Estate Tax, Will it Disappear?

October 23, 2009

Filed under: Estate Planning — Christopher J. Berry @ 8:16 pm

I’ve blogged at the Michigan Estate Planning Lawyer Blog many times on the Federal Estate Tax, so you know that unless congress acts soon, next year we will be in an enviroment with an unlimited estate tax exemption. Well, in addition to that unlimited estate tax exemption there is a little talked about issue that has the potential to make a huge tax mess for anyone passing away in 2010.

The issue is the “step-up in cost basis”. If we get to 2010 and there hasn’t been any change in law, then not only are we going to see no estate tax, but also there will be no step-up in basis. What this means is that if Grandpa purchased a house back in 1950 for $10,000, passes and transfers the property to grandchild in 2010 and grandchild sells the property for $100,000. Then grandchild will be looking at a taxable gain of $90,000 versus no taxable gain under the old system.

The WSJ has an in depth article on the subject which you can read here: Will the Estate Tax Disappear?

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Planning for Your Elder Years

October 15, 2009

Filed under: Elder Law,Holistic Estate Planning,Long Term Care — Christopher J. Berry @ 8:20 pm

If we were to ask an older person what his or her most important concerns for aging are, we would probably get a variety of different answers. According to surveys frequently conducted among the elderly, the most likely answers we would receive would include the following three principal concerns or life wishes:

1. Remaining independent in the home without intervention
from others

2. Maintaining good health and receiving adequate health care

3. Having enough money for everyday needs and not outliving
assets and income

To address these concerns or wishes and maintain the quality of life wanted in the elder years, it simply takes a little preplanning.

Few people do this kind of planning.

It is human nature not to worry about an event until it happens. We may prepare financially for unexpected financial disasters by covering our homes, automobiles and health with insurance policies.

However, no other life event can be as devastating to an elderly person’s lifestyle, finances and security as needing long term care. It drastically alters or completely eliminates the three principal lifestyle wishes listed above.

The majority of the American public does not plan for this crisis of needing eldercare. The lack of planning also has an adverse effect on the older person’s family, with sacrifices made in time, money, and family lifestyles.

Because of changing demographics and potential changes in government funding, the current generation needs to plan for long term care before the elder years are upon them.

Let us look at some facts.

The population of the “very old,”–older than age 85–is the
fastest growing group in America. This population is at
highest risk for needing care. (Statistical abstract of the United States,
2008, population)
Medical science is preventing early sudden deaths, which
means living longer with impaired health and greater risk of
needing long term care.
The Alzheimer’s Association estimates the risk of
Alzheimer’s or dementia beyond age 85 to be about 46% of
that population.
It is estimated that 6 out of 10 people will need long term
care sometime during their lifetime.
Children are moving far away from parents or parents move
away during retirement making long distance care giving
difficult or impossible.
Government programs–already stretched thin for long term
care services–will experience even greater stress on
available funds in the future.

One of the important things for planning is how to maintain your lifestyle as you age. You may be healthy enough to stay in your own home with help provided for the following activities of daily living:

maintaining a home,
providing meals,
transportation and
shopping services.

This type of care at home is non-medical and must be provided free of charge by family, friends, or volunteers or the care must be paid for out-of-pocket by the family.

Government programs, in most cases, will not pay for this kind of care. It is estimated that 80% of all long term care is non-medical, with 90% of that care provided in the home. It is most likely that your long term care will begin with home care.

It is wise to plan now how you will pay for care when it is needed. In evaluating your future income you may find it necessary to add some resources such as long term care Insurance to pay for assisted living or nursing home costs. Long term care insurance must be purchased while you are younger and healthy. Failing health, stroke or other aging issues will not allow you to qualify for this insurance.

A reverse mortgage will also help pay for home care if staying in your home is an option.

Consider where you may want to live in your elder years. Many assisted living facilities offer complete care alternatives with a nursing home wing if needed. Senior retirement communities also offer many amenities with some including home care options.

Now is the time to do estate planning. A professional estate planner will give you direction on how best to protect your assets for future needs and for Medicaid planning.

Do your paper work. Now is the time to create your trusts, will, medical directives in a living will and any other documents you want noted for future use. Gather Insurance policies and bank records where they can be found by family members in case you are not able to get them yourself.

We don’t like to think of our elder years in terms of health problems, but a sudden stroke, heart failure or onset of dementia could make it impossible to carry out our own wishes if preparation was not made ahead of time.

The process of long term care planning involves the following four

1. Knowledge and preparation are the keys to success.
2. Having funds to pay for care expands the choices for care
settings and providers.
3. Using professional help relieves stress, reduces conflict, and
saves time and money.
4. Success is assured through a written plan accepted by all
parties involved.

(The above excerpt is quoted from “The 4 Steps of Long Term Care Planning,” National Care Planning Council)

The National Care Planning Council’ s website — — provides over 700 pages of information for long term care planning and lists services of professional care providers in estate planning, long term care insurance, reverse mortgage, home care and many other important long term care services.

The National Care Planning Council’ s book, “The 4 Steps of Long Term Care Planning,” provides information on what Medicaid and Medicare will cover as well as an overview of professional long term care service providers and how their services can help you create and execute your long term care plan. A check list of what to do to create a plan and forms for creating necessary paperwork are also included in the book.

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Cheap Living Trusts and Free Wills?

Filed under: Do It Yourself Estate Planning Gone Wrong,Estate Planning,LegalZoom,Quicken Willmaker,Suze Orman — Christopher J. Berry @ 8:18 pm

Are you looking for a cheap living trust or a cheap will or last will and testament? Well if you are living in Ohio, there may be one less illegal trust mill taking advantage of people who are looking for a replacement to quality legal services by selling them fill in the blank garbage.

You can read more at the Florida Estate Planning blog of Jacksonville estate planning attorney David M. Goldman. Read his story here “Trust Mill Fined 6.4 Million in Ohio.”

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Preventative Maintenance for Your Estate Plan

October 13, 2009

Filed under: Estate Planning — Christopher J. Berry @ 8:26 pm

If you are doing what you should, you change your car’s oil every 3000 – 5000 miles. And you invest in maintenance and preventative care throughout the life of your vehicle. Estate plans are much like cars. And great plans, like great cars, come with warranties and a dedicated service staff to provide diagnostics and service before they are needed urgently.

Our firm’s Foundations Program is the best estate plan warranty you can buy, provided by the best estate planning service team available. Our annual maintenance program includes “tune-up” services, like reviews and updates on your estate planning documents, for free or at reduced rates. Clients who participate in the Foundations Program also receive discount on all the estate planning services they need. As a member of the Foundations Program you’ll be able to call into our office for that “one quick question” for free, and if your question needs research or even a meeting, you will receive a discount on the service. Throughout the course of the year we provide complimentary seminars, workshops and newsletters that will help you maintain your estate plan, help educate your trustee, and ensure that everything is simple and easy for those you love when the time comes for them to put your planning into action.

Another way that we continue to protect you through the Foundations Program is with your DocuBank card. We originally enrolled you in this electronic registry for your healthcare directives when you first created your living will and healthcare power of attorney. We did so because we wanted to ensure that doctors and hospitals would have your medical wishes (and your important medical information) available to them right away in an emergency. We still do. So we renew your DocuBank membership as part of Foundations Program — to make sure you’re still protected.

When you participate in the Foundations Program, you also get peace of mind. The peace of mind that you are keeping your planning up to date, and you aren’t leaving unfinished business to your loved ones. And the confidence that we are here for you as your estate planning firm whenever you need us. Always.

If you have any questions about the Foundations Program and what it can mean for you and your family, please call the office today at 248-971-1700.

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Estate Planning Moves You Should Put to Work

October 7, 2009

Filed under: Estate Planning — Christopher J. Berry @ 8:27 pm

It is easy to procrastinate on your estate planning. Many people think meeting with an estate planning attorney is a scary task because you’ll be talking about difficult subjects. Well, it doesn’t have to be. Matthew North outlines some broad-based moves to consider as you begin thinking about your estate plan. His article is entitled: “Put these estate planning moves to work.”

The article finishes with the following quote, which I agree with. “To make any of these moves — in fact, to make any moves at all related to estate planning — you’ll need to work with a team of professionals, including your tax, legal and financial advisors. Comprehensive estate planning can be complex and time-consuming — but it’s worth the effort.

It is important that you work with a qualified Michigan estate planning attorney to put your Michigan estate plan in place.

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Troy Michigan Estate Planning Lawyer Presentation- Joint Title to Bank Accounts

October 5, 2009

Filed under: Estate Planning,Power of Attorney — Christopher J. Berry @ 8:28 pm

I was in Troy, Michigan giving an estate planning presentation when someone in the audience asked “whether he should be on a joint account with his parents to aide them in paying their bills?”

My answer was that there is a better way to go about things utilizing a Michigan financial durable power of attorney.  With a financial power of attorney in place naming the son as agent-in-fact, he would be able to aide his parents with their bill paying and finances while protecting his parents from creditor claims against himself and providing the parents the peace of mind knowing that the son owes the parents a fiduciary duty.

If you have named anyone other than your spouse jointly on a bank account or deed, you may be opening up a can of worms.  Feel free to contact us if you are in this situation, as there may be a better way to handle it.

Tuesday, October 6th, I will be presenting again on Michigan Estate Planning in Troy, Michigan in the afternoon.

-Christopher J. Berry, Esq., A Troy, Michigan Wills and Living Trust Attorney, is a Partner with The Law Offices of Witzke Berry PLLC, which practices in the areas of Troy Estate Planning, Troy Michigan Medicaid Planning, and Troy Michigan Probate Litigation, serving Metro-Detroit and Oakland County, Macomb County, and Wayne County.  We can be reached at 248-971-1700

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Same-Sex Hopsital Visitation Rights Case Tossed out of Federal Court

October 1, 2009

Filed under: Estate Planning — Christopher J. Berry @ 8:30 pm

A federal court has thrown out a case of a same sex partner who was not allowed to visit her dying partner at a Florida hospital according to You can read the story here: Lesbian’s case against Jackson Memorial Hospital tossed.

According to the story, the hospital took a position that there is no legal duty or obligation to allow any type of visitors to the hospital, and apparently the federal court agreed.

As a Michigan estate planning attorney, this reinforces in my mind the need for a person’s wishes to be clearly outlined in an estate plan, especially if you are an unwed opposite-sex partner or a same-sex partner.  You need to take proper legal steps to reach similar benefits that married couples are granted.  I just blogged about this here: “Unwed Estate Planning in Michigan“.

It is important for unwed couples to have their disability documents in order, including a Patient Advocate Designation, HIPAA Authorization, and Financial Power of Attorney.

-Christopher J. Berry, Esq., A Birmingham Wills and Living Trust Attorney, is a Partner with The Law Offices of Witzke Berry PLLC, which practices in the areas of Same-sex Estate Planning, Birmingham Medicaid Planning, and Birmingham Probate Litigation, serving Metro-Detroit and Oakland County, Macomb County, and Wayne County.  We can be reached at 248-971-1700

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Estate Planning Lawyer’s Top 20 Tax Rulings

October 30, 2009

Filed under: Estate Planning — Christopher J. Berry @ 8:10 pm

As a Michigan estate planning attorney I need to keep up to date on the ever changing legal and tax environment. The American Bar Association recognizes this and will be publishing an article drafted by two Chicago attorneys, entitled “Top 20 Tax Rulings Every Estate Planner Must Master.”

The interesting part is that they are letting estate planning attorneys vote on the top 20 tax rulings. The article based off our votes will be in an upcoming issue of the ABA’s Probate & Property publication.

You can view the list of rulings here: Of the Following Tax Rulings, Please Choose and Rank the Top 10 You Feel are the Most Important in Estate Planning.

Myths about Wills, Trusts and Estate Planning and What You Should Do

October 28, 2009

Filed under: Do It Yourself Estate Planning Gone Wrong,Estate Planning,LegalZoom,Living Trust,Quicken Willmaker,Suze Orman — Christopher J. Berry @ 8:12 pm

There are quite a few myths regarding Trusts, Wills and Estate Planning. A recent USA Today article address some of these myths. The article interviewed two colleagues from WealthCounsel, which is a national association of estate planning attorneys.

The myths that the article addresses include:

  1. Estate planing is only for the rich.
  2. If I die without a Will, everything will go to my spouse.
  3. I have a Will, my estate wont go through probate.
  4. After I create my Last Will and Testament or Living Trust, I’m set.
  5. I could be held responsible for a deceased parent’s debts.

You can read the article in its entirety here: 5 Myths about wills, and what you should do.

While overall, the article is well written, I do have one large point of contention.  The article suggest that some of the do-it-yourself options are viable, such as Legalzoom, Suze Orman Trust Maker, or Quicken Willmaker.  Read some of my past posts on why these options can be even worse than having no estate plan at all.

Forged Wills

October 26, 2009

Filed under: Estate Administration,Probate,Probate Litigation — Christopher J. Berry @ 8:14 pm

As Michigan probate lawyers we hardly ever run into situaitons where we have to engage in Michigan probate litigation over a forged last will and testament. That said, there is a forged will at the cent of the Booke Astor probate controversy. You can read the WSJ article on the subject of forged wills here: Forged Wills Are Now Not Just Fiction.


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