Farmington Hills Probate Litigation Lawyer

June 7, 2011

Filed under: Estate Administration,Probate,Probate Litigation — Christopher J. Berry @ 11:59 pm

Our Michigan probate litigation law firm has handled a few probate litigation cases from clients in the Farmington Hills area.  It’s like coming full circle since I grew up in Farmington Hills area.  Specifically, I grew up in on 11 mile near Middlebelt, in Farmington Hills.

Who knew I’d grow up to be a probate lawyer servincing clients in Farmington Hills, Michigan?

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Five Ways to Bungle Trust Administration in Michigan

May 26, 2011

Filed under: Do It Yourself Estate Planning Gone Wrong,Estate Administration,Federal Estate Tax,Probate,Probate Litigation — Christopher J. Berry @ 7:34 pm

Estate planning with revocable living trusts answer at least three main questions which includes: Who gets what?  How do you minimize settlement costs, such as probate and estate taxes? And, who is in control after the trustmaker passes away?

Barron’s has a great article entitled “The Five Biggest Ways to Bungle a Trust” that describes many of the mistakes that do-it-yourselfers face when they go at trust administration alone.  As Michigan trust administration and Oakland county probate lawyers, we are often brought in to clean up theses messes.

The first way people screw up trust administration involves keeping faulty records.  Generally trustees in Michigan must provide at least annual accountings to the beneficiaries.  Often, these accountings are slapped together at the last minute by an overwhelmed trustee.  As Michigan trust administration and estate administration lawyers, we professionally manage this process for our clients.  Whether we handle it in-house or outsource it to highly qualified CPA’s, our client’s understand that it’s professionally done and the beneficiaries of the trust appreciate the clarity.

Another way that trustees botch the trust administration process is by failing to diversify the trust assets.  It may be tempting to sit on a big chunk of a single stock, but often times, as prudent investors, it’s important for the trustee to diversify the portfolio so as to minimize risk for the beneficiaries.

Yet another trustee issue we see is that of biased distributions.  Trustees owe a fiduciary duty to the current beneficiaries and the remaindermen.  Therefore, a trustee cannot favor one beneficiary over another or allow any personal bias into the decision making.

The fourth area we, as Oakland county trust administration lawyers, see trustees making poor judgements is in the concept of the trustee expecting a payday.   Trustees, when acting without the aid of an trust administration attorney, often expect at the end of the day they will get a windfall for the efforts, when in reality, more often than not, they are only entitled to reasonable expenses and fees.  Quite often this is a source of probate or trust litigation.

Lastly, as a trustee acting alone, often times we’ll see that they have a false sense of safety.  A trustee acting without experienced Michigan trust administration counsel can feel that there is an entitlement and honor in serving the role of trustee at the other beneficiaries will defer to any judgements or decisions you make.  This generally cannot be further from the truth.  Quite often beneficiaries are looking for any little mistake a trustee makes, even in the best of families.


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Keeping Your Assets out of Michigan Probate Court

March 22, 2011

Filed under: Do It Yourself Estate Planning Gone Wrong,Estate Administration,Probate,Probate Litigation — Christopher J. Berry @ 2:36 pm

As a Metro Detroit estate planning and probate lawyer, I try to keep up on the latest news and blogs regarding probate and estate planning in Michigan.  That’s when I ran accross my friend and colleague, Grand Rapids Estate Planning Lawyer, Michael Lictherman’s latest blog post entitlted “Tips On Keeping Your Michigan Estate Out of Court.”

In his post he references another article and has a few quality tips on keeping your estate out of the probate court, which most of our clients wish to do.

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Probate Estate Litigation for Red Foxx’s Estate

March 25, 2010

Filed under: Estate Administration,Probate,Probate Litigation — Christopher J. Berry @ 10:00 pm

It looks like Redd Foxx’s estate is causing all types of legal issues for the Las Vegas attorneys who are trying to wrap up the estate. It seems that upon his passing Redd Foxx owed more than $3.6 Million to the IRS. After some bumbling by one of Foxx’s daughters in administering the estate, a Las Vegas City Administrator is now in charge of trying to knock the estate out of the red and into the black. One interesting item is that the there is the possibility of the life story of Redd Foxx being sold, which could provide the estate with a necessary shot in the financial arm. You can read more of the AOL story at Trying to Get Foxx’s Estate Out of the Red.

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Feng Shui Master will not inherit Billionaire’s Estate

February 16, 2010

Filed under: Estate Administration,Estate Planning,Probate,Probate Litigation — Christopher J. Berry @ 3:51 pm

The Elder Law Prof Blog has an interesting little post dealing with the Hong Kong Billionaire, Nina Wang’s estate. Apparently, Ms. Wang who was known as “Little Sweeite” had a will drawn up in 2002 leaving her estate to a charity. A Judge just ruled that a “feng shui will” from 2006 would be invalidated due to Ms. Wang’s signature being forged. You can read the post here: Feng Shui Master won’t Inherit Eccentric Billionaire’s Estate.

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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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Michigan Probate Process- How It Works

November 12, 2009

Filed under: Estate Administration,Estate Planning,Living Trust,Probate,Will — Christopher J. Berry @ 8:05 pm

Our Bloomfield Hills Probate Lawyer office helps individuals and families with Michigan estate administration issues on a regular basis. One thing that I must remind clients of many times, is that the Michigan probate process is generally, not as quick and easy as you would like it to be.

If you do not have a properly funded trust based estate plan, there is a very good chance that your estate will end up under the jurisdiction of the Michigan probate courts. That may not be a bad thing, but you have to understand that if your estate is in the Oakland County Probate Court system, Macomb County Probate Court system, the Wayne County Probate court system, or any other Michigan Probate Court system, there will certain hurdles and hoops that will have to be jumped through.

In addition to jumping through certain administrative hoops, you have to understand that there are certain statutory requirements that each probate court requires. Even if the Michigan probate matter is an unsupervised, informal probate case. You still need to keep the probate estate open for a at least 5 months. You still have to publish a notice to creditors. You still have to complete the inventory in a timely matter (within 91 days of appointment).

Maybe it is a failure on my part to educate and explain that even with a Michigan probate lawyer handling the administration, I can’t wave a magic wand and bypass all the requirements of the Michigan probate court process.

Well, I take that back. I can, its called proper Michigan estate planning. Through proper planning (typically a living trust based Michigan estate plan that is properly funded) you can avoid the probate court completely. A Michigan Will does not avoid probate, no matter how pretty the backing or how long the document. A Michigan Last Will and Testament is your ticket to the probate system.

This isn’t to bash the Michigan probate system either. I love the people at the probate register and the staff. But, the public needed to understand that there are certain rules and formalities involved and most of the time those rules and formalities were put in place for a reason.

That said, by working with an experienced Michigan probate lawyer, we can navigate the process to minimize the work, stress, and excess costs to make the process as smooth as possible, but we have to follow the rules and jump through the hoops.

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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.

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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