Bloomfield Hills Estate Planning Attorney Prioritizes Details in Estate Planning

September 29, 2009

Filed under: Estate Planning,Life Insurance,Living Trust,Probate,Retirement Accounts,Will — Christopher J. Berry @ 8:36 pm

With the baby boomers aging, the largest amount of wealth in history is passing from one generation to the next. Unfortunately, people are procrastinating on their estate planning until it’s too late.

Over at the, they have an interesting article that discusses how to prioritize the details in estate planning which you can read here:  “Guest column: Tim Cisler Prioritize details in estate planning.”

From the point of view of a Michigan estate planning attorney, there are a couple key points that I would like to reinforce from the article.

First, don’t underestimate the value of your assets.  Sure the economy is down, that said, your estate could include your residence, your retirement accounts, your savings, and possibly your life insurance.  Add all those pieces up and you may be surprised at the value.  Regardless of the size, you most likely would want to protect those assets from needless expenses, for example the expense of opening a Michigan probate.

The next key point is to keep your beneficiaries designations updated on your assets, including life insurance, retirement accounts, deeds to property.  Just because it made sense at one point to name a family member the beneficiary of the IRA, doesn’t mean now or in the future it would make more sense to name the living trust the beneficiary.

Lastly, know the difference between a probate estate and a trust.  People think that just because they have a Michigan Will, they will avoid the Michigan probate system.  Not true, a Michigan Last Will and Testament is your ticket to the Michigan probate system.  If you want to avoid a Michigan Probate, then a living trust would be a better option.

Christopher J. Berry, Esq., A Bloomfield Hills Wills and Living Trust Attorney, is a Partner with The Law Offices of Witzke Berry PLLC, which practices in the areas of Bloomfield Hills  Estate Planning, Bloomfield Hills Medicaid Planning, and Bloomfield Hills 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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Michigan Estate Planning Basics

May 20, 2009

Filed under: Elder Law,Estate Administration,Estate Planning,Health Care Directives,Holistic Estate Planning,Life Insurance,Living Trust,Living Will,Planning for Parents with Minor Children,Planning for Pets with Pet Trusts,Power of Attorney,Probate,Retirement Accounts,Will — Christopher J. Berry @ 8:56 pm

michigan-estate-lawyer.jpgIf have you ever dealt with a parent’s or loved one’s estate,  financial affairs or Michigan probate, you most likely know what a pain it is to administer their estate, clean up their affairs, and locate important documents and records.  I wanted to provide you some straightforward easily digestible advice on how make sure you don’t leave your loved ones in a lurch.

First and foremost, you must get organized.  You should begin creating a list of all your assets, liabilities, accounts, passwords.  Compile all of your records in one place and make sure they are safe and that your proposed personal representative, trustee, or whoever will handle you affairs when you pass, knows where to locate your documents.

The next step is to identify what your goals are with regard to when you become incapacitated or pass away.  Do you want to protect your assets in case you go into a Michigan nursing home?  Do you want to protect your children from poor financial choices with your inheritance?  Do you want to avoid the hassle, stress, cost of Michigan probate? Do you want to provide for your pets to be taken care of and not euthanized?  There are many difficult decisions to take into account.  We can provide you a list of some of the items to think about with regard to Michigan estate planning.  Just contact us using the contact form on this page.

Third, you need to select your team of advisors including your Michigan estate planning lawyer or Michigan elder law attorney.  Your attorney will assist you, along with your accountant and financial professional in matching the legal environment to your goals to create an individualized Michigan estate plan to meet your goals.  Through meeting with your Michigan estate planning professionals, you will have a Michigan estate plan that may include  living trusts, wills, general durable powers of attorney, health care powers of attorney, HIPAA authorizations and living wills.  Though Michigan statute does not recognize a living will.

Next, there should be a review of how your assets are titled.  For example, who is the beneficiary of your life insurance?  Should it be titled into the trusts or should the life insurance go outright to beneficiaries?  What about the IRA’s and 401k’s?  These are all questions and items that will be reviewed with your Michigan estate planning attorney and the rest of your estate planning team.

Next, it is important to speak with all of your family members about what decisions you made and how your Michigan estate plan will be implemented and how it will take effect.  If our clients are interested, we have a “family meeting” where we have our clients bring in any family members or children to answer any questions in a round table format so that all of the loved ones and beneficiaries are on the same page.

Last, you need to review your estate plan annually once completed.  There can be changes in your family situation, changes in Michigan or Federal law, or changes in the tax laws.  Any changes could have drastic effects on your estate plan.  We bring our clients in every year as a part of our Foundations program to ensure that their estate plan is just effective the day they signed there documents as it is the day the the documents take effect.

The key to Michigan estate planning is taking action.  You can’t wait until the day you need an estate plan to start thinking about estate planning.

-Christopher J. Berry, Esq.
Michigan Estate Planning Attorney

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Why Crummy Trusts Are Not So Crummy

May 1, 2009

Filed under: Estate Planning,Life Insurance,Life Insurance Trust — Christopher J. Berry @ 9:06 pm

In estate planning, there is a term “Crummy Trust.”  A Crummy Trust is a type of irrevocable trust that has a provision called, “crummy power”.    With a “crummy power” there is only a limited amount of time where the gift can be accessed, but this time allows the gift to be considered complete and removes the asset from the estate of the one making the gift.

These “crummy powers” are typically used in irrevocable life insurance trusts.

You can read more about “Crummy Powers” in a blog by Christopher Yuo at

If you have questions on Michigan irrevocable life insurance trusts or “crummy powers” contact our Bloomfield Hills estate planning law firm.

-Christopher J. Berry, Esq.
Michigan Estate Planning Attorneys

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As Personal Representative do I have the right to know about the Deceased’s life insurance?

February 25, 2009

Filed under: Estate Administration,Estate Planning,Life Insurance,Probate — Christopher J. Berry @ 2:58 am

In Michigan, when you are the personal representative of a decadent’s estate, handling the Michigan probate court system and Michigan estate administration, a common question is to what information is the personal representative entitled to?

A personal representative is only entitled to handle assets that are passing through the Michigan probate court system.  Most life insurance will avoid Michigan probate due to having a named beneficiary.  However, if the there is no named beneficiary for the life insurance then the personal representative may have to include the account in probate and put the information on the probate inventory.

We help our clients avoid the Michigan probate process by setting up revocable living trust based Michigan estate plans. When necessary or referred to us, we assist our clients with handling Michigan probate estates in Wayne, Oakland, Macomb, and Lapeer counties.

-Christopher J. Berry, Esq.
Michigan Probate Lawyer

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Michigan Estate Planning Lawyer Co-Authors Estate Planning Strategies Book

February 20, 2009

Filed under: Elder Law,Estate Administration,Estate Planning,Life Insurance,Living Trust,Planning for Pets with Pet Trusts — Christopher J. Berry @ 6:34 pm

Estate Planning Strategies: Collective Wisdom, Proven Techniques, the book I have been working hard on has been published and is available on Amazon.  Estate Planning Strategies: Collective Wisdom, Proven Techniques was co-authored by my colleagues and I, estate planning lawyers across the nation.

In this new book Estate Planning Strategies: Collective Wisdom, Proven Techniques we, estate planning attorneys, have outlined essential estate planning strategies for everyone, no matter level of wealth, in easy-to-understand language, Estate Planning Strategies: Collective Wisdom, Proven Techniques helps people comprehend the entire estate planning process from start to finish.

Estate Planning Strategies: Collective Wisdom, Proven Techniques is a great reference book for all professionals. The chapter I wrote on Testamentary capacity is particularly important since it is so frequently misunderstood.

Estate Planning Strategies: Collective Wisdom, Proven Techniques explains:

-Christopher J. Berry, Esq.
Michigan Estate Planning Lawyer

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Term Life Insurance or Whole Life Insurance

December 12, 2008

Filed under: Estate Planning,Holistic Estate Planning,Life Insurance — Christopher J. Berry @ 7:26 pm

For many people, choosing the right type of life insurance can be a complex and daunting experience.  This sounds very similar to the estate planning process.  Often people looking to their insurance provider, financial planner,or Michigan estate planning attorney for advice on the different types of insurance available.

As a Michigan estate planning lawyer, I do not sell the insurance or tell clients which insurance to get, but I will educate them on the difference between the types of insurance available.  I leave the selling, recommendations,  and specific advice to the insurance professionals and financial planners.

Often people are confused with the difference between term insurance and whole life insurance.

Continue reading “Term Life Insurance or Whole Life Insurance” »

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8 Life Stages of Estate Planning: Part 1

November 28, 2012

Filed under: Asset Protection,Estate Planning,Life Insurance,Will — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , — Christopher J. Berry @ 2:15 pm

Your estate plan should account for the many stages of life that you experience. Below is a rundown of the estate-planning tools you should have if you’re just beginning your life’s journey, halfway through, or approaching the homestretch.

Ch. 1: Planning for life

  • 8 life stages for planning
  • The basics of estate planning
  • Estate-planning Q&A
  • Should you have a will?

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

Young, single and carefree

Parents make financial decisions for children by law, until they reach 18, and that legal right is vanquished. Consider the worse, if something happened to you, it is in your best interest for your parents to have access and control to your health care and financial decisions. Access to your medical providers, and more importantly, a say in your health care decisions protects you in the event of the unforeseen.

(A Risky Lifeline for the Elderly Is Costing Some Their Homes)

If you’re over 18 and unmarried, execute four documents to ensure  your loved ones can carry out your wishes:

1. A general durable power of attorney enables you to designate who will control your finances if you become incapacitated, whether it’s your parents or another loved one.
2. A health care proxy allows you to designate who will make medical decisions on your behalf in the same situation.
3. A living will lets you lay out your wishes regarding life-sustaining medical treatment.

Estate planning life stages

  1. Young and single.
  2. Single, but committed.
  3. Engaged.
  4. Just married.
  5. Parents.
  6. Divorced.
  7. The middle years.
  8. The golden years.

(Sandbagging In M&A Deals: Silence May Not Be Golden)

4. Finally, a Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA, release enables your designated agent to discuss your medical condition without violating patient privacy laws. Without those documents, loved ones may have to resort to seeking guardianship over you in court at a time when it is the last thing in the world that they want to be doing.

Single, but committed

A will or trust can ensure your life partner inherits your possessions if you’re in a long-term relationship but unmarried. Otherwise, state law deems that they go to your closest relatives.

(The Global Logic of Strategic Alliances)

We’re engaged!

A prenuptial agreement isn’t only for people who have a lot of money. It’s essential for everybody. A lot of people divorce because they’ve never had conversations about money. A prenuptial agreement forces people to engage in this financial conversation.

Just married

Edit your durable power of attorney, health care proxy and HIPAA release if you want to eliminate any question that your spouse should control your financial and medical decisions if you become incapacitated. Think of Terri Schiavo, referring to the woman whose parents and husband battled publicly for seven years over the right to make health care decisions on her behalf after she became incapacitated. She didn’t have a health care proxy.

(Lesbian Couples’ Marriage Rights)

If you do not have a revised durable power of attorney, your spouse also can’t administer property solely in your name or property you hold jointly with your spouse. Also, indicate the person you’d like to make financial and medical decisions on your behalf in the event an accident incapacitates you and your spouse.

If you don’t already have one, this is also the time for a will or trust. In a lot of states, if you die without a will and have a spouse but no children, your spouse will inherit some of what you own, but your parents will also inherit. Avoid the risk of a fight between your spouse and parents over who should inherit, and have a will or trust definitively state who should receive your assets. Also, if you own a home, purchase life insurance that will pay off your mortgage if one spouse dies.

(The Paperwork Mountain at Veterans Affairs)

Finally, change your beneficiary designations in terms of health insurance and investment plans so they pass to your spouse. A lot of people think when they get married, those things change on their own, but that’s not the case. Visit your human resources department and ask which documents include a beneficiary. Health savings accounts and flexible spending accounts sometimes have a beneficiary, as do bank accounts payable on death.

Contact Michigan Estate Planning Lawyer Christopher Berry to ensure your estate plan is secure and in place.

Read more:


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.

Long-Term Care & Life Insurance Hybrids

September 30, 2011

Filed under: Asset Protection,Elder Law,Life Insurance,Long Term Care — Christopher J. Berry @ 11:17 am

With more and more people living longer, it comes as no surprise that there is heightened interest in long-term care planning.  That is why we created a website geared towards Michigan elder law and long-term care at the  People are beginning to recognize that the cost of extended long-term care can wipe out any nest egg pretty darn quickly.  Our Michigan elder law practice is focused on providing solutions to reducing the high cost of long-term care.  Many people look to long-term care insurance as one of the ways to hedge against long-term care costs.

There is quite a bit of talk lately about the new life insurance and long-term care insurance hybrid products.  The best way to understand how these new plans work and why they are catching on is that the new plans are a blend of asset protection and long-term care insurance.  You avoid losing premiums you have paid if, in the end, you beat the odds and don’t need long-term care

So, if someone owns a life/long-term care hybrid, either they will use their policy to pay for extend care expenses, or their heirs will receive an inheritance that is greater than what was paid into the product.  Now the downside of such planning is these products typically require a substantial one-time upfront payment, for example $50k.  Second, if an individual needs only long-term care protection, a stand alone long-term care insurance contract gets you more benefits for each premium dollar.

Protecting against long-term care costs is an important consideration for anyone doing estate or financial planning, these hybrid long-term care and life insurance products are one tool in the toolbox to consider.

Michigan Estate Planning Options

June 28, 2011

Filed under: Estate Planning,Life Insurance,Living Trust,Probate — Christopher J. Berry @ 1:15 am

As a Michigan estate planning lawyer, I like to stay up on top of what other people are saying about Michigan estate planning.  I stumbled upon a blog that discussed estate planning options in Michigan.

The estate planning blog discussed how each estate plan is unique for the person and family it is created for.  The blog then goes on to talk about three methods on how property is distributed to heirs.

Well, in actuallity, there are four ways that assets are passed out of a deceased person’s name.

The first way is through joint ownership.  Most married couples hold most of their property jointly, so that if one person passes away, the asset passes directly to the survivor.

The second way that assets passes out of a deceased person’s name would be beneficiary designation.  For example, you name a beneficiary of your life insurance policy.

The third way, and the way most of our clients pass their property is through a trust based estate plan.  Through a trust based estate plan a settlor can control the distirbution of their estate, plan for Federal Estate Taxes, and avoid probate.

Which brings us to the last way that an asset passes out of a decedant’s name and that would be through the Michigan probate process.

So, which is the right process for you or your family?


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