Avoiding The Scary Side of Healthcare and Advanced Medical Directives

September 9, 2009

Filed under: Estate Planning,Health Care Directives,Holistic Estate Planning,Living Will — Christopher J. Berry @ 11:54 pm

bloomfieldhillsestateplanpumpkin.gifLet’s face it, going to the hospital can be a little frightening.  But there are ways to prepare yourself and your loved ones.  A little bit of preparation can make the experience better for everyone: you, your family, and the hospital staff.

  1. Make sure that your healthcare power of attorney is up-to-date.  This document names the person (or persons) you would like to make medical decisions for you if you can’t do so.  Review this document periodically to make sure your choice(s) is still valid.
  2. Review your Living Will.  This document states your desires regarding treatments you would (or would not) want to receive in the hospital if you cannot make these decisions yourself.  Your living will is an important resource for your healthcare power of attorney should he/she need to make decisions about your care.
  3. Make your decision about organ donation and document it.  If you would like to donate your organs at the time of your passing, make that decision now and put it in writing.  One organ donor can save up to 8 lives and the need far exceeds the supply.
  4. Talk to your loved ones about your healthcare choices:  who you’ve named as your healthcare power of attorney, what your medical wishes are, and whether you want to be an organ donor.  The more they know in advance, the easier it will be for them if they ever have to step in.
  5. Carry your DocuBank wallet card.  Our firm provides this card because we know that immediate access to your emergency information and healthcare directives is important.  Make sure that your card is next to your driver’s license in your wallet at all times.
  6. Update the emergency information you store with DocuBank.  This includes your allergies and medical conditions that display on your Emergency Card and can help with your emergency treatment.  Also update your doctor’s and emergency contacts’ names and phone numbers.

Christopher J. Berry, Esq., An Oakland Estate Planning Attorney, is a Partner with The Law Offices of Witzke Berry PLLC, which practices in the areas of Michigan Wills and Michigan Trusts, Living Wills, and Michigan Probate Litigation, serving Oakland County, Macomb County, and Wayne County.  We can be reached at 248-971-1700.

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Planning Your Advanced Medical Directive and Living Will Should Not Be Put Off

August 20, 2009

Filed under: Estate Planning,Health Care Directives,Living Will — Christopher J. Berry @ 12:27 am

With the Health Care Reform discussion, a key estate planning step is in the spotlight, that is Living Wills and Advanced Medical Directives. The WSJ.com has a piece on how important Advanced Medical Directives are, especially for people who juggle work and family.  You can read the article here: Make Time to Create an Advanced Medical Directive.

The author of the article says that she “…implores readers to create an advanced medical directive, which details the kind of care you’d want if you are unable to voice your wishes.”

I couldn’t agree more.

In Michigan, your Advanced Medical Directives actually involves a few different documents.  First, you need to have your Patient Advocate Designation.  This form outlines who will be appointed and how they will make medical decisions if you become incapacitated.  In Michigan, the Patient Advocate Designation also includes Living Will type language where you can make decisions with regard to remaining on life support.

Additionally, you will want to include a HIPAA Authorization form that allows the people you have appointed in your Michigan Patient Advocate Designation to access your medical records.

These Advanced Medical Directives are just one aspect of a comprehensive estate plan and should be prepared by an experienced Michigan estate planning attorney.

Christopher J. Berry, Esq., An Oakland County Probate and Estate Administration Lawyer, is a Partner with The Law Office of Witzke Berry PLLC, which practices in the areas of Estate Planning, Michigan Medicaid Planning, and Michigan Probate Litigation.

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The “Sneaky-Important” Estate Planning Document is the…

July 28, 2009

Filed under: Do It Yourself Estate Planning Gone Wrong,Estate Planning,LegalZoom,Living Trust,Living Will,Medicaid Planning,Power of Attorney,Quicken Willmaker,Suze Orman — Christopher J. Berry @ 6:45 pm

Financial Durable Power of Attorney. Many people focus their time and need only on the last will and testament (or living trust) or medical directive. How do I know? Because 9 times out of 10 when a potential client contacts us they ask for a will, living trust, or living will. Hardly anyone ever asks initially for a financial durable power of attorney (otherwise known as a DPOA).

A Michigan financial durable power of attorney allows someone else to make decisions regarding financial matters. The durable power of attorney can become effective either upon incapacity or immediately.

The purpose of the Michigan financial durable power of attorney is to allow someone else to be able handle all financial matters. This includes handling business interests, buying and selling real estate, paying bills, and even making gifts and authorizing Medicaid planning.

The Michigan financial power of attorney is a powerful document that should not be used lightly or prepared haphazardly. The drafter of the document must be careful in choosing which powers to include and which powers to exclude. Additionally, specificity is very important in the document. Many of the Legalzoom, Quicken Willmaker, or Suze Orman, do it your self documents are over broad and can be dangerous in the wrong hands to the creator. This is why it is important to see an experienced estate planning lawyer to assist you by drafting a quality financial durable power of attorney.

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

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Will or Living Trust? Which Is for Me? And a Little More Michael Jackson…

July 16, 2009

Filed under: Estate Planning,Living Trust,Living Will,Will — Christopher J. Berry @ 6:58 pm

The confusion over whether Michael Jackson had a will based estate plan or a living trust based estate plan probably led to the AP article discussing the differences between a will and living trust. You can read the article, including the Michael Jackson reference here: Will or Trust? Understanding the differences.

As the article explains, a will based estate plan is typically used when you’re only making one time distributions to individuals and do not care that your heirs have to use the Michigan probate court to administer the estate.

A living trust based estate plan avoids probate and also has provisions so that you are not leaving lump sum assets to beneficiaries.

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

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Down Economy? Update Your Estate Plan!

July 15, 2009

Filed under: Estate Planning,Living Will,Will — Christopher J. Berry @ 7:00 pm

With the down economy Michiganders and the rest of the nation faces, it is important to review your last will and testament, your revocable living trust, and your designated beneficiaries to make sure they still make logical sense.

Why? Because when your estate plan was created, most likely, you had more assets then you currently do. For example, maybe in your revocable living trust you made a $10,000 gift to the Michigan Humane Society or your church. Well, now that your overall portfolio is down, that $10,000 gift may be a larger percentage of your estate than you had really planned and you would like to see more left to your children instead.

Another reason you need to review your estate plan (wills, trusts, beneficiary designations of accounts and life insurance), is because of the Federal Estate Taxes.  With no change on the Federal Estate Tax exemption amounts on the books yet and a down economy, maybe your estate plan tried to plan around the Federal Estate Taxes at a certain exemption amount.  Well with the depressed economy, maybe you are nowhere near the Federal Exemption amount (this year $3.5 million).  Well, it might make sense to simplify your trust based estate plan now so that the administration is easier for the beneficiaries.

Our office recommend annual meetings to review estate plans.  The economy is just one of the reasons an annual review with your Michigan estate planning lawyer make sense.

Christopher J. Berry, Esq., A Bloomfield Hills Trusts and Wills Attorney, is a Partner with The Law Offices of Witzke Berry PLLC, which practices in the areas of Estate Planning, Trusts and Estates, and Michigan Probate Litigation.

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The Estate Planning Essentials According to Business Week

July 8, 2009

Filed under: Estate Planning,Health Care Directives,Living Trust,Living Will,Power of Attorney,Will — Christopher J. Berry @ 7:06 pm

Ever wonder what the absolute essential Michigan Estate Planning documents are? Well, Business Week put together a list, from caregiving.com listing the essential documents for any estate plan not including a Will. You can read the article here: The Essentials.

The key estate planning documents, according to the article, are:

  • Medical Directive. This is also commonly called a living will.  This document makes known your wishes regarding life support.  Michigan is the only state that does not recognize by statute a living will.  However, we do have case law stemming from the Martin case, that recognizes living will type language.
  • Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care. This document appoints someone to make your medical decisions for you if you become incapacitated.  In Michigan, we call this document the Patient Advocate Designation.
  • Privacy Release.  This document allows your patient advocate to get access to your medical directives.  In our office we call this a HIPAA Authorization.  HIPAA places severe penalties on physicians who release your medical information to an unauthorized party.  The HIPAA Authorization releases the physician from liability for sharing your information with the individiuals named in the document.
  • Durable Power of Attorney for Finances.  The individually tailored durable power of attorney appoints someone to manage your finances for you.  The document can be effective immedialty or upon disability.
  • Revocable Living Trust. A Revocable living trust allows you to avoid probate while exerting more control over your assets than what a last will and testament would provide.

It goes without saying, these documents should be prepared by a Michigan Estate Planning Attorney.

Christopher J. Berry, Esq., A Bloomfield Hills Elder Law Attorney, is a Partner with Witzke Berry PLLC, which practices in the areas of Estate Planning, Michgian Long-term Care Planning, and Michigan Medicaid Planning.

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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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Women and Estate Planning: Part 2

January 22, 2013

Filed under: Estate Administration,Estate Planning,Estate Taxes and Lifetime Gifts,Financial Planning,Living Trust,Living Will,Long Term Care — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , — Christopher J. Berry @ 9:14 pm

Estate planning often has a more dramatic effect on women due elongated life expectancy and the tendency to marry older spouses. As a result, they are three times more likely to be widowed at 65, than men. Estate planning is an imperative component in retirement planning, and with a greater probability of surviving their spouses, women often have the final word about how much wealth goes to family, charity or the taxman.

(Read more: Women and Estate Planning: Part 1)

5. Spouses Get Special Tax Breaks
Under the “unlimited marital deduction” assets inherited or received as gifts from a spouse are not taxed. Starting in 2011, portability allows a surviving spouse to add any unused estate tax exclusion of the recently deceased spouse to her own exclusion. A widow can pass on up to $10.24 million, untaxed, through either lifetime gifts or her will. If your spouse is not a U.S. citizen, the marital deduction is more limited and portability does not apply.

6. Tax Planning For Widows Is More Difficult
The primary goal, for most married couples, is to leave each other provided for financially. Upon death of the first spouse, tax saving strategies are more imperative considering the unlimited marital deduction no longer applies. However, there are a number of simple ways to save taxes while achieving other goals, like subsidizing family members who are less fortunate, educating children and grandchildren and preserving retirement assets.

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

7. Do Not Own Your Insurance
Because proceeds could be subject to estate tax, you will likely give away money to the government if you die owning a policy on your life. One way to avoid that outcome is to designate the family member who will receive the proceeds as the owner of the policy. Another is to establish an irrevocable life insurance trust. Traditionally, the ILIT buys the policy and, when you die, holds the proceeds for whomever you have named as beneficiaries.

8. Beneficiary Forms Are Key
Retirement accounts are distributed according to beneficiary designation forms filed with the bank or financial institution holding your account. You can readily name any beneficiaries you desire with an IRA, including friends, family members, a charity or a trust. For a 401(k) or other workforce plan, you must acquire or spouse’s written consent to leave it to anyone else. You must filed an amended form to change a beneficiary, if you get divorced for example.

(Read more: 8 Life Stages of Estate Planning: Part 1)

9. Cash Is King
Couples who commingle money must ensure there is sufficient funds to cover immediate expenses if one of them suddenly dies. Said funds can be held in each of your separate accounts or in a joint individual account right away.

Read more: http://www.forbes.com/pictures/efik45ehjjg/estate-planning-is-a-womens-issue-2/

Mr. Witzke practices in the areas of estate and gift tax planning, financial planning, retirement planning, LGBT civil rights, 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.

8 Life Stages of Estate Planning: Part 2

November 28, 2012

Filed under: Asset Protection,Estate Planning,Living Trust,Living Will — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — Christopher J. Berry @ 2:26 pm

The joys of parenting

If you have children, update your will to nominate a guardian to step in if you and your spouse pass away. Include provisions in your will or a separate revocable trust so that your child doesn’t inherit everything at the age of 18.

A revocable trust allows you to appoint a trustee to handle any money your child inherits. The trustee can use it to support your child as the child grows up, and you can specify at what age your child can receive the money, along with any reasons your child should get it before that age, such as starting a business or buying a house. You can also specify that the trustee can withhold money if your child has a gambling problem, is in the midst of a divorce, or there’s another situation that makes it inappropriate to inherit.

You’ll also need a separate guardianship nomination that nominates a guardian to care for your child if both parents are incapacitated. That’s helpful in simpler situations as well, such as when both parents take a vacation and a child needs emergency medical treatment.

Each time you have another child, be sure your estate planning documents address all of your children, and don’t forget to increase your life insurance.

“Sing it, Tammy Wynette: D-I-V-O-R-C-E

If you’re separating or divorcing, it’s unlikely that you want your spouse to have the authority to make decisions on your behalf and access your medical and financial information. Revoke those documents, including beneficiary designations, or sign new ones. A divorce decree doesn’t magically change those things.

If you remarry, revise your will and trust documents to reflect the proper beneficiaries. Most people want to share with their new spouse but also want to provide for their separate children at their death. Determine which assets you want to leave to your spouse and which to leave to your children.

The middle ages

As you approach your 40s and 50s, consider purchasing long-term care insurance, which will cover the cost of long-term care or a nursing home.

The golden years

Review your life insurance to determine whether you can reduce it if your children are grown. Also, review designations on your durable power of attorney, health care proxy, and HIPAA release to ensure the people you’ve named are still in your life and willing and able to serve in that role. At this stage, it is common for people to start planning their funeral to make sure that’s in order.

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.

Sherman Hemsley still not buried 3 months after death; bizarre legal dispute endures

October 30, 2012

Filed under: Estate Planning,Living Will — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , — Christopher J. Berry @ 2:18 am

Now three months after Sherman Hemsley, star of the CBS series “The Jeffersons” died in his El Paso home, yet he hasn’t been laid to rest as the beneficiaries of his will, and even his cause of death, have been called into question.

Confirmed by a worker at the Eastside location of the San Jose Funeral Home in El Paso, Texas, Hemsley is still at the home where they are waiting for a court order telling them what to do with his body.

It was first revealed in August that Hemsley’s body had not been buried due to a legal dispute between his former manager and self-proclaimed business partner and live-in best friend Flora Enchinton– who was named as the sole beneficiary in his will– and a Philadelphia man, Richard Thorton, who claims to be the actor’s brother. Thorton filed a civil lawsuit disputing the validity of the will, signed by Hemsley one month prior to his death.

On September 24, Probate Court judge Patricia Chew delayed the trial over the actor’s estates and remains to October 31, and ordered the man who claims to be the brother to undergo a DNA test. Thorton’s nephew Robert Thorton took the stand in support of his Uncle’s allegation, and question the authenticity of the signature, which suspiciously left everything to Enchinton.

All the while, a third person has since come forward amid the battle vowing to intervene on the issue prior to the October 31st trial date. Reverend Michael George Wells– a minister at Arch Street United Methodist Church claims to be a cousin on Hemley’s mother’s side– told the El Paso Times that he doesn’t believe Enchinton was close to Sherman and that the Thortons were not related to the late actor.

Wells told FOX411 that he would like to intervene before October 31, but doesn’t have the $10,000 he says he would need to join the legal fray. Wells wants the media to know that Sherman Hemsley’s body has been in the refrigerator for an unnecessary amount of time and it’s uncalled for.

While he was initially said to have died of natural causes, it later came out that he had cancer. Wells is calling for an investigation, claiming that no doctors or hospitals ever mentioned cancer. He also is weary of the claim that the actor’s estate is worth just $50,000, and believes its value is beyond the reported amount. At the time time of his death no foul play was suspected, and no autopsy was planned, although Wells insisted that if he had the financial means he would have one performed to get the truth.

A postmortem report obtained by TMZ listed the primary cause of death is listed as “superior vena cava syndrome” — a complication resulting from a mass on Sherman’s lung, and noted that the star had been advised to undergo chemotherapy and radiation therapy before he succumbed to the illness.

Attorneys for Enchinton and Thornton did not respond to a request for comment, and Thornton declined to comment. Civil litigator Anahita Sedaghatfar said she is not surprised that something like this, particularly with an association to Hollywood, could happen.

Contact attorney Marc Wander and ensure your living will is in place, before it ever comes to this.

Read more:

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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