Estate Planning Gone Wrong,Estate Planning,LegalZoom,Living Trust,Power of Attorney,Probate,Quicken Willmaker,Suze Orman,Will — Christopher J. Berry @ 9:15 pm

In Michigan estate planning, there are certain tools we use to help our clients achieve their Michigan estate planning goals.  Keep in mind though, estate planning is not just about the documents or tools, it is about how you use them.  I’ve blogged about how every estate planning document is not the same.  Anyone can make the mistake of using a legalzoom.com, Suze Orman Trust kit, or Quicken Willmaker, for their estate planning documents.  I have and many others have talked about how these cheap alternatives often do more harm then good.  With that said, my goal for this post is to educate you on the tools and documents that we, Michigan estate planning lawyers, use in helping our clients achieve their legal and estate planning goals.

The first tool/document that is important is the Michigan revocable living trust.  This document achieves our client’s goals of avoiding probate and exerting control over their assets.  Additionally with the revocable living trust there is a level of incapacity planning not found in the last will and testament.

Now remember, not every revocable living trust is created equally.  Our Bloomfield Hills Law Office reviews quite a few estate plans and revocable living trust.   Unfortunately, we review quite a few poorly done revocable trusts.  We’ve seen poorly drafted plans by both attorneys as wells as the do-it-yourselfers using legalzoom or Quicken willmaker.  Our advice, seek out Michigan estate planning attorneys who focus and specialize in this complicated area of law.

The second tool of the Michigan estate planning attorney is the will or last will and testament.  Wills can come in two forms, either a normal will where the will is the focal point of the estate plan or a will can be in the form of a “pour-over will” where the will acts as a back up to the revocable living trust.  A key thing to remember is the will does not avoid probate.  People make this mistake all the time, that is, they think a will avoids Michigan probate.  A will is your ticket to the Michigan probate system.  The will gives instructions to the Michigan probate judge on how to distribute your assets.  A revocable living trust that is properly funded avoids probate, not a last will and testament.

The next key tool in the Michigan Will and Trust attorney‘s tool box is the financial power of attorney.  There are two types, one that is effective immediately or one that is effective upon disability.  Disability can be determined by two licensed physicians, by a disability panel, or by other means.  This document allows another to handle the financial affairs for another.  It is important to remember that not every Michigan financial power of attorney is created equally.  You can buy a financial power of attorney at an office supply store fro about $10.  This 1-3 page document isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on.  Compare that to the type of documents are office puts together taking into account the goals, desires, and family situation of our clients.

Next on the list of Michigan estate planning documents is the Michigan patient advocate designation.  This is your health care power of attorney.  The document that appoints someone to make medical decisions on your behalf.  Included in your health care directives should be a HIPAA authorization form, along with living will style language in your patient advocate designation

Any questions?  Drop me a line or contact your Michigan estate planning attorney.

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

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Michigan Identity Theft | Prevention and Cure

April 17, 2009

Filed under: Identity theft — Christopher J. Berry @ 9:17 pm

I recently attended a training for Michigan lawyers on identity theft, both the prevention of identity theft and also steps to take after an identity theft has occurred.  We also covered steps businesses must take in terms of maintaining the privacy and identity of their customers.

Here are some common scenarios on how identity occurs.

  1. Individual Identity theft:  In this situation, an individual makes him or herself vulnerable to the theft of their own identity.  For example, someone losing a wallet or being careless with their personal information on the internet.
  2. Physical Theft of Multiple Identities: With this type of ID theft, an individuals fails to properly secure the physical object that holds multiple ID’s.  For example, not locking office doors when you have private client information in your office in folders.
  3. Digital Theft of Multiple Identities:This type of scenario is becoming more common with easily mobile digital storage.  For example, someone stores private identification information on their thumb drive, then loses their thumb drive.  Another real life example is the loss of a laptop that holds private information.  This happened to the VA Administration, a laptop was stolen that had thousands of individuals social security numbers.

Understanding that most ID theft occurs because of the above scenarios helps define preventative action plans to prevent the loss of private data.  We can assist you in putting together a preventative protection plan to protect against Michigan Identity theft.

-Christopher J. Berry, Esq.
Michigan Identity Theft Lawyer

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Blended Families, Multiple Marriages, and Estate Planning

April 16, 2009

Filed under: Estate Planning — Christopher J. Berry @ 9:18 pm

Families with children from a previous marriage can create a complex Michigan estate planning issue.  There are both emotional and financial issues to deal with.

For example, how will step children be provided for versus the surviving spouse?

Throw in multiple marriages and it just compounds the problem.

Through the use of pre-nups and separate trusts, we as Michigan estate planning attorneys can make the complex situation simpler.

Take a look at a WSJ.com article on the subject, here.

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

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How to Pick a Financial Adviser

April 15, 2009

Filed under: Estate Planning — Christopher J. Berry @ 9:19 pm

As Michigan estate planning lawyers, we have an opportunity to work closely with many financial advisers, CPA’s and insurance professionals.  We know some great ones.  The WSJ has an article outlining 7 key questions to ask when picking a financial adviser.

  1. What’s in the adviser’s background?
  2. What do the adviser’s clients say?
  3. How does the adviser get paid?
  4. Where are the adviser’s checks and balances?
  5. What’s the adviser’s track record?
  6. Can the adviser put it in writing?
  7. What do other pros think?

You can read the rest of the WSJ.com article here.

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

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Equine Law | Owner Putting a blight on Horse Racing

April 14, 2009

Filed under: Planning for Pets with Pet Trusts — Christopher J. Berry @ 9:20 pm

michiganpettrusthorse.jpgWe help our clients prepare Michigan pet trusts for their animals, including horses.  New York horse lawyer Todd Engel had an interesting post regarding equine law entitled “An Owner Putting a Blight on Horse Racing.”

In the article a man was accused of neglecting over 170 horses on his farm.  The owner failed to treat the horses and left them malnourished.  The local racing association has now revoked the stables racing privileges.

According to Engel, “owners of thoroughbred horses have an absolute obligation to care for our horses.”

-Christopher J. Berry, Esq.
Michigan Pet Trust Lawyer

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Common Michigan Medicaid Application StrategiesCommon Michigan Medicaid Application Strategies

April 30, 2009

Filed under: Elder Law,Long Term Care,Medicaid Planning — Christopher J. Berry @ 9:07 pm

Michigan Medicaid planning is a consistently changing and very technical area of law.  Before you begin gifting things away in preparing for a Medicaid application, it is important to speak with a Michigan Medicaid planning attorney or Michigan elder law lawyer.

Here are some of the common strategies that Michigan elder law and Michigan Medicaid planning lawyers are utilizing.

First, marriage opens up some great avenues for Medicaid planning with the Sole Benefit of Trusts (or SBO Trusts) along with using the community spouses asset allowance.  Second, if there is a disabled member in the family the SBO Trust could be utilized.  Next, we can convert countable assets into excluded assets.  Another technique is the Half a Loaf strategy that uses short term annuities and gifting.  A great option for real estate is using the Ladybird Deed.

If you or a loved ones is contemplating filing for Medicaid, please contact our office.  We can help you navigate the confusing system.

-Christopher J. Berry, Esq.
Witzke Berry PLLC
Michigan Medicaid Planning Lawyers | Michigan Elder Law Lawyers

What do Oranges and Estate Planning Have In Common?

April 24, 2009

Filed under: Estate Planning — Christopher J. Berry @ 9:10 pm

estate planning orange.jpgWalter Bristow has an interesting post at his blog.  The post is titled “A Tale of Oranges and Estate Planning.”  In his post, he compares the different aspects of an orange to the different needs beneficiaries have in terms of estate planning.  Then he continues to make an analogy that with the use of life insurance, one can make sure there is enough “juice” for all the beneficiaries, as well as the IRS.

He writes “If the answer to both questions is the juice and there’s not enough juice for both family and the IRS (and other creditors), it’s clear that someone is not going to be happy. If preventing that conflict is important to you (and not everyone feels it is), you will want to look for a way to make sure there will be enough juice for everyone.”

It was a good read, so go check it out here.

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

Preparing for College Can be Hard

April 23, 2009

Filed under: Estate Planning,Holistic Estate Planning — Christopher J. Berry @ 9:12 pm

With you child’s college acceptance now in hand, you can turn your attention to preparing your 18 year old for this new and exciting stage of life.

You will have a lot to plan for as you prepare to send your “baby” off to school this fall.  Making sure that they have the right bedding, dorm supplies and meal plan is all part of that planning.

Once you’ve gotten through the checklists and dropped them off (with some tears and lots of good advice), the only thing you’ll have left to do is worry.  You’ll worry whether your freshman is eating enough, studying enough, and getting enough sleep. While we can’t help with these everyday concerns, we can help with one of the big ones:  How will you know if something happens to your son or daughter while away at school?

In most cases, unless your 18 year old has created the appropriate legal documents, (i.e. HIPAA release, Patient Advocate Designation) you might not know.  HIPAA, the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, was created to help protect patient privacy; but it can mean that you, as the parent of an “adult child”, may not be able to get information about your child in a medical emergency. This is why your 18-25 year old college aged child needs a HIPAA release before leaving home.

-Christopher J. Berry, Esq.

Michigan Estate Planning Attorney


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