Estate Tax Fix by House Dems

Filed under: Estate Planning,Federal Estate Tax — Christopher J. Berry @ 4:29 pm

It looks like the House Democrats are looking for a 1 year fix to the Federal Estate Tax issue. As the law currently stands, at the end of this year, there will be an unlimited estate tax exemption. Then come 2011 and beyond, the estate tax exemption will be at $1million. Meaning anyone who passes away with over $1million will get taxed at 55%. Well the House Dems are looking to slap a band-aid on the estate tax issue by continuing this years rules into 2010.

You can read the article from here: House Democrats to Ditch Permanent Estate Tax Bill for 1-Year Fix.

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Michigan Guardianships and Conservatorships Explained

November 17, 2009

Filed under: Estate Administration — Christopher J. Berry @ 4:34 pm

What happens when an Oakland County Probate Judge and Oakland County Probate register get together?  Why the write an opinion piece for the Oakland Press, of course!

You can read Oakland County Probate Judge, Eugene Arthur Moore and Oakland County Probate Register Jill Koney Daly’s piece explaining very succinctly what a Michigan living probate is by reading the article here: Guardianships, conservatorships explained.

Kudos to them for getting this important education out to the public.

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Long Term Care for Senior Veterans

November 16, 2009

Filed under: Elder Law,Long Term Care — Christopher J. Berry @ 4:35 pm

In the year 1919 President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed November 11 as Armistice Day to honor those Veterans who served during World War I. On November 11, 1954, Armistice Day was proclaimed a legal national holiday and the name was changed to “Veterans Day” to honor all veterans of all wars.

Every November 11, ceremonies are held throughout the United States honoring Veterans of wars. A National Ceremony is held at Arlington Cemetery at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, where the laying of the presidential wreath and military playing of “Taps” is presented.
Since its establishment in 1930, the Department of Veterans Affairs has evolved to supporting and aiding the nation’s veterans in numerous ways. One of these services for example, the Veterans Health Administration, is the largest single provider of medical care in the United States. Its 22 regions with 154 hospitals and their associated 875 outpatient clinics offer the following services.

Hospital, outpatient medical, dental, pharmacy and prosthetic services
Domiciliary, nursing home, and community-based residential care
Sexual trauma counseling
Specialized health care for women veterans
Health and rehabilitation programs for homeless veterans
Readjustment counseling
Alcohol and drug dependency treatment
Medical evaluation for disorders associated with military service in the Gulf War, or Treatment for exposure to Agent Orange, radiation, and other environmental hazards
HISA grants
Other special benefits

The Department of Veterans Affairs provides three types of long term care services for veterans.

The first are health care benefits provided to veterans who have service-connected disabilities, who are receiving VA Pension or who are considered low income. These services include free medical care, possible free prescription drugs, orthotics and prosthetics, home renovation grants for disabilities, home care, assisted living, domiciliary care, nursing home care, and a possible host of other services or benefits.

The second benefit is state veterans homes. The majority of these homes offer nursing care but some may offer assisted living or domiciliary care. The Department of Veterans Affairs in conjunction with the states helps build and support state veterans homes. Money is provided to help with construction and a federal subsidy of $72.71 a day is provided for each veteran using state veterans nursing home services. These homes are generally available for most veterans and sometimes their spouses and in some cases for so-called “Goldstar parents.” Veterans homes are run by the states, sometimes with the help of contract management. There may be waiting lists in some states.

The third benefit for veterans is disability income programs. The most familiar of these benefits is an income for service-connected disabled veterans called “Compensation.” The least known of these is a program officially called “Pension” but popularly known as the “aid and attendance benefit.”

All active-duty veterans who served at least 90 days during a period of war are eligible for Pension and the additional income from aid and attendance or housebound allowances. A single surviving spouse of such a veteran is also eligible.
All qualifying veteran applicants over the age of 65 are eligible for pension but must meet income and asset tests. Applicants under the age of 65 must in addition be totally disabled to qualify. Disability does not have to be service-connected.
A surviving spouse can be any age and there is no need for disability.

The aid and attendance benefit can pay additional income to provide for the costs associated with home care, assisted living, nursing homes, adult day care and other unreimbursed medical expenses. It can also pay for a family member other than a spouse to be the care giver. The amount of payment varies with the type of care, recipient income and the marital status of the recipient. Here are some examples of how this benefit can help veterans.

Example #1
The National Care Planning Council receives many calls from family members of veterans, asking if there is any help available to them. One such call came from a woman who had been juggling her job and caring for her father in her home for over five years. She had just lost her job and with no income, did not know how she would keep her home or give her father the care he needed. She read an article that had been written by the National Care Planning Council and published in her local newspaper and called their phone number. The article mentioned that a member of the family — not including a spouse — can be paid through VA to provide care for a loved one at home who is either a war veteran or the surviving spouse of a war veteran. Her father is a war veteran. When told that she could get an additional $1,644 a month through her father by providing her father’s care she was shocked. She was also extremely grateful and ended up sobbing into tears over the phone when she found out about the benefit and realized it would help her keep her home and her father may probably get a check for her retroactive previous care from VA worth tens of thousands of dollars.

Example #2
Another recent caller’s mother is 89 years old and has been in assisted living for four years. As a widow of a veteran she did not qualify for the Aid & Attendance Pension 4 years ago because her assets were too high. In the meantime she has been using up her assets along with her income to pay for the assisted living. The local veterans service office has not been helpful in getting this claim approved even though she had reached the allowable asset limit over two years ago. The family was considering putting her in a less desirable facility under Medicaid. The family knew this would be devastating for their mother. Her health was still good and she had many friends and comforts at the assisted living.

The National Care Planning Council directed the caller and his family to a more cooperative veterans service office that will submit the claim and likely get it approved retroactively so that this woman can get a check for roughly $40,000 worth of previous care costs for which she was not reimbursed. In addition, she will likely get the full benefit of $1,056 a month to help pay the cost of the assisted living where she is happy.

These types of claims require medical evidence in order to receive a rating for aid and attendance or housebound allowances. These ratings must be received or certain non-medical expenses associated with long term care are not deductible from income. Special rules also allow for deducting the annual anticipated cost of month-to-month long term care from household income in order to meet the income test. This special treatment requires special documentation and evidence. In addition, those households with substantial assets will be denied for a Pension income unless those assets are below a certain level determined for each case by VA. The personal residence, personal vehicles and personal property are exempted from this asset test. Finally, evidence must be supplied every year in January that the anticipated costs for the previous year were actually incurred or VA will likely demand for its money back.
The National Care Planning Council has compiled the necessary forms, rules and information about claims together in one book titled “How to Apply for the Veterans Aid & Attendance Pension Benefit.”

This book contains information about how a typical applicant receives a successful pension award. VA often tells callers to go ahead and fill out the application but generally provides no information on the special treatment of annualization of anticipated recurring medical costs. The claims form also contains no information on this important issue. One simply has to know how to do it. This crucial information can make the difference between a successful award and being declined. All necessary forms for filing a claim are in the book.

Veterans who have substantial assets may need to do some estate planning and realigning of assets to qualify. An expert in this area should be sought to help with the application in order to avoid lengthy delays in awarding a benefit or a possible denial of benefits. For a list of individuals or companies in your area who understand how to get this benefit go to

To learn more about this benefit go to

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Bloomfield Hills Lawyer Michael Witzke named Top Metro Detroit Lawyer by DBusiness Magazine

November 13, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — Christopher J. Berry @ 4:39 pm


Bloomfield Hills lawyer, Michael P. Witzke, Esq. has been named a Top Lawyer by DBusiness magazine. DBusiness magazine one of Metro-Detroit’s premier business journals.  You can see Mike’s listing as a Metro-Detroit Top Lawyer here: Detroit Top Lawyer.  You can see the whole feature in DBusiness magazine or you can see it online here: DBusiness Top Lawyers.

Way to go, Mike!

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Online Wills, Legalzoom and Suze Orman Will and Trust Kit

Filed under: Do It Yourself Estate Planning Gone Wrong,Estate Planning,LegalZoom,Quicken Willmaker,Suze Orman — Christopher J. Berry @ 4:36 pm

Mention Legalzoom and Suze Orman’s Will and Trust Kit and it raises my blood pressure a bit. Many attorneys and experts have spoken about the dangers of these products for unsuspecting consumers. Well, South Florida estate planning attorney, David A. Shulman, has added further evidence to the assertion that documents prepared by these “products” may not be the best for consumers.

In his blog he writes that the Wall Street Journal editorial page did a review of the two Online will packages and compared them. South Florida estate planning lawyer, David A. Shulman continues:

But there should be one and only one relevant question, and this is “Do the documents work?” In the event of her death, do the documents accomplish what she wants them to do, while minimizing taxes, protecting her heirs from creditors, and keeping administrative expenses and time and headaches to a minimum?

What’s the idiot consumer’s answer to that question?

“We didn’t hire a lawyer to review them.”

You can read David’s entire blog post here: The Wall Street Journal Totally Blows it on Online Wills. I recommend you check out his blog, especially if you are looking for a South Florida estate planning attorney.

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Michigan Probate Process- How It Works

November 12, 2009

Filed under: Estate Administration,Estate Planning,Living Trust,Probate,Will — Christopher J. Berry @ 8:05 pm

Our Bloomfield Hills Probate Lawyer office helps individuals and families with Michigan estate administration issues on a regular basis. One thing that I must remind clients of many times, is that the Michigan probate process is generally, not as quick and easy as you would like it to be.

If you do not have a properly funded trust based estate plan, there is a very good chance that your estate will end up under the jurisdiction of the Michigan probate courts. That may not be a bad thing, but you have to understand that if your estate is in the Oakland County Probate Court system, Macomb County Probate Court system, the Wayne County Probate court system, or any other Michigan Probate Court system, there will certain hurdles and hoops that will have to be jumped through.

In addition to jumping through certain administrative hoops, you have to understand that there are certain statutory requirements that each probate court requires. Even if the Michigan probate matter is an unsupervised, informal probate case. You still need to keep the probate estate open for a at least 5 months. You still have to publish a notice to creditors. You still have to complete the inventory in a timely matter (within 91 days of appointment).

Maybe it is a failure on my part to educate and explain that even with a Michigan probate lawyer handling the administration, I can’t wave a magic wand and bypass all the requirements of the Michigan probate court process.

Well, I take that back. I can, its called proper Michigan estate planning. Through proper planning (typically a living trust based Michigan estate plan that is properly funded) you can avoid the probate court completely. A Michigan Will does not avoid probate, no matter how pretty the backing or how long the document. A Michigan Last Will and Testament is your ticket to the probate system.

This isn’t to bash the Michigan probate system either. I love the people at the probate register and the staff. But, the public needed to understand that there are certain rules and formalities involved and most of the time those rules and formalities were put in place for a reason.

That said, by working with an experienced Michigan probate lawyer, we can navigate the process to minimize the work, stress, and excess costs to make the process as smooth as possible, but we have to follow the rules and jump through the hoops.

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Why you need a Michigan Living Trust versus a Last Will and Testament if you are a Business Owner

November 10, 2009

Filed under: Business Planning,Estate Administration,Estate Planning,Probate — Christopher J. Berry @ 8:08 pm

As a Michigan estate planning lawyer, I participate in online discussions with other estate planning attorneys across the nation to stay up on the latest estate planning and business succession planning news, laws, and cases.  Well, one of my colleagues very succinctly summarized two situations that he has seen occur when a business owner only had a Last Will and Testament and not a Revocable Living Trust based estate plan.

The first situation occurred when a client became disabled.  With a Last Will and Testament that doesn’t become effective in Michigan until the creator passes away, the court had no ability to pass the business to who the client would have preferred, a brother in this instance.  What happened was that the business basically disintegrated with a lack of proper leadership.

Now if the client had used a Michigan Revocable Living Trust based estate plan drafted by a Michigan trust planning lawyer, the successor trustee, the brother in this case, would have been able to step and continue the business during the client’s disability.  Michigan Living Trusts provide for trustees to manage assets (and businesses) during the incapacity of the creator while a Last Will and Testament has no such provisions and is only effect upon death.

The second situation is when the business owner dies.  At this time the Michigan Last Will and Testament will have to be probated.  During the date of death and the opening of the probate estate, or even worse upon final distribution if the proposed business successor isn’t the Michigan personal representative, the business disintegrates or is diverted to third party creditors.  With a Michigan Revocable Livnig Trust based estate plan, the transition is quick and seamless, there won’t be any erosion due to lack of legally recognized leadership.

So, if you are a Michigan business owner and are considering a Trust vs. a Will it’s important to not only consider your personal assets, but also the business in creating your Michigan estate plan.

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Michigan Aid and Attendance Pension for Veterans

November 30, 2009

Filed under: Elder Law,Long Term Care,Michigan Veterans Benefits — Christopher J. Berry @ 4:26 pm

Did you know about the little known veterans benefit called the Aid and Attendance, also known as the Aid and Attendance Pension?  The Michigan Veterans Aid and Attendance pension provides veterans and surviving spouses of veterans with benefits for everyday needs such as eating, bathing, dressing, and other elder care needs that the veteran or their surviving spouse needs assistance from an individual in doing.

The Michigan Aid and Attendance benefits are generally available to veterans (and spouses) who are blind, reside in an assisted living facility or nursing home.  In addition their are certain asset limits that futher confuse applying for these benefits.  Often times, veterans need assistance in uncovering what exactly their benefit will be and how to meet the qualifications.  It is important to work with an Michigan Veterans Benfits attorney that is familiar with Michigan Veterans Benefits when doing any type of Michigan long-term care planning.

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Michigan Estate Planning Lawyer Blog receives The Lovely Blog Award

November 20, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — Christopher J. Berry @ 4:28 pm

A special thanks to my fellow estate planning attorney, Ellen Victor of the Long Island Special Needs Law Blog, for nominating the Michigan Estate Planning Lawyer Blog for the Lovely Blog Award.

I’m very passionate about the work that I do and I think the public needs to hear and think about estate planning. Blogging about Michigan estate planning issues is a great way to get the message out.

So, thank you again, and drum roll please, my nominations:

  • Massachusetts Wills, Trusts, and Estates – Danielle G. Van Ess
  • Florida Estate Planning Lawyer Blog- David M. Goldman
  • South Florida Estate Planning Blog- David Shulman
  • New York Real Estate Law Blog- Devery Law Group
  • Michigan Collection Law Blog- Gary Nitzkin
  • Michigan Bankruptcy Lawyer- John HIlla
  • Massachusetts Estate Planning and Elder Law- Leanna Hamill
  • San Diego Estate Planning Attorney Blog- Audrey Grossman
  • North Carolina Estate Planning Blog- Gregory Herman-Giddens
  • Pennsylvania Estate Planning Blog- Jakubik Law Firm
  • My Shingle- Carolyn Elefant

Talking to Loved Ones About What Really Matters

November 19, 2009

Filed under: Estate Planning,Holistic Estate Planning,Power of Attorney — Christopher J. Berry @ 4:31 pm

Talking to Loved Ones about What Really Matters

“The Holidays” can mean travel, excitement, gathering together with those you love, stress, conflict, and any or all of these things.

We wish you the happiest of holidays.

We also urge you to take the time this holiday season to talk with those you love about what’s truly important to you, and what’s important for them to know.  Make sure you tell them that you love them.  Make sure you tell them about your estate plan, about where they can find your important legal and financial documents in an emergency, and who your important advisors are (e.g. estate planning attorney, financial advisor, accountant).  We understand that these conversations with family members can be difficult to start.  But they are important.  Talk to those you love about the legal, financial and health care decisions you have made, and take the time, while you still can, to explain your choices.

Talking about your healthcare directives can also be a good lead-in to talking about your other personal and financial choices with those you love.  It’s important — for you and for them.  Take this extra step to ensure that everyone knows what you want while you can still answer questions and provide feedback.  And then eat a lot, have a wonderful time, and enjoy your holiday!


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