Back to School | Protecting Your Children in an Emergency

July 10, 2009

Filed under: Estate Planning,Planning for Parents with Minor Children — Christopher J. Berry @ 7:03 pm

It will be August shortly and if you have children or grandchildren they will be heading back to school or off to college. Now is the time to take the necessary legal steps to make sure that they are protected in case of an emergency.

As Michigan estate planning attorneys, we can help you. Here are some tips:

These steps can make a critical difference to the treatment your child receives in an emergency and also the information you will be able to receive as a parent if something happens to your child when you are unavailable.

Speak with your Michigan estate planning attorney who focuses on estate planning for parents to make sure your children are protected.

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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Are your kids Trust-Worthy?

June 5, 2009

Filed under: Estate Planning,Holistic Estate Planning,Planning for Parents with Minor Children — Christopher J. Berry @ 8:43 pm

“Even middle-class folks can benefit from trusts when it comes to estate planning.  That’s because children under the age of 18 can’t directly inherit more than a small amount of money,” and when they reach 18 they can inherit everything, which is a scary proposition when you think about your college aged child inheriting a lump some of money.

The above quote was from an article in the WSJ, which you can read here.

The article goes on to talk about how setting up a revocable living trust as a better alternative that allows them to exert more control over their assets once they are gone.  As, Michigan estate planning attorneys who work with living trusts on a daily basis, one of the things we often see is that our clients like to utilize revocable living trusts to delay when their children inherit their money.  For example, instead of inheriting outright at age 18, maybe a distribution of 1/3 at 25, 1/3 at 30, and remainder at 35 makes more sense since the child will be more mature and able to handle the money at later ages.

Planning for parents with minor or college age children is one of the focuses of our Michigan estate planning law firm.  Give us a call if you have any questions.

-Christopher J. Berry, Esq.
Metro Detroit Estate Planning Attorney

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Do You Have Kids? You Need an Estate Plan, no excuses!

May 29, 2009

Filed under: Estate Planning,Planning for Parents with Minor Children — Christopher J. Berry @ 8:49 pm

When you have loved ones, such as you children depending on you, you have no excuse not to create an estate plan.  If you have children you MUST plan for the situation where you are removed from the equation.

Some questions to think about.  Who would care for your children if you were gone?  Financially how would your children be cared for?  Would you want your children to inherit everything at age 18 with absolutely no strings attached?  If the person you initially named to care for your children predeceased you or was unable to care for your kids, who could you name as back up.

It is an absolute must that you provide for the guardianship of your children in not only your last will and testament, but also separate guardianship forms.  Additionally, you should name temporary guardians if your primary guardians are out of state.  Next you should consider how your children will be provided for financially.  Consider living trusts and life insurance.

You may not have any perfect answers now, but it is important not to procrastinate.  Set up a time now to meet with a Michigan estate planning lawyer who can walk you through these difficult decisions with care and counseling.  We dedicate a portion of our estate planning practice to helping parents with minor children navigate these important issues.

-Christopher J. Berry, Esq.
Bloomfield Hills Estate Planning Attorney

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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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Family Matters in Estate Planning | Choosing A Guardian For Your Children

December 20, 2008

Filed under: Estate Planning,Holistic Estate Planning,Planning for Parents with Minor Children — Christopher J. Berry @ 7:17 pm

As a Michigan estate planning lawyer, one of the most important decisions I walk my clients through during the estate planning process is who to choose for guardians of their minor children.  This is a key decision if the children are orphaned.  You do not want them spending time in foster care or letting a judge who is not familiar with the family dynamics choose who will raise the children.

In Michigan, even if you are separated or divorced, the surviving biological parent will continue to be the legal guardian, assuming their is not a court order that the surviving parent is unfit. However, if their is no surviving biological parent, then the choice falls to you and must be made by appointing a guardian in your estate planning documents.

This decisions is one of the most difficult decisions for parents to make.  As a Michigan estate planning lawyer, this is one of the areas where my counsel aids in the decision making.  You won’t find this assistance in wills bought from office supply stores, Suze Ormand trust kits, Quicken Willmaker, or Legalzoom downloaded estate plans.  This is another area where estate planning is more than just preparing documents.

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Avoiding Estate Planning? You’re Not Alone according to Study

September 27, 2011

Filed under: Estate Administration,Estate Planning,Planning for Parents with Minor Children,Power of Attorney,Probate — Christopher J. Berry @ 11:13 am

I hear it from our estate planning clients every day, that they are happy to have the peace of mind that their estate planning affairs are in finally wrapped up.  Many of our Michigan estate planning (wills, trusts, powers of attorney) clients feel that prior, to meeting with us, that estate planning is a looming task.  But once we’ve completed the process and executed their wills and revocable living trusts, they have feelings of comfort and security.

According to a 2008 study by Thomson Reuters, only 40% of Americans currently have a last will and testament.  A last will and testament is a document that provides instructions to the Michigan probate court on how to administer your estate.   Understand that a will does not avoid probate, it only gives instructions to the probate court on administration.  If you fail to have a will or living trust, then the state of Michigan will administer your estate by the laws of intestacy.

So why do so many people leave their affiars up to chance or the whims of the probate court?

Well according to an article at, there are four main reasons.

First, estate planning in Michigan is a very detailed process.  It is legally binding, attorneys are involved, there is an investment of financial resources and a number of complex decisions need to be made.  All of these activities, along with people’s hesitation to contact a Michigan estate planning lawyer can lead to overwhelm and procrastination.

Next, the actual process of completing an estate plan can take a couple weeks.  It is very easy to get distracted with the daily minutia of life, work, and tv and put off meeting with an estate planning attorney, spending time with the attorney so he or she can document your wishes and then executing your estate planning documents.

Sometimes estate planning has a hard time making it up your “to-do” list, and I understand.  Generally, us estate planning attorneys, see clients more interested in estate planning when a child is born, when a loved one passes away, or if someone is suffering a serious illness.  The difficult part, is that during these life changes and high times of stress, it is more difficult to complete the estate planning process due to the stresses caused by the life changes.  It is much easier to go through the estate planning process during a time when its easier to focus on the estate planning itself.

The fourth reason that you may be procrastinating on your estate planning is that going through the estate planning process can raise questions that are difficult to answer or you don’t have a perfect answer.  For example, one of the biggest hurdles for parents with young children is who to name as guardians of their minor children.  The fear of making the wrong decision can keep people from making any decision at all.  Keep in mind, that even though you may not have a perfect answer to who shall serve a particular role, the answer you have is better than the answer a judge or probate court who has no familiarity with your family has.

Are you procrastinating on your estate planning?  The first step is to pick up the phone and call an estate planning lawyer to get the ball rolling.  The first step is the hardest.

The Extra Hoops Gay and Lesbian Parents Must Jump Through

March 24, 2011

Filed under: Estate Planning,Holistic Estate Planning,Planning for Parents with Minor Children,Power of Attorney,Will — Christopher J. Berry @ 7:39 pm

There was an interesting article in the New York Times discussing the issues that a lesbian couple in Beverly Hills, Michigan had in trying to create a family.  As the article indicates, Michigan does not allow same-sex couples to perform second parent adoptions, which would allow one partner to adopt the other’s biological or adopted children.  However, Michigan recognizes second-parent adoptions performed elsewhere.

This inability, in Michigan, to adopt, is just one of many legal and financial hoops that same-sex couples must jump through.

The article lays out some of the chief issues same-sex couples must address and many of it through legal documentation.  One of the first key documents is a parental authority document establishing the ability of both parents to have legal authority to act as parents.

Additionally, last wills and testaments must be updated to ensure there is guardianship and co-parenting rights if one of the parents were to pass away.  It’s important to establish the legal authority before any blood relatives.

Often times it is important to have revocable living trusts in place to manage any property if one of the parents were to pass away.

Obviously, the couple also needs incapacity documents establishing each other as patient advocates and to receive HIPAA authorizations so that each can receive medical information on the other.

To read more on the recommendations, read the NYTimes article here.

How to Choose a Guardian for Your Minor Children

September 11, 2009

Filed under: Estate Planning,Holistic Estate Planning,Planning for Parents with Minor Children — Christopher J. Berry @ 11:47 pm

Choosing guardians for your minor children as you go through the Michigan estate planning process can be a difficult decision for parents.  Often times the decision of who to name is one of the major stumbling blocks for parents and one of the major reasons they put off speaking to a Michigan estate planning attorney.  Don’t let it be! has an article addressing the issue.  You can read it here: Estate Planning: How to Choose a Guardian.

As Michigan estate planning attorneys who have as one of our focuses helping parents with minor children with their estate planning, we have some exercises that we walk our clients through to help them come to a decision and to help them move forward.

Christopher J. Berry, Esq., A Bloomfield HIlls Trust and Estates Lawyer, is a Partner with The Law Offices of Witzke Berry PLLC, which practices in the areas of Michigan Revocable Living Trusts, Living Wills, and Michigan Medicaid Planning, serving Metro Detroit, including Oakland County, Macomb County, and Wayne County from their office in Bloomfield Hills.  We can be reached at 248-971-1700.


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