What No Federal Estate Tax Means

February 18, 2010

Filed under: Estate Planning,Federal Estate Tax — Christopher J. Berry @ 3:50 pm

If you listen to the news and talking heads you would think that with our 2010 “repealed” estate tax, everything is wonderful for those who want a low overall tax burden. Well, that might not be the case. Take a look at this Wall Street Journal article entitled “Why No Estate Tax Could Be a Killer.”

The article points at that while there is no estate tax to speak of, under current law, in 2010, there is a change in how the capital-gans tax rules are handled.  According to the article, estates with assets between $1.3 and $4.3 million would have been better off under last years estate tax rules, while bigger estates will have more of a tax savings this year.

Where do we go from here?  Who knows.  We all thought that the $3.5 million exemption amount we had last year would have been frozen and carried forward.  However, our government took no action.  The later we get into 2010, the more that I think we will look at the estate tax exemption coming back at $1 million per the current law for 2011 and beyond.

Either way, it is important that your estate plan be reviewed to make sure that the Federal Tax planning strategies that were used are still sufficient.

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Feng Shui Master will not inherit Billionaire’s Estate

February 16, 2010

Filed under: Estate Administration,Estate Planning,Probate,Probate Litigation — Christopher J. Berry @ 3:51 pm

The Elder Law Prof Blog has an interesting little post dealing with the Hong Kong Billionaire, Nina Wang’s estate. Apparently, Ms. Wang who was known as “Little Sweeite” had a will drawn up in 2002 leaving her estate to a charity. A Judge just ruled that a “feng shui will” from 2006 would be invalidated due to Ms. Wang’s signature being forged. You can read the post here: Feng Shui Master won’t Inherit Eccentric Billionaire’s Estate.

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Ten Reasons to Create Your Michigan Estate Plan Right Now

February 15, 2010

Filed under: Estate Planning — Christopher J. Berry @ 3:52 pm

Here are 10 Reasons to Create your Michigan Estate Plan right now.

Many people think that estate plans are for someone else, not them. They may rationalize that they are too young or don’t have enough money to reap the tax benefits of a plan. But as the following list makes clear, estate planning is for everyone, regardless of age or net worth.

1. Loss of capacity. What if you become incompetent and unable to manage your own affairs? Without a plan the courts will select the person to manage your affairs. With a plan, you pick that person (through a power of attorney).

2. Minor children. Who will raise your children if you die? Without a plan, a court will make that decision. With a plan, you are able to nominate the guardian of your choice.

3. Dying without a will. Who will inherit your assets? Without a plan, your assets pass to your heirs according to your state’s laws of intestacy (dying without a will). Your family members (and perhaps not the ones you would choose) will receive your assets without benefit of your direction or of trust protection. With a plan, you decide who gets your assets, and when and how they receive them.

4. Blended families. What if your family is the result of multiple marriages? Without a plan, children from different marriages may not be treated as you would wish. With a plan, you determine what goes to your current spouse and to the children from a prior marriage or marriages.

5. Children with special needs. Without a plan, a child with special needs risks being disqualified from receiving Medicaid or SSI benefits, and may have to use his or her inheritance to pay for care. With a plan, you can set up a Supplemental Needs Trust that will allow the child to remain eligible for government benefits while using the trust assets to pay for non-covered expenses.

6. Keeping assets in the family. Would you prefer that your assets stay in your own family? Without a plan, your child’s spouse may wind up with your money if your child passes away prematurely. If your child divorces his or her current spouse, half of your assets could go to the spouse. With a plan, you can set up a trust that ensures that your assets will stay in your family and, for example, pass to your grandchildren.

7. Financial security. Will your spouse and children be able to survive financially? Without a plan and the income replacement provided by life insurance, your family may be unable to maintain its current living standard. With a plan, life insurance can mean that your family will enjoy financial security.

8. Retirement accounts. Do you have an IRA or similar retirement account? Without a plan, your designated beneficiary for the retirement account funds may not reflect your current wishes and may result in burdensome tax consequences for your heirs (although the rules regarding the designation of a beneficiary have been eased considerably). With a plan, you can choose the optimal beneficiary.

9. Business ownership. Do you own a business? Without a plan, you don’t name a successor, thus risking that your family could lose control of the business. With a plan, you choose who will own and control the business after you are gone.

10. Avoiding probate. Without a plan, your estate may be subject to delays and excess fees (depending on the state), and your assets will be a matter of public record. With a plan, you can structure things so that probate can be avoided entirely.

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More Problems with LegalZoom

February 12, 2010

Filed under: Do It Yourself Estate Planning Gone Wrong,Estate Planning,LegalZoom — Christopher J. Berry @ 3:54 pm

Well, it looks like there are more problems with using LegalZoom, according to Texas attorney Rania Combs. If you remember she had a great post about LegalZoom on her blog entitled The Problem with LegalZoom(And Other Do-It-Yourself Estate Planning Solutions). Well, apparently, LegalZoom was also paying attention. They corrected a few of the problems as it relates to Texas law in their documents.

In her new post entitled The Problem With LegalZoom (Part 2)- Inaccuracies Corrected But Problem Remains, she points on the biggest inherent problem with using LegalZoom, or any other Do-it-yourself approach to estate planning.  Look at the disclaimer.  Attorney Combs analyzes the LegalZoom disclaimer in great detail.

Some of the troubling language includes “the legal information on LegalZoom’s website is not guaranteed to be correct or up-to-date” and “LegalZoom does not review your answers for legal sufficiency..”.  Yikes!

Attorney Combs ends her post with the conclusion that LegalZoom and all of the do-it-yourself options are a risky approach to completing your estate plan.  As a Michigan estate planning attorney, I concur.

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SSI, SSDI, SSA, and SNT- What Do They All mean?

Filed under: Special Needs Planning,Special Needs Trusts — Christopher J. Berry @ 3:54 pm

There are quite a few acronyms in estate planning and special needs planning. Long Island Special Needs Planning Lawyer Ellen A. Victor has a great post on the differences between Social Secuirty Disability Income (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income. You can read her post here: The Difference Between SSI and SSDI is More than Just a Letter.

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National Healthcare Decisions Day is Coming

February 10, 2010

Filed under: Elder Law,Health Care Directives,Long Term Care — Christopher J. Berry @ 3:56 pm

National Health Care Decisions days is just around the corner. April 16th, 2010 will be the third anniversary of National Health Care Decisions day which helps increase awareness of advanced health care planning and educating Americans about the importance of making health care decisions.

As a Michigan elder law attorney and member of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys, I want to help spread the word. If you have any questions about National Health Care Decisions day, please contact me or visit the website: NHDD.

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Michigan Elder Law; What is It?

Filed under: Elder Law — Christopher J. Berry @ 3:55 pm

Over at a new blog we’ve put together I have a post entitled “What is Michigan Elder Law?“. Feel free to hop over there and take a look.

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What Do a Metro Detroit Top Lawyer and a Burger Place Have in Common?

February 25, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Christopher J. Berry @ 3:47 pm

Michael Witzke was recently named a Metro Detroit “Top Lawyer” in DBusiness Magazine, which is great. As his law partner, I’m very happy for him and look to win that honor in the near future. However, I too was just recently in DBusiness magazine as well. My photo, along with my wife, was in DBusiness magazine for the VIP grand opening of a new Bagger Dave’s restaurant in Novi, Michigan. I think in the grand scheme of things, I win!

You can read the article and see the pictures here: Bagger Dave’s Grand Opening.

-Christopher J. Berry

LegalZoom Lawsuit Claims Unauthorized Practice of Law

February 22, 2010

Filed under: Do It Yourself Estate Planning Gone Wrong,Estate Planning,LegalZoom — Christopher J. Berry @ 3:48 pm

A new law suit in Missouri has been started against LegalZoom, those creators of do-it-yourself estate planning documents. The lawsuit claims that LegalZoom is engaged in the unauthorized practice of law and sites a cease-and-desist letter from the North Carolina State Bar’s Unauthorized Practice Committee. You can read a short article about the suit at Suit Claims LegalZoom’s Document Prep is Unauthorized Practice.

Bloomfield Hills, Michigan Elder Law Attorney Christopher J. Berry Accredited by Veterans Administration

February 20, 2010

Filed under: Elder Law,Michigan Veterans Benefits — Christopher J. Berry @ 3:49 pm

Bloomfield Hills, Michigan Elder Law Attorney Christopher J. Berry Accredited by Veterans’ Administration

I have been and now again have been re-welcomed by The Department of Veterans Affairs in Washington, D.C.  as an accredited attorney for the preparation, presentation, and prosecution of claims for veterans’ benefits before the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

The accreditation allows me to assist Michigan Veterans with representation of their Veterans Administration claims.

I am honored to be one of the few Metro-Detroit elder law attorneys accredited with the Department of Veteran Affairs.

As a resource to Michigan Veterans, we’ve established a few websites that can provide information on both elder law (www.michiganelderlawcenter.com) and Michigan Veterans benefits (www.veteransbenefitsmichigan.com).  Also, you may request a free copy of our booklet entitled Long Term Care Benefits for Veterans.


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