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.

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Do I Want a Springing Power of Attorney or Immediate?

March 23, 2011

Filed under: Estate Planning,Power of Attorney — Christopher J. Berry @ 2:50 pm

The financial durable power of attorney is a document that appoints an individual to manage financial decisions for you.  The power of attorney, too often is an afterthought in the eyes of clients (and even sometimes, attorneys).

Typically the power of attorney is set up to be “springing”, what this means is that when you become incapacitated the power of attorney “springs” into effect and the person you’ve appointed to serve as agent-in-fact now has legal authority to make decisions.

The alternative route is that the power of attorney becomes effective immediately.  The advantage of this is that the named agent-in-fact does not need to wait on the disability provision of the document to trigger.  Typically a “springing” power of attorney will have a provision that it does not become effective until two licensed physicians sign off  to say that the creator of the document, called the “principal”, is incapacitated.  For example if a spouse was traveling, the agent-in-fact spouse would not be able to sign for the principal spouse because the disability trigger had not been switched on.

The power of attorney is a powerful document and its important to understand the differences between a springing power of attorney and one that is effective immediately.  If you have questions on the differences, its important to talk to a Michigan estate planning attorney.

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Oakland County Estate Planning Lawyer Explains Durable Power of Attorney

December 30, 2010

Filed under: Estate Planning,Power of Attorney — Christopher J. Berry @ 3:18 pm

As a Oakland County wills, trusts, and estates attorney, I understand the importance of a well drafted durable power of attorney.

A power of attorney is a complex document granting another person to act as, what we call in the legal field, “agent-in-fact.”  In other words, the person you appoint in the power of attorney can make the decisions that you would normally make.  The powers granted may be as broad or as narrow as the principal and the drafting attorney make the document.

The power of attorney is a key and often overlooked document in any type of Michigan estate plan or elder law life care plan.  Handling the affairs when an individual is incapacitated is nearly impossible with out.  If you don’t have a power of attorney in place you may have to trot off to Oakland county probate court, Wayne county probate court, or Macomb county probate court.

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A Paper Trail Your Heirs Can Follow

May 10, 2010

Filed under: Estate Planning,Living Trust,Power of Attorney,Will — Christopher J. Berry @ 9:50 pm

Noone enjoys thinking about dieing. That is one of the reasons that people continue to procrastinate on putting together their estate planning documents. Estate planning documents are the key to determine where your money will go when you pass away. Failure to prepare proper estate planning documents can lead to a a legal nightmare that causes undue stress and financial burden on your loved ones and heirs.

The New York Times has a great article entitled “Assemble a Paper Trail, and Make Sure Your Heirs Can Follow It.“, that talks about some important concepts in estate planning including reviewing wills, living trusts, and powers of attorney.

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Michigan Estate Planning Basics

January 25, 2010

Filed under: Do It Yourself Estate Planning Gone Wrong,Estate Planning,Health Care Directives,LegalZoom,Living Trust,Power of Attorney,Probate,Quicken Willmaker,Suze Orman,Will — Christopher J. Berry @ 4:02 pm

With Michigan Estate Planning, there are a few basic things that you need to know.

First, no matter what your net worth is, how much in assets you have, how much debt you have, you need an estate plan. In Michigan, once you turn 18 you are legally an adult. So, even if you’re a college age adult who lives at home with your parents, there is a certain level of estate planning that should be done. That is you need, what our office calls, a disability plan. A disability plan plans for your disability or incapacity.  We would put together a Patient Advocate Designation (which is the Michigan equivalent to a health care power of attorney), HIPAA Authorization, and a Financial Power of Attorney that most likely would name your parents as decision makers and agents.

Now that we’ve established that if you’re over the age of 18, you need the disability documents, the next step would be once you have assets (now matter how meager) or children, it is important to plan for your assets and children.  This is done through using Revocable Living Trusts and Last Wills and Testaments.  Whether you opt for a Living Trust based estate plan or a Will based estate plan will depend on your goals.  Remember a Last Will and Testament only gives instructions to the Michigan Probate court on how to administer your estate, it does not avoid probate.

Lastly, it is important to consult a Michigan estate planning attorney in preparing your estate plan.  Proper Michigan estate planning involves more than buying Nolo Willmaker software or reading the latest Suze Orman Trust Kit book.  It involves analyzing your goals and situation and using the estate planning tools we’ve discussed in the most effective and cost effective way.

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Talking to Loved Ones About What Really Matters

November 19, 2009

Filed under: Estate Planning,Holistic Estate Planning,Power of Attorney — Christopher J. Berry @ 4:31 pm

Talking to Loved Ones about What Really Matters

“The Holidays” can mean travel, excitement, gathering together with those you love, stress, conflict, and any or all of these things.

We wish you the happiest of holidays.

We also urge you to take the time this holiday season to talk with those you love about what’s truly important to you, and what’s important for them to know.  Make sure you tell them that you love them.  Make sure you tell them about your estate plan, about where they can find your important legal and financial documents in an emergency, and who your important advisors are (e.g. estate planning attorney, financial advisor, accountant).  We understand that these conversations with family members can be difficult to start.  But they are important.  Talk to those you love about the legal, financial and health care decisions you have made, and take the time, while you still can, to explain your choices.

Talking about your healthcare directives can also be a good lead-in to talking about your other personal and financial choices with those you love.  It’s important — for you and for them.  Take this extra step to ensure that everyone knows what you want while you can still answer questions and provide feedback.  And then eat a lot, have a wonderful time, and enjoy your holiday!

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Troy Michigan Estate Planning Lawyer Presentation- Joint Title to Bank Accounts

October 5, 2009

Filed under: Estate Planning,Power of Attorney — Christopher J. Berry @ 8:28 pm

I was in Troy, Michigan giving an estate planning presentation when someone in the audience asked “whether he should be on a joint account with his parents to aide them in paying their bills?”

My answer was that there is a better way to go about things utilizing a Michigan financial durable power of attorney.  With a financial power of attorney in place naming the son as agent-in-fact, he would be able to aide his parents with their bill paying and finances while protecting his parents from creditor claims against himself and providing the parents the peace of mind knowing that the son owes the parents a fiduciary duty.

If you have named anyone other than your spouse jointly on a bank account or deed, you may be opening up a can of worms.  Feel free to contact us if you are in this situation, as there may be a better way to handle it.

Tuesday, October 6th, I will be presenting again on Michigan Estate Planning in Troy, Michigan in the afternoon.

-Christopher J. Berry, Esq., A Troy, Michigan Wills and Living Trust Attorney, is a Partner with The Law Offices of Witzke Berry PLLC, which practices in the areas of Troy Estate Planning, Troy Michigan Medicaid Planning, and Troy Michigan 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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Stephen Covey: Three Lessons in Estate Planning From an Estate Planning Attorney

July 16, 2012

Filed under: Estate Planning,Power of Attorney,Probate — Tags: , , — Christopher J. Berry @ 10:14 pm

Stephen Covey, famous author of the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, has died at age 79 today.  He is survived by his wife, Sandra, nine children, 52 grandchildren and great-grandfather of two, according to  He passed away from injuries sustained from a bicycle injury.

There are some important lessons that we can learn from Stephen Covey as it applies to estate planning, both from his personal situations as well from his teachings.

I read the 7 Habits of Highly Successful People many years ago and one of my big take aways was his concept of quadrants and how people spend time putting out fires, sharpening the saw, etc.  Quite often taking action on your own personal estate plan may not be one of those crisis’ that call for your immediate attention.  Too often the reason clients start thinking about estate planning is that they are going on a vacation, they’ve had a death in their family, or they’ve received a medical diagnosis.

Estate Planning is one of those things that is best done when not in crisis mode.  Linking it back to Stephen Covey, if estate planning is undertaken during a crisis situation there will be a rushed aspect to it where you might not be able to fully spend the time thinking about who’s going to serve certain roles, such as trustee, successor trustee, power of attorney, patient advocate designation, etc.

But if estate planning is done in quadrant two, so to speak, then the proper estate planning goals can be fleshed out, discussed, mulled over.

Which brings me to lesson one:

Lesson One of Estate Planning based on Stephen Covey: Plan ahead with your estate planning, think quadrant two.

The next important take away from Stephen Covey’s situation is his family situation and how I would think about his planning as a Michigan estate planning lawyer helping a client with Stephen Covey’s family make up of a wife, nine children and his grandchildren.

If Stephen Covey was in my office we’d be looking at a plan that would provide for his spouse while she was still alive, as well as providing for the children and grandchildren if his spouse were to pass away.  Most likely we would look at using a seperate trust based estate plan with proper disability documents.  Most likely, Stephen Covey would have a taxable estate, where we may have to do advanced planning integrating irrevocable trusts.  Of course, probate avoidance would be a key part of his plan.

Also, if Stephen Covey had a large amount in his retirement account we may look at setting up retirement plan trusts to manage those retirement accounts for the benefit of his kids and grand-kids, where due to the minimum required distributions (MRD’s) for younger individuals, the accounts may grow with interest larger than the MRDs.

Which brings me to lesson two:

Lesson Two of Estate Planning based on Stephen Covey: Estate Planning may seem simple, but every situation is different.

The last lesson from Stephen Covey’s situation stems from how he passed away.  Stephen Covey ultimately passed away from a freak biking accident.  It wasn’t planned, didn’t fit into their life, they didn’t have it on the calendar.  Lesson three is simple and I share it with my clients all the time.

Lesson Three on Estate Planning from Stepehen Covey: Life Throws Curveballs, Plan Accordingly.

Often current events make certain topics top of mind, if you have questions about estate planning for your family, please call our Oakland County Estate Planning law firm at (248) 481-4000.




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 Problems of Joint Ownership

April 2, 2011

Filed under: Living Trust,Power of Attorney — Christopher J. Berry @ 8:07 pm

Joint ownership can create all kinds of issues for Michigan property.  Quite often in our Oakland County estate planning law office, we see clients who have added a son or daughter’s name to a piece of property and created joint ownership.  Often times, our recomendation is that you should never add someone, jointly, to any piece of property unless they are your spouse.

There is a recent NY Times article that address this entitled Making Room for Mom and Dad.  The article talks about when more than one generation lives together and how even in that situation, joint ownership could be a poor choice and create estate planning headaches.

Alternatives to joint ownership include Lady Bird Deeds, revocable living trusts, and powers of attorney.  The right type of alternative would depend on the situation, that is why it is important to speak with a Michigan estate planning attorney before making any decisions that could have negative consequences.


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