More Seeking Estate Planning Guidance Online

May 24, 2011

Filed under: Do It Yourself Estate Planning Gone Wrong,Estate Planning,Michigan Veterans Benefits,Probate Litigation,Veterans Benefits — Christopher J. Berry @ 8:05 pm

If you were to google “Michigan Estate Planning Lawyer“, “Oakland County Estate Planning Attorney,” or “Michigan Veterans Benefits Lawyer“, one of our websites would show up very favorably.  The reason for that is our goal and desire to educate the public on estate planning, elder law, and probate issues.

There is a recent blog post and study that suggest that more and more people are looking to the internet and going online to find guidance with regard to their estate planning legal needs according to a blog post from the UK.  According to the study, some 48 percent of individuals polled suggested they went online for information regarding estate planning.

Also according to the study, much of the “self help” or “do-it-yourselfer-ers” can pose huge risks when it comes to the estate planning process.  That’s no news if you follow some of our past posts on how this type of planning can go horribly wrong.


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Estate Planning Matters: Even Rich and Famous Estate Crash and Burn

April 5, 2011

Filed under: Do It Yourself Estate Planning Gone Wrong,Estate Planning — Christopher J. Berry @ 4:44 pm

Michigan estate planning attorney, Matt Wallace, had an interesting post in entitled Planning Matters: “Even estates of rich and famous crash and burn.”

The article is great, because it starts my referencing how most people haven’t done any estate planning, but you’re not alone.  Not only haven’t you probably done any estate planning (or have it reviewed within the last year as recommended), but neither have many of the rich and famous.

This includes rich and famous lawyers as well.  For example, according to attorney Matt Wallace, in the article, Abraham Lincoln died without a will.  Take a look at the article, it’s a good read.

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Keeping Your Assets out of Michigan Probate Court

March 22, 2011

Filed under: Do It Yourself Estate Planning Gone Wrong,Estate Administration,Probate,Probate Litigation — Christopher J. Berry @ 2:36 pm

As a Metro Detroit estate planning and probate lawyer, I try to keep up on the latest news and blogs regarding probate and estate planning in Michigan.  That’s when I ran accross my friend and colleague, Grand Rapids Estate Planning Lawyer, Michael Lictherman’s latest blog post entitlted “Tips On Keeping Your Michigan Estate Out of Court.”

In his post he references another article and has a few quality tips on keeping your estate out of the probate court, which most of our clients wish to do.

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How Do I Create A Michigan Last Will and Testament?

December 29, 2010

Filed under: Do It Yourself Estate Planning Gone Wrong,Estate Administration,Estate Planning — Christopher J. Berry @ 9:38 pm

You don’t need a Michigan estate planning lawyer to create a last will in testament in Michigan. All you have to do is hand write on a napkin what you want to happen if you were to pass away, then sign and date the napkin. Now you have what’s called, in Michigan law, a holographic will, which is legal in Michigan.

Now as a Michigan wills and trusts attorney would I recommend this? Probably not, for one thing a will, including a holographic will, does not avoid the Michigan probate process among other reasons.

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LegalZoom is Unfair & Misleading

July 30, 2010

Filed under: Do It Yourself Estate Planning Gone Wrong,LegalZoom,Quicken Willmaker,Suze Orman — Christopher J. Berry @ 9:31 pm

There has been a class action lawsuit filed against LegalZoom, which is an online “document preparation” service. You can read more about the lawsuit at the Courthouse News Service.  This is no big surprise to the many estate planning lawyers and probate lawyer who stumble across people using these products.

A short snippet from the article:

Katherine Webster sued as executor of the estate of Anthony Ferrantino and trustee of the Anthony J. Ferrantino Living Trust.
Webster claims that LegalZoom’s website and advertising are premised on the misleading claim that “virtually anyone” can create a valid legal document through the site, and that the “customized” documents made by nonlawyers would be reviewed for “accuracy and reliability,” imbuing customers with a false sense of security.
“Nowhere in the manual do defendants explain that using LegalZoom is not the same as using an attorney and that its documents are only ‘customized’ to the extent that the LegalZoom computer program inputs your name and identifying information, but not tailored to your specific circumstances,” the complaint states.
Plaintiffs say they bought a living trust through LegalZoom, which was to include a revocable living trust, a will and a durable power of attorney. But Webster says the documents were flawed as a result of LegalZoom’s failures, and Ferrantino’s estate had to hire an attorney to correct the problems.

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A Great Way to Disinherit Your Children is By Utilizing “Do-It-Yourself” Estate Planning

April 15, 2010

Filed under: Do It Yourself Estate Planning Gone Wrong — Christopher J. Berry @ 9:58 pm

Texas Wills and Trusts Lawyer Rania Combs has a great blog post entitled “Do-It-Yourself Estate Planning Mistake Disinherits Child.“  This post is just another example of one of the risks of “Do-It-Yourself” estate planning gone wrong.  The post came at an interesting time, as it seems our law office has more estate planning situations with children from previous marriages right now then before.  Do yourself a favor and take a moment to read Rania’s blog.

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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.

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Seven Major Errors in Estate Planning

May 8, 2012

Filed under: Do It Yourself Estate Planning Gone Wrong,Estate Planning — Tags: , , , , , , — Christopher J. Berry @ 1:44 am

As a Michigan estate planning and elder care attorney, I try to stay on top of news articles referencing estate planning.  Some are good, some are bad. Forbes has a pretty good article on the Seven Major Errors in Estate Planning.  The author starts out commenting on how “It never fails to amaze me that so many otherwise savvy individuals, many of whom have there financial lives otherwise buttoned-up use poor judgment (or no judgment) when it comes to their estate planning.”  I’d have to agree, I’ve seen many wealthy individuals who have most of their ducks in a row, but little to no estate planning.  Or estate planning that was put together by an estate planning attorney, but wholly inappropriate for their situation.

The author goes on to list seven different areas where people make state planning mistakes.

Not Having a Plan

Many people come into our office with no estate plan at all.  Often people will ask when is a good time to initially think about estate planning, and my answer is when they have things or people they want to protect.  For example, with the birth of a child you would want to put together an estate plan that provides for your child in trust, as well as puts guardianship provisions so that your child does not go into a foster home.

Online or DIY Rather than Utilizing a Professional

There has been a noticeable uptick in people using online legal preparation software such as Legalzoom or Suze Orman.  Unfortunately, relying on these web-based DIY options can be a recipe for disaster.  Just look at some of my previous blog posts on the concerns with creating your own last will and testament.

Failure to Review Beneficiary Designation and Titling of Assets

Too often people will buy a living trust based estate plan from an estate planning attorney, but they will not fund it properly or fail to keep up with their funding.  I say “buy” a trust based estate plan, because all they’ve done is bought a set of documents.  It very well might not be worth the paper it was drafted on if it’s not funded properly.  That’s the difference between a product based estate planning attorney versus a counseling based estate planning.  If you’re going to go through the estate planning process, make sure you fund your trust properly.  That’s why our office will do a funding audit, to make sure that your revocable living trust is funded properly.

The author lists the rest of the mistakes here: Seven Major Errors in Estate Planning.

Bad Medicaid Planning Information On the Internet

June 22, 2011

Filed under: Do It Yourself Estate Planning Gone Wrong,Medicaid Planning — Christopher J. Berry @ 12:56 am

It’s amazing how much bad information I see out there as a Michigan Medicaid planning attorney.  For example, I was sitting at a meeting today and started talking with an indiviual who said he used to work for a certain “estate planning” firm in the Metro-Detroit area.  Well, when I had a chance I decided to pop over to their website to see what was going on with their firm, and after jumping through all the flash animation I finally got to the content.

They pride themselves and their seminars on being “estate planning” experts, so I was intrigued when I saw that they listed “medicaid planning” on their website as a speciality.  As an attorney that focuses entirely on estate planning and Michigan medicaid planning I was curious to see what informaiton they provided.

Well, according to them, there is a 36 month look back period on any divestments.  Well, this information is blatantly wrong and does a disservice to people searching for Michigan medicaid planning information in Michigan on the internet.  Obviously, with the implementation of the DRA back in 2007 (yes, the information they have is 4 years out of date), the new divestment penalty period is 60 months.

Five Ways to Bungle Trust Administration in Michigan

May 26, 2011

Filed under: Do It Yourself Estate Planning Gone Wrong,Estate Administration,Federal Estate Tax,Probate,Probate Litigation — Christopher J. Berry @ 7:34 pm

Estate planning with revocable living trusts answer at least three main questions which includes: Who gets what?  How do you minimize settlement costs, such as probate and estate taxes? And, who is in control after the trustmaker passes away?

Barron’s has a great article entitled “The Five Biggest Ways to Bungle a Trust” that describes many of the mistakes that do-it-yourselfers face when they go at trust administration alone.  As Michigan trust administration and Oakland county probate lawyers, we are often brought in to clean up theses messes.

The first way people screw up trust administration involves keeping faulty records.  Generally trustees in Michigan must provide at least annual accountings to the beneficiaries.  Often, these accountings are slapped together at the last minute by an overwhelmed trustee.  As Michigan trust administration and estate administration lawyers, we professionally manage this process for our clients.  Whether we handle it in-house or outsource it to highly qualified CPA’s, our client’s understand that it’s professionally done and the beneficiaries of the trust appreciate the clarity.

Another way that trustees botch the trust administration process is by failing to diversify the trust assets.  It may be tempting to sit on a big chunk of a single stock, but often times, as prudent investors, it’s important for the trustee to diversify the portfolio so as to minimize risk for the beneficiaries.

Yet another trustee issue we see is that of biased distributions.  Trustees owe a fiduciary duty to the current beneficiaries and the remaindermen.  Therefore, a trustee cannot favor one beneficiary over another or allow any personal bias into the decision making.

The fourth area we, as Oakland county trust administration lawyers, see trustees making poor judgements is in the concept of the trustee expecting a payday.   Trustees, when acting without the aid of an trust administration attorney, often expect at the end of the day they will get a windfall for the efforts, when in reality, more often than not, they are only entitled to reasonable expenses and fees.  Quite often this is a source of probate or trust litigation.

Lastly, as a trustee acting alone, often times we’ll see that they have a false sense of safety.  A trustee acting without experienced Michigan trust administration counsel can feel that there is an entitlement and honor in serving the role of trustee at the other beneficiaries will defer to any judgements or decisions you make.  This generally cannot be further from the truth.  Quite often beneficiaries are looking for any little mistake a trustee makes, even in the best of families.



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