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ESTATE PLANNING

Estate Planning Attorneys

The estate planning attorneys with our firm provide a full range of estate planning services focusing on avoiding probate, protecting assets, and minimizing taxes and administrative expenses. Proper planning now can preserve assets and provide peace of mind for your loved ones. 

If you do not have an estate plan drafted by a competent estate planning attorney, court involvement will almost certainly be required if you become incapacitated or die.  Every plan should, at a minimum, address these core issues:

  • Healthcare Decisions.  If a person is unable to participate in their own healthcare decisions, the law requires a court-appointed guardian make these decisions unless the person has a power of attorney.  Court involvement can be expensive.  Further, the individual’s affairs may become public as most court proceedings are public records.  A guardianship can be avoided with a properly drafted patient advocate designation, HIPAA authorization and advance directive.

 

  • Financial Decisions.  If you are unable to manage your financial affairs, a court-appointed conservator may be necessary to make decisions on your behalf.  This conservatorship process is very detail oriented and can be expensive and time-consuming.  A conservatorship can be avoided with a properly drafted durable power of attorney.

 

  • Post-Death Affairs.  If you have not set up a plan to avoid probate court upon your death, probate court involvement will likely be required to transfer your assets and handle your outstanding financial obligations. 

 

Some common misunderstandings we see and solutions our estate planning attorneys provide are:

  • A WILL DOES NOT AVOID PROBATE COURT.  Many people believe that if their estate is “simple,” they only need a simple will.  It does not matter how simple an estate is, a will is not valid until the court admits it to probate, so all wills must go through probate court.  This can result in significant costs and court involvement.

  • A WILL DOES NOT AVOID ESTATE RECOVERY OR PROTECT ASSETS.  Through the Estate Recovery Act passed in 2007, the State of Michigan has the right to be reimbursed for certain Medicaid benefits paid on your behalf if your assets go through probate upon your death. Furthermore, a simple will provides no asset protection for those receiving an inheritance which may expose those assets to creditors, ex-spouses, or result in the recipient losing their government benefits such as SSI or Medicaid.

  • A "LIVING TRUST" CAN AVOID PROBATE AND PROTECT ASSETS.  A properly drafted and funded living trust can avoid probate, reduce administrative costs, and protect assets.  

  • A LADYBIRD DEED CAN AVOID PROBATE AND ESTATE RECOVERY.  A "ladybird deed" allows the original owner to retain the property for their lifetime coupled with the power to sell, gift, mortgage and lease the property until death at which time any remaining interest in the property transfers to the designated recipient.

  • PROPERLY DRAFTED POWERS OF ATTORNEY CAN AVOID LIFETIME PROBATE.  In the event of incapacity, a durable power of attorney for financial affairs and a patient advocate designation for medical decisions can allow your designated individual to make decisions without probate court intervention.

Some examples of documents our estate planning attorneys may include in an estate plan include Wills, Patient Advocate Designations, Advance Directives (Living Wills), Powers of Attorney, Living Trusts, Life Insurance Trusts, Asset Protection Trusts, Irrevocable Trusts, Charitable Trusts, Qualified Personal Residence Trusts, and Limited Liability Corporations (LLCs).

Estate Plan Funding/ Maintenance 

Once you have an estate plan, it is important to regularly review the plan to make sure it is still achieving your goals and objectives.  ​In addition to making sure you have the right people designated as fiduciaries (those in charge) and beneficiaries (those who are to receive assets upon death), you should also be aware of changes in your circumstances which may have an impact on the plan.  Questions you should ask include, but are not limited to:

  • Did you complete the initial funding of the trust?

  • Have you opened or closed accounts or purchased real estate since your trust was last funded?

  • Has a child married, divorced, moved, died, become disabled or estranged since your plan was created?

  • Has a person with a role in your plan become unable or unwilling to act since your plan was created?

  • Have you provided your power of attorney to your financial institutions?

  • Have you provided your patient advocate designation and advance directive to your healhcare providers?

REMEMBER: Assets that were not properly designated or titled pursuant to your estate plan may be exposed to probate or divided in a manner that is inconsistent with your intent. 

 

Also, the law can and does change.  Accordingly, you should review your funding instructions, keep an updated inventory of assets, and have your estate plan reviewed by an estate planning attorney on a regular basis.  We typically recommend having your plan reviewed every 3-5 years by an estate planning attorney, or whenever there is a change in the law or your circumstances.

Our estate planning attorneys provide free estate plan reviews for prospective clients!

Trust and Probate Administration

The estate planning attorneys with our firm can provide guidance in executing the required documentation to initiate and complete the administration process, including preparing notices to interested parties including creditors, making arrangements concerning the decedent's debts, and distributing assets in accordance with the decedent's wishes.

Special Needs Planning

Most vulnerable dependents with disabilities will outlive their parents.  Consistently, the need to maintain government benefits and medical coverage after the death of their parents becomes even more critical.  However, no planning or incorrect planning can leave a vulnerable child ineligible for the needed benefits. 

One solution to this problem is often a Special Needs Trust. The Special Needs Trust allows your assets to be held for your loved without disqualifying him/her from receiving government benefits.  Said another way, the Special Needs Trust does not replace the government benefits, rather, it supplements them to allow your loved to have the best quality of life possible.  The estate planning attorneys with our firm can guide you through the process to create and implement a Special Needs Trust to ensure your loved one is protected.

Long Term Care Asset Protection Planning (Veteran's and Medicaid Benefits)

According to The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services someone turning age 65 today has almost a 70% chance of needing some type of long term care. On average, women will need it for 3.7 years and men need it for 2.2 years.  20% of seniors will need it for longer than 5 years. 

 

According to the Genworth Cost of Care Survey, the average annual cost of a nursing home in 2016 was $82,128.00 for a semi private room.  For the unlucky 20% at 2016 rates (rates are continuously increasing) that is a cost of $410,640.00.  Paying $410,640.00 on a retirement budget can prove very difficult.

 

There are mechanisms you can create and utilize in your estate plan to proactively mitigate long-term care costs. Additionally, there are numerous planning tools an estate planning attorney can help you use to achieve eligibility now.  The planning tools available to you depend on when you decide to start planning, the type and amount of assets you have, and the amount of income you receive.  The estate planning attorneys with our firm can guide you through the process to ensure your assets are protected.