Estate Planning

Estate Planning

Our Estate Planning Practice

We help clients prepare for the final distribution of assets upon their death in an efficient, and tax-advantaged manner in accordance with their wishes. We also help clients protect themselves and their estate during life if they experience a catastrophic medical event or if they cannot personally conduct their affairs.

What Happens if I Don’t Have a Will or Trust in Michigan or Indiana?

In both Michigan and Indiana, if a person dies without a will, all assets held in their name (usually all those held outside of a trust) will be transferred in accordance with state intestate law. In other words, even if a person clearly expresses their wishes for the transfer of specific assets, without a will the distribution of their estate assets is controlled by state law – even if it is different than the person’s desires.

Without a will or trust, assets may be inherited by those people not intended by the decedent. Others to whom the decedent wanted to bequeath assets may be left with nothing. Frequently, the lack of a will or trust can lead to hurt feelings among survivors, and sometimes bitterly contested probate litigation.

Fortunately, we can help.

Preparing the Estate Plan that is Right for You

When we meet with clients for estate planning, our first objective is to learn about the nature of their estate and their objectives. Once we understand a client’s situation, we can advise as to the options available, and the plan that we would recommend based upon the objectives to be achieved, taking into account the cost of plan preparation, the ease of administration, and any future costs that may be associated.

For those with modest estates who wish for an outright distribution of assets upon their death, a will is typically sufficient to effectuate the desired transfer. In other cases, a will together with a trust may be beneficial. We advise clients on the best option based upon their circumstances.

Do I Need a Trust?

Because the federal tax exemption amount is currently over the first $10 million of a couple’s estate (if they file the appropriate forms), people are less likely to need a trust purely for tax purposes.  There are many other reasons, however, to have a trust, which can include:

  • Avoiding probate
  • Potentially providing for children while they are minors (instead of having them inherit a large lump sum)
  • Keeping together key assets for beneficiaries, such as a family business or farm
  • Making gifts to beneficiaries over time, which could include both people and charitable organizations
  • Providing for the special needs of a family member

The Key Components of an Estate Plan

The key components of an estate plan can include a Will, Trust, Durable Power of Attorney, Healthcare Power of Attorney and Designation of Patient Advocate (Living Will), and, now in the digital world we live in, Consent and Authorization to Access Digital Assets. Not everyone, however, will need all of these documents.

The Estate Planning Components to Protect You and Your Family

There are two key circumstances that might occur while you are alive that could affect you significantly: you could be severely injured and are not able to communicate your wishes but you are not in danger of imminent death, or you are unable to communicate your wishes and are experiencing a terminal event. In either case, you will best be served by clearly documenting your wishes in these circumstances.

Healthcare and Other Powers of Attorney

In a catastrophic injury, a Healthcare Power of Attorney can be used to authorize healthcare decisions about your affairs in one or more people whom you trust. Additionally, a Power of Attorney can also be given to provide one or more people with the authority to make decisions about all other aspects of your personal affairs, such as your lifestyle care and management of your assets.

Without these designations, your family may need to seek a court-ordered guardianship and/or conservatorship, and potentially be required to report to the court all matters concerning your affairs.  Through these powers of attorney, such court involvement and oversight can usually be minimized or eliminated.

A Healthcare Power of Attorney allows you to provide instruction to healthcare providers and your family when a person is terminal and cannot communicate their wishes for ongoing medical care.  A Healthcare Power of Attorney can be used to provide direction as to the nature of care that should be given in end-of-life situations and the benefits can include:

  • You can determine in advance how you wish to be treated
  • The burden of making difficult decisions (like withholding or discontinuing artificial life support) can be taken off your loved ones
  • Healthcare providers do not need to be put in precarious positions about whether certain treatments should be continued.

Don’t Postpone Your Estate Plan

Planning for the inevitable is never an altogether pleasant experience. We understand. But with knowledgeable legal counsel, it can give a sense of relief and peace of mind that is priceless.

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