Risky Weather Coming? Protect Your Important Papers and Property

October 31, 2012

Filed under: Estate Planning,Estate Recovery — Tags: , , , , , , , , — Christopher J. Berry @ 12:20 pm

Flash floods, killer tornadoes, wind-fueled wildfires, hurricanes: Are you prepared if Mother Nature forces an evacuation from your home? Here’s what to do before disaster strikes:

Keep one set of original or photocopied records in a portable file system or lock box that will permit grab-and-go convenience if you evacuate. Make a backup set of electronic copies and save them on CDS, DVDs or external drives that should be stored in a safe location, like a bank safe deposit box or the distant home of a trusted friend or relative. Be sure to keep records updated.

The documents should include:

• Personal: Birth and marriage certificates, divorce decrees, passports, diploma and military documents, Social Security card, and photocopies of your driver’s license and the front and back of all credit cards. Also include phone numbers of friends and relatives, because numbers stored on your cellphone may be inaccessible if its battery dies and you can’t recharge.
• Home and property: Home deed, mortgage and closing statements; car titles; insurance policies or at the minimum, policy number and contact information for your agent and insurer; appraisal documents for jewelry and other valuables.
• Estate: Your will, executor and estate planning paperwork, including names and phone numbers.
• Medical: Medicare or health insurance cards, prescription records (especially for medications for chronic conditions such as diabetes and asthma), and contact information for your doctors.
• Financial: Stock and bond certificates; IRA or 401(k) account numbers; bank statements; and tax records, including W2s and important receipts.

Prove your possessions

Take and safeguard photographs or video of the contents of each room– including the garage– to minimize insurance claim hassles, and as proof that you own possessions that might be lost or damaged. Know Your Stuff is free online software provided by the Insurance Information Institute to help you conduct a home inventory. Consider using the IRS workbook “Casualty, Disaster and Theft Loss” for estimated fair market value figures of your items lost.

Read more and discover the importance of 1) keeping a disaster kit, 2) stuff that will be useful, 3) how to ride out the storm, and 4) utility services.

Attorney Christopher J. Berry is a Metro Detroit estate planning and elder law lawyer who helps families, seniors, veterans and business owners with their important legal needs. Oakland County estate planning lawyer, Christopher Berry is a partner in the Bloomfield Hills law firm of Witzke Berry PLLC. Mr. Berry practices in the areas ofestate planning, business, probate, veterans benefits & Medicaid planning. Follow Christopher on Twitter@chrisberryesq

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Next-of-Kin Laws and Digital Assets

October 9, 2012

Filed under: Asset Protection,Estate Planning,Estate Recovery — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — Christopher J. Berry @ 12:29 am

Terms and agreements for each online service vary regarding just what happens to a digital account after death. Facebook, for example, cannot be shut down completely without official documentation, such as a death certificate. Certain email services deny access to anyone without a password, however, Hotmail and Gmail have recently defined a next-of-kin process, which enables confirmed family members to access the deceased’s contact lists and close the accounts.

There are currently five states that either have or are enacting laws that will protect your digital legacy. Nebraska is the latest state to propose legislation to allow next-of-kin to control digital accounts after a user has perished. According to Adele McAlear, the creator of deathanddigitallegacy.com, the proposed bill is modeled after Oklahoma’s digital property management after death law, which passed in 2010.

Idaho passed a similar law in 2011, while Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Indiana have older legislation covering email and digital files. Sherry Walters-Walker, an estate settlement services manager at Northern Trust hopes for uniformity down the line, and that one day there will be laws that allow executors access to all accounts.

Laws are different for each service and state, contact Michael P. Witzke and discover Michigan’s next-of-kin laws regarding digital assets.

Mr. Witzke practices in the areas of estate and gift tax planning, financial planning, retirement planning, charitable giving, elder law, and small business planning. He focuses on helping clients grow, protect, and transfer wealth efficiently. Mr. Witzke is a past president and board member of the Financial Planning Association of Michigan, a member of the board of directors for Leadership Oakland, and a member of the planned giving advisory committees of Wayne State University and the Community House in Birmingham. Follow Mr. Witzke on Twitter @gr8estatelawyer.

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Estate Recovery in Michigan is Here | July 1, 2011

July 1, 2011

Filed under: Estate Recovery — Christopher J. Berry @ 5:12 pm

Well, it’s been a long road to the enactment of estate recovery in Michigan.  Estate recovery is the process whereby the state of Michigan will place liens on the probate assets for anyone who passes away and also received Medicaid payments for long-term care.  Basically, the state of Michigan will look to get reimbursed by placing a lien on the house if it goes through probate.

Estate Recovery in Michigan was signed into law in 2007, however it has not been administered, until today, July 1, 2011.

To find out more about estate recovery in Michigan, download our free report at www.michiganestaterecovery.com.

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Estate Recovery Southfield, Michigan

June 29, 2011

Filed under: Estate Recovery — Christopher J. Berry @ 1:03 am

I was at a meeting today with other senior service providers in Southfield, Michigan and I brought up that Michigan estate recovery was starting on July 1st, 2011, and was throughouly suprised at how many people were not ware of how the program was going to work for their families and their clients.

If you would like presentation on the estate recovery program in Michigan, give our office a call at 248-971-1700.

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Michigan Estate Recovery Guide- Updated for June 27th, 2011

June 27, 2011

Filed under: Estate Recovery — Christopher J. Berry @ 11:23 pm

The Definitive Guide to Michigan Estate Recovery has been udpated on June 27th, 2011.  I’ve tried hard to pull my research into one comprehensive guide on Michigan Medicaid estate recovery that cuts out all the legalese and provides answers to commonly asked non-lawyer questions.

Download the Definitive Guide to Michigan Medicaid Estate Recovery.

Our firm is happy to present on this new development in Michigan Medicaid planning.  Especially if your group services seniors, such as geriactric care managers, assisted living facilities, senior independant living, or you are part of a nursing home.

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Michigan Enacts Estate Recovery Law

June 26, 2011

Filed under: Elder Law,Estate Recovery — Christopher J. Berry @ 12:42 am

Michigan enacted estate recovery on September 30, 2007, making Michigan the last state in the nation to comply with an over 14 year, at the time, federal mandate.  Estate recovery in Michigan is found in MCL 400.112g and federally 42 U.S.C. 1396p.  State law in Michigan states that the Michigan Department of Community Health will attempt to recoup from the estates of nursing home Medicaid funded long-term care recpients some of the costs the state of Michigan incurred in paying for the Medicaid recpieint’s care.

–Definitive Guide to Michigan Estate Recovery–

As a Michigan elder law attorney, I receive proposed changes to the Medicaid policy handbook changes.  Well, two months ago, a change came accross that verified that Michigan was about to start enforcing the estate recovery law as of July 1st.

Michigan’s estate recovery program will affect recipeints of Medicaid funded nursing home or MIChoice services.

Michigan will attempt to recover from a Medicaid recipient’s probate estate, thus any assets passing through probate (generally the only probate asset for a Medicaid recpient is the family home) will face a lien applied by the state of Michigan for any cost of care.

If you would like more information, including ways to protect the family home, download our Definitive Guide to Michigan Estate Recovery, at no cost.

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Who Owns Your Facebook Pages When You Die?

February 6, 2013

Filed under: Asset Protection,Estate Administration,Estate Recovery — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , — Christopher J. Berry @ 7:11 pm

Most people probably spend more time on Facebook than they’d like to admit — but what happens to your Facebook page when you die?

New Hampshire is one of the several states trying to figure that out. State Rep. Peter Sullivan introduced legislation to allow the executor of an estate control over the social networking pages of the dead. The New Hampshire House of Representatives voted last week to give Sullivan more time to write an amendment that begins a study of the issue.

(Related: Technology Companies and the Deceased)

Sullivan, a Democrat from Manchester, per the proposed bill, would allow control of someone’s Facebook, Twitter, and even Gmail to be passed to the executor of their estate after death. He believes that if if this bill passed, it would bridge a gap in policies of social media sites regarding posthumous users.

“This would give the families a sense of closure, a sense of peace. It would help prevent this form of bullying that continues even after someone dies and nobody is really harmed by it,” Sullivan said.

(Related: Ethical Wills and Leaving a Legacy Worth More Than Money)

Five other states, including Oklahoma, Idaho, Rhode Island, Indiana and Connecticut, have established legislation to regulate an individual’s digital presence post mortem.

Opponents of Sullivan’s bill hold that contracts and provisions between the social media user and the site already lay out what happens to the page once the user passes. Also, they believe the bill is unenforceable and incomplete, while others contend the issue would be better covered under federal law.

In 2010, a similar bill was sponsored by Oklahoma state legislator, Ryan Kiesel, called the Digital Property Management After Death Law. While Kisel supports state’s efforts to bring clarity to this issue, he is one of the believers that it is a case that should be eventually taken up by the federal government.

“Facebook and other online providers have changed their privacy policies to keep up with the times, but we still see a lot of flux within different sites like Facebook , Flickr, or Google, for example.” Keisel told ABC News. “The federal government should pass uniform laws to govern all digital assets because it is quite difficult for an estate to have to navigate endless numbers of digital policies postmortem.”

Now a civil rights activist, Kisel compared a digital legacy to the distribution of tangible assets after death.

(Related: Managing Digital Assets with Online Services)

“In Oklahoma, if you are administrator of the estate of a deceased person’s house and you find a box under their bed, you are well within your right to see what’s inside that box and if property is worth distributing, you should distribute it accordingly.” Kiesel told ABC News that the same idea goes for digital legacy.

Facebook recently celebrated the ninth Anniversary of its launch, and currently has over 1 billion active users. That number, up from just a million users in 2004, hints that the is likely an enormous number of Facebook pages that are currently occupied by the deceased.

As is, Facebook has created a memorial function allowing Facebook pages to become memorials after they have died.

“Please use this form to request the memorialization of a deceased person’s account,” the site reads. “We extend our condolences and appreciate your patience and understanding throughout this process.”

Read more: http://news.yahoo.com/facebook-death-172350356.html

Marc H. Wander is a partner of the Bloomfield Hills law firm of Witzke, Berry, Carter &Wander, PLLC. Marc has been licensed to practice law in Michigan since 1992. Marc’s practice is devoted to estate planning and business succession planning.  Marc is a member of the Probate and Estate Planning Section of the State Bar of Michigan and is a prior Chairperson of the Oakland County Bar Association Tax Committee. He is a frequent continuing education speaker to insurance agents, financial advisors, CPA’s and financial industry organizations. He has also been heard on WJR Radio. Follow Marc on Twitter @MarcWander

Technology Companies and the Deceased

January 8, 2013

Filed under: Estate Planning,Estate Recovery — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , — Christopher J. Berry @ 5:54 pm

With so much of our lives online these days, many are curious as to what exactly happens to your digital stuff when you die? Currently, neither the U.S. nor Canada have consistent laws that treat digital data and accounts like physical goods, to be distributed via an estate plan after death.

Too often families are caught between estate laws (which grant them access to digital data) and privacy laws (which would forbid it). Some people create “social media wills” or share their passwords with a trusted person, while others use commercial services like LegacyLocker.com and SecureSafe.com, which allow people to store their account information in one place.

(Read more: Why Your Clients Should Be Concerned With the Federal “Death Tax”)

Without access to passwords and account details for the deceased, families must work within the guidelines of each individual tech company to gain access to their loved ones’ data. This can be a difficult process because most companies approach these situations differently.

This is a guide to navigate how some major internet companies handle the accounts of the deceased as of the end of 2012.


  • Won’t disclose passwords for Gmail or for its social network, Google+, or transfer ownership of an account.
  • Won’t deactivate an account without a court order.
  • May provide contents of a dead user’s account if family mails or faxes proof of the death and family connection, and family meets additional legal requirements such as an order from a U.S. court.
  • Doesn’t offer Facebook-style “memorialization” for Google+ accounts.

(Read more: Estate Tax On the Rise, Don’t Panic, Plan)


  • Won’t disclose passwords or transfer ownership of an account.
  • Will remove an account upon request of the family
  • Will “memorialize” accounts if notified (not necessarily by a family member) that the user has died. Memorialization prevents anybody from logging into the account but allows friends to post remembrances and memorials to the deceased person’s account.
  • Won’t disclose the contents of a deceased user’s account without a legal process.


  • Won’t disclose passwords.
  • If a user wants his family to have access to his account and after his death, Yahoo recommends he provide consent and his account information (username, password and/or answers to challenge questions) in his estate plans. Otherwise Yahoo won’t provide families data from the accounts of dead people.
  • Will deactivate an account if the estate provides a death certificate via fax or email.

(Read more: Why You Need to Put Your Living Together Agreement in Writing)


  • Won’t disclose passwords or transfer ownership of a Hotmail/Outlook.com account.
  • Doesn’t consider it a violation for surviving family that gets a court order or otherwise has authority from the deceased to use his or her password to log into the account.
  • Will deactivate an account upon the request of family.
  • May provide contents of a dead user’s email if family contacts Microsoft via email and provides other documentation, which depends on location.


  • Won’t disclose passwords.
  • Doesn’t disclose account data without a court order in the U.S.
  • Doesn’t offer Facebook-style “memorialization” of accounts.
  • Will deactivate an account if a family contacts Twitter with a copy of death certificate, a notarized statement, and other details.


  • Won’t disclose passwords or transfer ownership of an account.
  • Will remove an account from public view if requested by immediate family.
  • Won’t disclose account data without a court order in the U.S.
  • Doesn’t offer “memorialization” of accounts.


  • Won’t disclose passwords for accounts, or transfer ownership of an account.
  • Allows others (even beyond family members or executors) to report the death of a member, which causes the account and its data to be hidden from public view. People reporting deceased members usually must know the email address associated with the deceased person’s account.
  • If a family specifically requests it, will delete an account and all of its data.
  • Will not provide account data to others, including family members, unless required by a court.
  • Doesn’t offer Facebook-style “memorialization” for accounts.

Read more: http://blogs.wsj.com/digits/2013/01/04/what-to-do-online-when-a-loved-one-dies/

Marc H. Wander is a partner of the Bloomfield Hills law firm of Witzke, Berry, Carter &Wander, PLLC. Marc has been licensed to practice law in Michigan since 1992. Marc’s practice is devoted to estate planning and business succession planning.  Marc is a member of the Probate and Estate Planning Section of the State Bar of Michigan and is a prior Chairperson of the Oakland County Bar Association Tax Committee. He is a frequent continuing education speaker to insurance agents, financial advisors, CPA’s and financial industry organizations. He has also been heard on WJR Radio. Follow Marc on Twitter @MarcWander


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