For residents of Grand Rapids, Michigan who are thinking about estate planning and, in particular, are thinking about options concerning their pensions, it is important to understand how estate planning is connection to decisions about your pension. First, what is a pension? Is this something you need to add into your will? And can you have more than one beneficiary for your pension? These are some of the common questions we receive, and we will discuss these and more as we explain how pensions can figure into your estate planning.

What is a Pension?

Estate Planning with Pensions in Michigan | Law Offices of David L Carrier

In order to understand how your pension will play a role in your estate planning, you will first need to know what a pension is and how it functions. As CNN Money explains, a pension is simply a “retirement account that an employer maintains to give you a fixed payout when you retire.” A pension is what is known as a defined benefit plan. A defined benefit plan is simply one in which the benefit you received is based on how long you have worked for your employer and your salary. This is also a plan into which your employer pays the money (and makes decisions about where it will be invested).

How much is a pension worth and how does a pension get paid? The answers to those questions will depend upon a number of factors, including the length of time you worked for your employer, as well as your salary during your period of employment. A pension pays out when you decide to retire, and it will typically be paid either in a monthly payment over a period of time, or it can be paid in a lump-sum payment.

Learning More About Your Pension and Estate Planning

Now that you understand more about pensions (and, perhaps, how they are distinct from other types of retirement accounts such as IRAs, for example), it is important to learn more about designating beneficiaries and ensuring that your retirement benefits can help to provide for your loved ones.

A trusts and estates resource sheet from the American Bar Association helps to explain how you name beneficiaries on a pension plan, and other issues to consider. First, it is important to know that you do not name beneficiaries of your pension plan account in your will. While items that you bequeath in your will must go through the probate process, retirement benefits and other insurance payouts will not automatically have to go through the probate process. Now, how do you name a beneficiary on your pension plan if not through your will?

Pension plan accounts are a bit different than other retirement accounts when it comes to naming beneficiaries. While certain retirement accounts allow you to choose your beneficiary and to name that specific beneficiary in writing, pension plans require your spouse to be the named beneficiary—if you are married—unless the spouse expressly waives this benefit in writing. While in most cases your spouse will be the person you would choose as the beneficiary regardless, pension plans to assume that the spouse will benefit from this account in the event of your death. If you are not married, you can name anyone you choose as the beneficiary of your pension plan, and that person then may be able to receive lifetime payments through your pension.

A West Michigan Estate Planning Attorney Can Help

Whether you are married or not, it is important to discuss any estate-planning questions, including naming beneficiaries on your retirement accounts, with an experienced Grand Rapids estate planning attorney. An advocate at our firm can answer your questions today. Contact the Law Offices of David L. Carrier, P.C. to learn more about our services.

Many people create a will or a trust prior to their death, both of which can be used to leave assets and property to beneficiaries upon the creator’s death. While most people have the foresight to include all of their property within a trust or a will, it is not uncommon for certain assets to be left out, either intentionally or accidentally. The following considers what happens to assets that are not included in your trust–

Assets Not Held Within a Trust Must Go Through Probate


Assets that are not held within a trust must go through probate. This is the process of identifying and inventorying a person’s assets (that are not held within a trust), and proving that a will is valid (if a will exists). If the will is found to be valid, then all assets found in the will be be distributed to beneficiaries per the terms of the will. In some cases, a will may stipulate that any assets not expressly stated should go to a certain beneficiary. In other cases, there is no such provision as this, and any assets not held in a trust or addressed in a will must be divided per state law.

Michigan Intestacy Laws

The laws in Michigan that govern how assets are to be distributed if they are not otherwise accounted for are called intestacy laws. If a person died without assets in a trust, or without a will, their assets (or the assets not named in a will) will go to their children and their spouse, and in some cases parents or siblings.

Contesting a Will or Distribution of Assets

The descendants of a person who has died without placing all of their assets in a trust may take issue with the validity of the decedent’s will, or with distribution of assets per the state’s intestacy laws. If you have questions about contesting a will or distribution of assets, or want to learn more about what happens to assets that are not placed in a trust prior to death, it is beneficial to work with an experienced Michigan wills and trusts attorney.

At The Law Offices of David L. Carrier, P.C., our talented Holland family trust attorneys will answer all of your questions, can help you to form a will or a trust, and can advise you of your rights and options after the death of a loved one. If you need to contest the distribution of certain assets, we can help.

Schedule your free case consultation by calling our law offices today or contacting us online.

For business owners in Michigan, planning for their business’ future after their death is an important consideration. This article will consider what happens to a Michigan business after its owner’s death, the process of transferring a business, what happens when a business is not transferred to someone, and how an experienced estate planning attorney can aid throughout the process.

Transferring Ownership of a Business Upon Death


It is possible to transfer the ownership of a business to your heirs, or a trusted person or set of people, upon your death. One of the best ways to do this is to put your business in a trust. Transferring your business property to your living trust is a great idea, and is very simple to do (especially if your business is a sole proprietorship). If there are multiple owners, such as an LLC, you will need consent from other owners prior to putting your business interests into a trust.

You can also leave your business in a will, although items in a will do need to pass through probate, the process of which can be tedious and could tie up business operations.

What Happens When a Business is Not Planned for

When a business and its property and assets are not planned for and are not placed in a trust or named in a will, what will happen to the business depends upon the type of business structure. For example, a business that is formed as a sole proprietorship will simply become part of the owner’s (decedent’s) estate, and will be distributed to beneficiaries per the terms of a will or per state law. If a business is not solely owned, such as a corporation, the business will not die when the business owner dies. Instead, the owner’s estate becomes the owner of the decedent’s shares.

How an Experienced Grand Rapids Estate Planning Attorney Can Help

Each state has its own laws regarding property distribution upon death, and each type of business must be planned for differently. If you have any business interests in Michigan, it is best that you plan for what will become of these interests now while you are healthy and well; waiting too long could be catastrophic, and if you fail to create a plan at all, your business may be dissolved, and your heirs may be left with nothing.

At The Law Offices of David L. Carrier, P.C., we understand what it takes to protect your business and your loved ones. To schedule a free case consultation to learn about our business and estate planning legal services in Michigan, contact us online today. You can also call our offices directly.

Asset protection is an important consideration for many individuals, particularly high net worth individuals and owners of businesses. However, asset protection is not limited to the wealthy alone; asset protection can be used for myriad things, including protecting your assets from any future lawsuits, ensuring that your assets are distributed quickly to your loved ones and beneficiaries upon your death, avoiding taxes and probate, planning for long-term care to reduce asset expenditures, and more. If you live in Michigan, here are some ways that you can protect your assets. Before moving forward with any of the following suggestions, be sure to consult with an experienced attorney:

Create a Separate Business Entity


If you are the owner of the business or are considering the formation of a business, you want to be sure that your business structure is one that separates your personal liability from your business’ liability. If liability is not separated, then a mistake on the part of your business could cost you everything, including money in separate accounts, your house, your vehicle, and more.

Take Advantage of Retirement Accounts

One of the best things about retirement accounts is that they offer asset protection, including up to one million dollars in assets in an IRA in the event of bankruptcy, and unlimited asset protection in ERISA-qualified retirement plans.

Create an Estate Plan

Having an estate plan does more than just protect your assets from intestate succession laws upon your death; it can also help to mitigate estate taxes, saving your estate money. Having an estate plan also gives you peace of mind when it comes to ensuring that your loved ones are cared for after you’re gone.

Use Insurance

Owning insurance may not be the only way to protect your assets, but it is one of the wisest. Consider the following types of insurance, and seek those which are applicable to you:

  • Car insurance;
  • Homeowners’ insurance;
  • Workers’ compensation;
  • Business liability insurance;
  • Life insurance; and
  • Long-term care insurance.

Understand Homestead Exemptions

A homestead exemption protects the equity in your home, meaning that creditors cannot claim the equity if you need to declare bankruptcy. The exemption applies to all real property. You can read more about the homestead exemption in Michigan statute section 600.6023.

Protect Your Assets – Work with an Experienced Norton Shores Elder Law Attorney

Taking action as soon as possible to put in place an asset protection plan is smart, and may have a huge impact on your future or the future of your loved ones. For help forming an estate plan that protects your assets and provides for those you care about the most, contact The Law Offices of David L. Carrier, P.C. You can reach our talented Michigan estate planning attorneys online or by phone today.

Nobody wants to face a Medicaid crisis in which an elderly loved one unexpectedly requires expensive, long-term care but is ineligible for government assistance. However, all too often, residents of Grand Rapids suddenly require nursing home care and are told that they have too many assets and thus cannot qualify for Medicaid. As a fact sheet from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) explains, Medicaid provides free or low-cost healthcare for a variety of different people, including the elderly.

When a Medicaid crisis happens, however, patients in need of immediate care may be forced to sell or liquidate assets if they are ineligible for Medicaid assistance. As an article from AARP makes clear, the average cost for a private room in a nursing home in 2016 was more than $92,000. Even if you decide to stay at home and pay for an in-home health aide, the cost still averages more than $46,000. The ultimate goal for families should be avoiding this kind of Medicaid crisis. While Medicaid crises do happen much too often, the good news is that it is possible to take steps to prevent this from happening.

From thinking about long-term care insurance to understanding Medicaid eligibility, you can be ready for a medical crisis. An experienced Michigan elder law attorney can assist you.

When Should I Start Preparing for the Possibility of a Medicaid Crisis?


Many Michigan residents want to know when they should start planning for the possibility of a Medicaid crisis. Although many older adults may need Medicaid to pay for nursing home care, particularly given the high costs associated with many facilities, the difficulty of the Medicaid process can be minimized with some early planning. To be sure, when you plan ahead of time, you can protect certain assets, and at the same time you take steps to help ensure that you will be able to receive quality care.

As we mentioned above, the best time to begin planning is while you are still healthy and do not need long-term care. Generally speaking, we refer to this as “Medicaid pre-planning.” When you engage in Medicaid pre-planning, you can take steps to protect valuable assets from being used to pay for nursing home costs and to safeguard your eligibility for Medicaid assistance.

While it is best to begin planning before you become ill, it is still possible to work with an experienced elder law attorney on Medicaid crisis planning. You should not have to use all of your hard-earned savings to pay for a stay in a nursing home. You may still be able to protect your property.

Different Steps You Can Take to Plan for Long-Term Care in a Nursing Home

What steps can you take to plan for long-term care in a nursing home? The following are some important tips that can help to minimize the financial impact of nursing home expenses:

  • Determine your eligibility for Medicaid: before you need Medicaid assistance, you can complete a Michigan Medicaid application to determine your eligibility. It is important to work with an experienced elder law attorney in Grand Rapids since these applications can be complicated.
  • Long-term care insurance: While you are still healthy, you should consider investing in a long-term care insurance policy. The AARP article emphasizes that long-term care insurance can seem pricey—often around $3,100 per year—but it can pay off in the long run.
  • Medicaid trust: if you transfer your assets improperly right before entering into a nursing home, you can incur substantial penalties that can make you ineligible for Medicaid. However, there may still be ways to protect your valuable assets so that you do not have to use them to pay for your long-term care.

Contact a Michigan Medicaid Crisis Attorney

If you have questions about determining your Medicaid eligibility or planning for a Medicaid crisis, an experienced Holland elder law attorney can help. Contact the Law Offices of David L. Carrier, P.C. today for more information.

Almost inevitably, there are final expenses to pay and accounts to settle when a loved one dies. So, life insurance is an integral part of an estate plan, because it gives the personal representative funds to deal with these items. Certain kinds of life insurance benefits the purchasers during their lifetimes as well, because they build equity that can be tapped or borrowed against.

Quite frankly, there is little need for life insurance if one does not have assets and/or dependents to protect. So, many people purchase insurance when they buy homes, get married, or have children. Since these events tend to happen rather early in life, most people buy insurance in their 20s or 30s. That is a good thing, because as we age, premiums increase along with the likelihood of disqualifying health conditions.

Considerations When Buying Insurance

life tube

The old rule of thumb is that people should have ten times their annual income in life insurance. This rule obviously does not apply in all situations, especially if there is a stay-at-home parent in the house. Another shorthand rule is the 10-plus-100,000 formula: ten times annual income plus an additional $100,000 for children’s college expenses. A better rule, although it is still imperfect, is the DIME (Debt, Income, Mortgage, and Education) method. This exercise requires a bit more work, but by considering all four items that life insurance is supposed to protect, one may have a better idea how much coverage to purchase.

Another rule of thumb is to reconsider the amount of insurance every three or four years, because financial and family circumstances can change drastically in that amount of time.

Types of Insurance

The most basic type of insurance is term life. It pays a death benefit if the policyholder dies within the term, which is normally thirty years. Typically, the death payment is the only available benefit. Over 90 percent of such policies are level term life policies, which means that the premiums remain the same throughout the term. To accomplish this, the insurance company overcharges younger policyholders and these overpayments essentially subsidize the premium payments as the policyholders age. This extra money is how the policy builds a cash value. In decreasing term life insurance, the death benefit drops over time to compensate for the fact that the company makes less money in the later years of the term.

As the name implies, whole life insurance lasts for the policyholders’ whole lives, regardless of how long they live. There are three basic categories:

  • Level: As described above, the payments remain the same even though the company could raise them in later years, because of the added risk.
  • Universal: Also called adjustable life insurance, these kinds of policies are much more flexible. Policyholders who pass medical exams can increase their death benefits. Additionally, policyholders can shift funds from the cash value side of the ledger to the premiums side, if they experience unforeseen circumstances but want their policies to remain in force.
  • Variable: Instead of a savings account, the added cash is an investment account. Obviously, these kinds of policies are considerably riskier than other types of life insurance.

Some companies also sell universal/variable policies that combine aspects of both vehicles.

Rely on Experienced Estate Planning Attorneys

Pre-estate planning, including life insurance, may be as important as estate planning. For a free consultation with an experienced estate planning attorney, contact Carrier Law.

A New York woman made headlines about a year ago when she revised her will to leave $1 million to her Maltese terrier.

When 60-year-old Rose Ann Bolasny dies, Bella Mia will inherit a vacation home, a trust fund, and jewelry. The dog, whom Ms. Bolasny says is a “gift from God,” already has a $100,000 yearly allowance for grooming, meals, shopping sprees, and other items. She says she discussed changing her will with her two sons, and they are both on board with her decision. “I explained to them that I know they love Bella Mia very much but I wanted to make sure that if anything happens to us she was taken care in the way that she’s used to,” Ms. Bolasny said.

Bella Mia is not even close to the richest dog on the planet. Fifteen years ago, human representatives for Gunther, a German Shepherd, used part of the dog’s $145 million fortune to buy Madonna’s villa in Miami.

Leaving Property to Pets


Roughly 70 percent of American households include at least one dog and/or cat. While there are a few owners on either end of the spectrum (people who excessively dote on their pets and people who neglect them), the truth is that most owners care for their pets and sacrifice at least some of their time and money to care for them.

When people involuntarily part ways with pets, it is normally because they relocate and the new residence does not allow pets; moreover, a few pets and their humans separate because of divorce. In all involuntary separation cases, many people are understandably concerned about their animals and want them to be cared for. Furthermore, many people have no children or other heirs, and they want at least some of their possessions to stay “in the family.”

In 1998, the Michigan Legislature amended the estate code to allow pet trusts. For the act to apply, there must be no beneficiary in the will and no “definitely ascertainable beneficiary” available. Furthermore, the pet trust automatically lapses after 21 years.

Setting Up Pet Trusts

One of the biggest advantages of pet trusts is that the owners designate the trustees, so owners have peace of mind that their pets will be cared for. Most pet trusts also contain provisions for replacing the trustees if they fail to care for the pets in the way the trusts dictates. There is no limit to the corpus (amount of money that is in the trust), although the court can reduce the corpus and redirect the money if the judge deems the pet trust to be excessive.

In lieu of trusts, owners can put provisions in their wills setting aside money for a pet’s care and also designating a person to perform such care. If there is money left over after the trusts expire or when the pets die, the funds normally either go to the place designated in the documents or they revert to the testators (persons who made the will).

Count on Experienced Attorneys

A pet trust gives owners one less thing to worry about. For a free consultation with an experienced Portage estate planning attorney, contact the Law Offices of David L. Carrier, P.C. After-hours and weekend appointments are available.

Legally, minors cannot own property or make contracts, and that may be the best reason to partner with an experienced trust attorney regarding such vehicles for minor inheritance. There are some other reasons as well, because settlors (people who make trusts) may want to create incentive for a certain event, such as graduating from college, or they may have concerns that younger heirs are less able to make sound financial decisions. Michigan law recognizes several different kinds of trusts that meet all these objectives, and each kind of trust has other benefits as well.

The Wolverine State has also enacted the Uniform Transfers to Minors Act, which can transfer money and other property directly to minors without the need for a trust.


Michigan has very few laws regarding trust formation. In fact, parole (verbal) trusts are even recognized, in some cases. Other than the intent to create a trust, the only requirements are:

  • Settlor: The person who sets up the trust is sometimes called the grantor as well; settlors must have the proper mental capacity.
  • Corpus: Paper trusts are invalid; only trusts that contain property are legally binding.
  • Trustee: In many trusts, the settlor and trustee is the same person. The trustee has a fiduciary duty to manage the corpus in a way that helps the beneficiary.
  • Beneficiary: This person has equitable title to the corpus and receives a direct or indirect benefit from the corpus; there can be more than one beneficiary.

Because the settlor no longer has legal title to the corpus in the property, but controls it nonetheless as the trustee, minor trusts have significant advantages. The reason there are different kinds of trusts is that there are different needs in different situations.

  • Minor Trust: If the beneficiary is a minor, the trust usually provides that title reverts to the beneficiary upon a certain age, like 25, or a certain event, like college graduation. Most trusts also contain alternate provisions, in the event that the child does not reach the milestone.
  • Spendthrift Trusts: In these arrangements, the beneficiary cannot spend the principal or borrow against it; some spendthrift trusts also contain provisions for “cutting off” the beneficiary entirely in some situations.

In addition to the duty to the beneficiary, a trustee has a duty to the settlor to account for the property in the corpus; the trustee must also file tax returns.



These transfers have almost no formal requirement whatsoever, except that the donor or transferor (person giving a gift or transferring property) must explicitly state that the transfer is subject to the Uniform Transfer to Minors Act; moreover, the transfer must occur before the child turns 18. In a UTMA transaction, the donor gives a gift to an adult custodian to hold until the child turns 18 or whatever age the donor specifies.

The money must be used for the benefit of the minor and the minor automatically assumes full legal title at the designated age. That latter provision is the one serious downside to UTMA transfers, so if the donor want to retain control over the money or property, a trust is preferable.

Reach Out to Dedicated Family Trust Attorneys in Grand Rapids

Persons wishing to make gifts to minors have several legal options. For a free consultation with an experienced Grand Rapids family trust attorney, contact the Law Offices of David L. Carrier, P.C. We have four offices in Western Michigan.

A “trust” is something you might associate with wealthy socialite families. But trusts are actually a common Michigan estate planning device used by individuals from all social and economic backgrounds. There are, in fact, many different kinds of trusts that may be helpful to your own estate planning depending on the needs of you and your family.

Revocable Trusts


The most common type of estate planning trust is an “inter vivos” or revocable living trust. This is a trust created by a person—known as a grantor—who conveys property to a trustee. In most revocable living trusts, the grantor and the trustee are initially the same person. This allows the grantor to retain full control over the trust’s assets while legal ownership remains with the trustee.

You might wonder what the point is of transferring an asset to yourself. The real benefit of a trust comes after the grantor passes away. Normally, a deceased person’s assets pass through their estate. This requires a special legal process known as probate, which can take several months (or even years) to complete. Probate estate records may also be available to the public.

A trust, in contrast, is a private act. When the grantor-trustee dies, a successor trustee named in the trust document simply assumes control and administers or distributes the trust property as directed by the grantor. Assets in the trust are not considered part of the grantor’s probate estate.

This inter vivos trust is also quite flexible. The trust is “revocable,” which means the grantor can amend or revoke it any point during his or her lifetime. Once the grantor dies, however, the trust generally becomes irrevocable.

Irrevocable Trusts

There are also some cases where a person might want to create an irrevocable trust. As you might expect, an irrevocable trust is one that cannot be altered or revoked by the grantor once made.

Why would anyone create an irrevocable trust? With a revocable trust, the grantor is still considered the beneficial owner of the trust’s assets. This means the settlor’s creditors can go after those assets, say to collect a court judgment. However, if the settlor places the assets in an irrevocable trust, he or she is no longer considered the beneficial owner, and those assets are beyond the creditor’s reach.

Need Trust Advice From a Michigan Estate Planning Attorney?

Besides revocable and irrevocable trusts, there are other kinds of specialized trusts. For example, a Special Needs Trust allows a grantor to provide for a beneficiary receiving government benefits. Many public assistance programs are means-tested, so the beneficiary could lose benefits if they received a large gift or inheritance directly.

Another kind of indirect benefit trust is known as a Spendthrift Trust. Here, the grantor makes financial provisions for a beneficiary but restricts the beneficiary’s access to the trust principal. Similar to an irrevocable trust, this will prevent the beneficiary’s creditors from going after the principal.
This is only a brief overview of some of the types of trusts available to Michigan residents. If you are considering creating any type of trust, you should work with an experienced Norton Shores estate planning attorney. Contact the Law Offices of David L. Carrier, P.C., to speak with someone right away.

Benjamin Franklin is often credited with coining the expression that “in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” Indeed, the former does not necessarily end the latter. Even after death, the federal government may assess certain taxes against a deceased individual’s property—but proper estate planning can reduce or eliminate many of these obligations.

What Is the Estate Tax?


You have probably heard the phrase “estate tax” (or the more politically charged “death tax”) mentioned in the news without understanding its precise meaning. Basically, the estate tax is a federal levy “on your right to transfer property at your death,” according to the Internal Revenue Service. The estate tax is calculated as a percentage of a deceased taxpayer’s “gross estate,” i.e. their assets less certain deductions.

The gross estate is normally based on the date of death value of the decedent’s assets. For example, if the decedent purchased a house for $200,000 in 2006, and that same property had an appraised market value of $350,000 when the decedent died in 2016, the latter value is the basis for calculating the gross estate.

The federal estate tax itself can be quite steep. The maximum rate is 40 percent. Fortunately, few estates every pay that much. In fact, the overwhelming majority of estates—approximately 998 out of every 1,000, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities—will ever owe any estate tax at all.

In addition to the federal tax, some states also assess their own estate or inheritance taxes. Michigan does not. The state abolished its own estate tax as of January 1, 2005.

Estate Tax Exemptions

The reason for this is that federal law exempts a certain amount of the gross estate from tax. For individuals who pass away in 2016, this exemption is $5.45 million. That means every person in the United States is free to pass along $5.45 million in assets without paying a cent in estate tax.

The exemption is even more generous for married couples. All property left to one spouse by the other is tax-free. Additionally, a surviving spouse may take advantage of any unused portion of a deceased spouse’s exemption. In plain terms, if Spouse A dies and leaves his entire estate to Spouse B, when she dies her estate can claim not only her $5.45 million exemption, but also Spouse A’s unused $5.45 million exemption, for a total exemption of $10.9 million.

Need Advice From a Michigan Estate Planning Lawyer?

In addition to spousal gifts and exemptions, there are other methods individuals can use to reduce potential estate tax liability. One common technique is to leave money to charity, either through a structured gift to an existing organization or by establishing a tax-exempt charitable foundation. Gifts to IRS-recognized charities are excluded from a decedent’s gross estate for tax purposes.

While the estate tax will only affect a handful of Michigan families, you may still have questions or concerns. If you need to speak with a qualified Grand Rapids estate planning attorney, contact the Law Offices of David L. Carrier, P.C., today.