Revocable Living Trust Benefits in Michigan

May 26, 2009

Filed under: Estate Planning,Federal Estate Tax,Living Trust,Probate — Christopher J. Berry @ 8:54 pm

Many clients ask us what are the benefits of having a revocable living trust in Michigan.  There are a few benefits to a properly planned living trust prepared by a Michigan trust and estate planning lawyer.

First, a properly funded living trust can avoid the Michigan probate process.   Assets that pass through a living trust from the grantor to the beneficiaries or that are held in trust for the beneficiaries avoid the Michigan probate system.  A last will and testament does not avoid probate.  A Michigan living trust will avoid Michigan probate, if properly funded.

Second, as a grantor, you are able to exert far more control over your assets and how the are distributed.  For example, you could create a Michigan revocable trust where, when you pass away, your assets are held in trust for the benefit of your children for a period of time, shielding those assets from poor financial decisions of your children or lawsuits, or creditor claims.

Third, you are able to do sophisticated Federal estate tax planning strategies.

Most people look to the living trust for the first two benefits, probate avoidance and control over their assets.

If you have any questions on how to set up a properly drafted Michigan living trust, please contact a Michigan estate planning lawyer.

-Christopher J. Berry, Esq.
Bloomfield Hills Trust and Estate Lawyer

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Michigan Estate Planning Basics

May 20, 2009

Filed under: Elder Law,Estate Administration,Estate Planning,Health Care Directives,Holistic Estate Planning,Life Insurance,Living Trust,Living Will,Planning for Parents with Minor Children,Planning for Pets with Pet Trusts,Power of Attorney,Probate,Retirement Accounts,Will — Christopher J. Berry @ 8:56 pm

michigan-estate-lawyer.jpgIf have you ever dealt with a parent’s or loved one’s estate,  financial affairs or Michigan probate, you most likely know what a pain it is to administer their estate, clean up their affairs, and locate important documents and records.  I wanted to provide you some straightforward easily digestible advice on how make sure you don’t leave your loved ones in a lurch.

First and foremost, you must get organized.  You should begin creating a list of all your assets, liabilities, accounts, passwords.  Compile all of your records in one place and make sure they are safe and that your proposed personal representative, trustee, or whoever will handle you affairs when you pass, knows where to locate your documents.

The next step is to identify what your goals are with regard to when you become incapacitated or pass away.  Do you want to protect your assets in case you go into a Michigan nursing home?  Do you want to protect your children from poor financial choices with your inheritance?  Do you want to avoid the hassle, stress, cost of Michigan probate? Do you want to provide for your pets to be taken care of and not euthanized?  There are many difficult decisions to take into account.  We can provide you a list of some of the items to think about with regard to Michigan estate planning.  Just contact us using the contact form on this page.

Third, you need to select your team of advisors including your Michigan estate planning lawyer or Michigan elder law attorney.  Your attorney will assist you, along with your accountant and financial professional in matching the legal environment to your goals to create an individualized Michigan estate plan to meet your goals.  Through meeting with your Michigan estate planning professionals, you will have a Michigan estate plan that may include  living trusts, wills, general durable powers of attorney, health care powers of attorney, HIPAA authorizations and living wills.  Though Michigan statute does not recognize a living will.

Next, there should be a review of how your assets are titled.  For example, who is the beneficiary of your life insurance?  Should it be titled into the trusts or should the life insurance go outright to beneficiaries?  What about the IRA’s and 401k’s?  These are all questions and items that will be reviewed with your Michigan estate planning attorney and the rest of your estate planning team.

Next, it is important to speak with all of your family members about what decisions you made and how your Michigan estate plan will be implemented and how it will take effect.  If our clients are interested, we have a “family meeting” where we have our clients bring in any family members or children to answer any questions in a round table format so that all of the loved ones and beneficiaries are on the same page.

Last, you need to review your estate plan annually once completed.  There can be changes in your family situation, changes in Michigan or Federal law, or changes in the tax laws.  Any changes could have drastic effects on your estate plan.  We bring our clients in every year as a part of our Foundations program to ensure that their estate plan is just effective the day they signed there documents as it is the day the the documents take effect.

The key to Michigan estate planning is taking action.  You can’t wait until the day you need an estate plan to start thinking about estate planning.

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

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Michigan Probate | Who Can be a Personal Representative?

May 18, 2009

Filed under: Estate Administration,Probate — Christopher J. Berry @ 9:00 pm

We have an Oakland County probate case where the decedent died intestate, which means without a will.  The decedent left no children or parents.  So the question is who can step forward as a personal representative for this Oakland County probate matter?

In Michigan, there is a set of rules that establish priority for appointing a personal representative, starting with individuals named in a last will and testament.  If there is multiple people and one of the levels of priority then you have to either serve notice and wait the allotted time or get them to sign off with a renunciation of their right to come forward as a personal representative.

This is just another hoop to jump through in the Michigan probate process.  We assist clients in navigating Oakland County Probate, Wayne County Probate, and Macomb County Probate matters.

-Christopher J. Berry, Esq.
Michigan Probate Lawyer

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Federal Estate Tax Update | Obama Looking at Nixing Federal Estate Tax Strategies

May 15, 2009

Filed under: Estate Planning — Christopher J. Berry @ 9:01 pm

Our President is looking to curb two major and popular estate tax planning techniques, the GRAT and the discounted Family Limited Liability Partnership/Family Limited Liability Company.

The WSJ has a great write up on the strategies and what Obama is planning on doing to curb their appeal.  You can read the article here.

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

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Probate Litigator Loves Do It Yourself Will Kits

May 11, 2009

Filed under: Do It Yourself Estate Planning Gone Wrong,Estate Administration,LegalZoom,Probate,Quicken Willmaker,Suze Orman,Will — Christopher J. Berry @ 9:02 pm

Probate litigator, Roy Newman, has a new blog post commenting on how the do it yourself will kits, such as, Suze Orman Trust Kit, or Quicken Willmaker are a probate litigator’s dream because of all the inherit flaws involved.

You can read his post at the California Probate Center.

-Christopher J. Berry, Esq.
Michigan Probate Lawyer

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Medicaid and Nursing Home Patients Receiving $250 Government Stimulus Payment

May 8, 2009

Filed under: Elder Law,Long Term Care,Medicaid Planning — Christopher J. Berry @ 9:05 pm

Many individuals receiving governmental assistance will be receiving a $250 stimulus payment from the Federal Government as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 according to an Elder Law Answers blog post, which you can read here.

A questions that many Medicaid participants will have is whether this payment will counted as income and thereby place the Medicaid participant over the Michigan income limit.  The answer to the question is no, additionally the amount will not be gross income for tax purposes.

-Christopher J. Berry, Esq.
Michigan Elder Law Lawyer | Michigan Medicaid Planning

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Michigan Seniors | AG Mike Cox has done a disservice to Michigan Seniors

Filed under: Do It Yourself Estate Planning Gone Wrong,Estate Planning — Christopher J. Berry @ 9:03 pm

AG Mike Cox has done a disservice to Michigan seniors.  His office has created a website entitled “Senior Brigade” where they try to consolidate information seniors may find helpful.  Unfortunately, one of the areas on the website has free legal forms to download.  I refuse to link to the website because I think this is doing a great disservice to our Michigan seniors if they think they download a form, fill in the blanks, and have a substitute for sound legal advice.  Estate planning is more than just having a document that says Michigan living trust, last will and testament, or power of attorney.  Those documents need to meet your goals.

Some of the problems I have with this are:

  1. I don’t know who drafted them, but the documents themselves are far from the best legal drafting I’ve seen.  For example, the living trust form has no provision for the support of a spouse or dependents in the event of disability of the settlor.
  2. The financial power of attorney is far to broad and gives immediate power to do just about anything (which could lead to further elder abuse, thanks Mike Cox!)
  3. Read the disclaimers!  While these documents are word documents that are easily downloadable and modified, there is a disclaimer that says “This is a form and the Attorney General is not providing personal legal advice with the publication of this document. This document is an informational guide..”.  In other words, this is no better than the Legalzooms, Suze Ormans, Quicken Willmakers, out there.  Use at your own risk.
  4. This is confusing for Michigan Seniors.  Doesn’t this make it easier for unauthorized practice of law now that trust mill peddlers can say that the forms were “approved by the Michigan Attorney General himself!”?
  5. This reeks of a political move my Mike Cox to win the trust of Michigan seniors for his upcoming Governor race.  In the end this is only hurting Michigan seniors.  I am not aware of his office ever contacting the Michigan Elder Law Council or Michigan Estate planning Council of the State Bar of Michigan.
  6. There is more better senior information at the Michigan Long Term Care Connection website, which I am happy to link to here.
  7. On the site it implies fees for even significant probate estates were only around $500, which is ridiculous.  Just a few weeks ago, we were sending a check to the Wayne County Probate court in amounts in excess of $1500 for an inventory fee.

Today, myself and many other Michigan estate planning lawyers and Michigan elder law lawyers are disappointed in the Attorney General Office and Mike Cox because he is doing a disservice to Michigan Seniors.

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

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Do You Have Kids? You Need an Estate Plan, no excuses!

May 29, 2009

Filed under: Estate Planning,Planning for Parents with Minor Children — Christopher J. Berry @ 8:49 pm

When you have loved ones, such as you children depending on you, you have no excuse not to create an estate plan.  If you have children you MUST plan for the situation where you are removed from the equation.

Some questions to think about.  Who would care for your children if you were gone?  Financially how would your children be cared for?  Would you want your children to inherit everything at age 18 with absolutely no strings attached?  If the person you initially named to care for your children predeceased you or was unable to care for your kids, who could you name as back up.

It is an absolute must that you provide for the guardianship of your children in not only your last will and testament, but also separate guardianship forms.  Additionally, you should name temporary guardians if your primary guardians are out of state.  Next you should consider how your children will be provided for financially.  Consider living trusts and life insurance.

You may not have any perfect answers now, but it is important not to procrastinate.  Set up a time now to meet with a Michigan estate planning lawyer who can walk you through these difficult decisions with care and counseling.  We dedicate a portion of our estate planning practice to helping parents with minor children navigate these important issues.

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

IRA Conversion to a Roth IRA | Planning Opportunity

May 28, 2009

Filed under: Estate Planning — Christopher J. Berry @ 8:53 pm

We are Michigan estate planning lawyers, not financial planners, that said there is a great opportunity that is on our financial planning/estate planning radar.  That is the opportunity to convert your IRA’s to Roth IRA’s.

The original idea behind IRA’s was to put money away while you are in a higher tax bracket, let it grow and compound tax deferred, then take the money out while you are in a lower tax bracket.  Well, many estate planning attorneys are reporting that their retired clients aren’t necessarily in that lower tax bracket.  Maybe the idea of defer, defer, defer is not true.  In that case the taxes on your IRA’s may be a tax bomb just waiting to go off.

So the opportunity now is that with this economic discount we are facing thanks to the economy, now might be the time to move funds from the IRA to a Roth IRA.  That way, once this economic discount period is over, the retirement account will be tax free with no required minimum distributions (RMD’s).

This is just one area where estate planning and financial planning overlap.  As Michigan estate planning attorneys, we look at any opportunity to provide discounts and tax savings to our  clients.

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

Michigan Probate Questions and Answers

Filed under: Estate Administration,Estate Planning,Probate — Christopher J. Berry @ 8:51 pm

As a Michigan probate lawyers we handle Oakland county probate, Wayne county probate, and Macomb county probate matters on a regular basis.  In meeting with clients, here are some common Michigan probate questions I am initially asked.

  • How long will the Michigan probate process take from opening to closing?

The answer disappointments many people.  The absolute shortest time that a Michigan probate will remain open is five months.  In that time, notice to creditors must be published and creditors must be given time to make claims against the estate.  While five months is the minimum, the average Michigan probate takes between six to twelve months.  That is assuming it is properly handled from the beginning by competent Michigan probate lawyers.  If there are complications in the process, it can run even longer.

  • How much will the Michigan probate matter cost me or the estate?

The answer is, it depends.  It depends on the complexity of the matter, size of the estate, and time the probate process takes to run its course.  On average, a probate will eat up 3-5% of any assets that pass through the probate system.  Costs included filing fees, inventory fees, attorney fees, publication fees, document fees, attorney fees, etc.  For example, our office has paid upwards of $1500 to the Wayne county probate court just for the inventory fee alone.

  • What about creditors of the deceased?

The personal representative in the Michigan probate must notify known creditors and publish notice to unkown creditors.  Once notice is published, creditors have a period of four months to step forward to make a claim against the estate of the deceased.

  • Can Michigan Probate be avoided?

The answer is yes.  We, as Michigan estate planning lawyers, help our clients avoid the probate system on a daily basis.  We assist our clients by preparing revocable livng trusts, and working with their beneficiary designations to make sure that they avoid probate.  I’ll just mention that utilizing joint ownership, naming children on quit claim deeds, naming children on joint accounts is not a good idea.  Sure you can avoid probate, but you are opening up a whole other can of worms including liability issues and nasty tax consequences.

-Christopher J. Berry, Esq.
Bloomfield Hills Probate Attorney


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