Tag Archive for: wills

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Are You Against Peace of Mind?
What Is A Will? Probate – Who Cares?
What Is A Trust? Why Do Trusts Routinely Fail?
Why Don’t They Ever Talk About The Real Problem?
Why Are They Misleading You?
Is Now A Bad Time?

American Middle-Class Values Are Universal
The Future Is Middle Class

Sometimes do you feel surrounded by gloomy complainers who think you should be as anxious and angry as they are? At Christmastime, they complain about everything: gift-giving is bad, Christmas dinner is sinfully extravagant, family time is traumatic. Sad. Proof positive that misery loves company.

Gloomy Gus and Miserable Mary take especial twisted delight in accusing you of all manner of wretched, greedy, evil behavior. Your joy in simple pleasures both infuriates and depresses them. They have “issues.” Every glass is half-empty. All emotions are tainted. Lurking beneath each good deed is a selfish and unworthy motive. The pinnacle of their dismal happiness is to accuse America of unique and awful sin. COVID responses have only deepened their malaise.

What rubbish! Just as your (vaccinated!) immune system rapidly isolates and destroys deadly viruses and bacteria, we need to inoculate ourselves against this deeply stupid and self-destructive whining. Childish and immature? Yes. Infantile and unserious? Definitely. That does not mean we can ignore this injurious infection. Sunshine is the best disinfectant!

Is everything bad and getting worse? Are you an awful person? It is easy to observe that throughout human history, humans have wanted the same things. Why do they ridicule the notion that we are all the same underneath?

You spent a lifetime working and saving. You paid your bills. You raised your kids. You showed up. Nose to the grindstone. Happy warrior. Fighting the good fight.

Lucky for you, you are an American. Being an American means that your efforts count. You can get stuff. And keep it. And enjoy it. Some people like snowmobiles. Other people like Precious Moments™ figurines. Bowling balls and pool cues. Snap-on Tools™. Surf boards. Quilts. Pottery. We like our stuff. It is good to get stuff. The more stuff, the better.

Abundance. Prosperity. Wealth.

How do I know that it is good to get stuff? Look around. Everybody, in every country, around the world, is trying to get stuff. Stuff like yours. Stuff we take for granted.

It starts with sanitation. Toilets. Clean water. Pretty soon folks want electricity. And a bank account. For their savings. Then cell phones. Then McDonald’s™ hamburgers. Then a place to call their own. Then a house. And a car. Health care too. People like to live. They like to live with their stuff. It’s not just you.
Everybody’s doing it.

How do I know? Glad you asked…

Extreme Poverty Almost Gone

The world is becoming middle-class. America just got there first. Not getting blown up in WWII probably helped. Working really hard and believing the America Dream also helped. And now, according to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, in the 2020 Goalkeepers Report, the world is catching up.

Worried about Extreme Poverty? It is practically a thing of the past. Look at the graph. Go to the website. All good news!

Got Personal Hygiene?
Get Running Water and Toilets…

What about safe water? Again, check out the chart. More people than ever are living healthier lives. Who knew that things were so good? The truth is that other folks want the same things you do. And, like you, they are willing to work to get those good things. Is it ridiculous to think that other people want flush toilets, clean water, and a place to wash their hands? Did you think anyone was choosing to wash in sewage?

financial services for the poor chart

Who Needs Banks and Banking Services The Most? Poor Folks

And what about money? Once again, trust your own eyes. Even in the poorest countries. Even the poorest people in those countries. 30% of the poorest people in the world have bank accounts. A safe place to store the fruits of their labors. Giving them a way out of poverty. Promising them a brighter future.

The job is not done. Not by a long stretch. Be of good cheer. Progress is tough to derail. Not even the COVID pandemic or some of the hysterical reactions to it have significantly slowed the train. So. Let the nattering nabobs of negativism tell you how bad everything is… Then give them a reality check. Pow! Right in the kisser. Metaphorically. Rhetorically. Confidently.

The future is middle class.

Middle class folks want to make things better for the family members they leave behind. It is a new kind of problem for most people. Including most Americans.

You Got Stuff, You Die Who Gets Your Stuff?
The Last Will and Testament

Funny thing about stuff. It lasts longer than you do. What happens then? The answer to that question is the beginning of estate planning. For a very long time, only the pashas, potentates and princes had anything worth having. But that began to change. Slowly at first, but eventually lots of folks had stuff that was still around after they were gone and still useful.

Who gets it? That was a big problem. The answer was a new kind of court, the probate court. A special place where all this could be settled out.

Along with getting stuff for themselves, folks wanted to give the next generation a leg up. They wanted to say who would get the left-overs. And that’s where wills come in.

Your Last Will and Testament is simply instructions to the probate court. That is it. Your Will only works if it goes through probate. Lots of people will tell you, “I don’t have to worry about probate, I have a Will!” And now you know better.

How much does it cost to probate your leftover stuff? A frequently cited number, attributed to AARP, is 4-10% of the value of the estate. That seems about right to me.

Why so expensive? Because you left a big mess. While you are alive, your name is on your stuff. You are large and in charge. It is as if you were carrying items around in a store. In your arms. As long as you are steady on your feet… no problem. But if you slip and fall… Whoops! There goes all the stuff you were carrying. And now you have made a big mess. You were in complete control of your stuff. Now nobody is in control. Stuff goes flying. Good luck sorting it out. Nice easy job, cleaning up the mess.

But cleaning up the mess is exactly what the probate court does. The probate court is a janitor. Your will is simply a note found in the mess. Let’s hope the janitor finds the note. And reads it. And follows it. And is not distracted by everything else going on…

Probate is not a curse inflicted on innocent people by a vengeful deity. Probate is the necessary and unavoidable consequence of the rise of the middle class. Together with a failure to plan ahead.

You Got Stuff, You Die Who Gets Your Stuff? The Trust

Is it ridiculous to think that most people would rather not lose 4-10% of their leftover life savings? Are you opposed to keeping what you have earned? Maybe then avoiding probate would be a good idea. Are you against finding better ways to get the job done? I didn’t think so…

That’s where the trust comes in. Trusts hold your stuff, like a shopping cart at the store. You are in control.

Put things in. Take things out. Re-arrange. It is all up to you. The key is that when you “slip and fall”, your possessions are in the cart. Sure, you went flying. Call the EMTs! But your stuff remains in the shopping cart/ trust. No fuss. No muss. Nothing for the janitor to do. Your successor trustee steps up and divvies up the stuff to your deserving and grateful family members. What could be easier? Are you surprised that trusts are so popular?

The Huge Dirty Secret of Trust-Based Planning

Is it ridiculous to think that a highly profitable industry based on cleaning up messes might want to go on cleaning up those messes? Can continue collecting those fees? If you were collecting 4-10% of folks’ leftover lifesavings, would you be in a rush to cut off that gravy train? Is it bad to wonder why 90+% of trusts fail? Is it cynical and ill-natured to wonder whether the astonishing failure rate of trusts has anything to do with probate industry profits?

Why do trusts fail harder than the Wizard of Oz? The simple reason, which is well-known to your banker, insurance agent, financial advisor, attorney, and anyone else with the slightest familiarity, is that hardly anything gets into the shopping cart.

You paid for a bright and shiny new trust/shopping cart. And that is what you received. It is beautiful! Leather binder. Lots of pages. Wow! And it is empty. And you are still carrying all those items around in your arms. So when you slip and fall… oopsie! All your stuff STILL goes flying, STILL makes a huge mess, STILL requires probate.

How Do They Get Away With Such Piracy?!

How does the probate industry get away with it? Simple. In that fancy binder of yours, there is a memorandum/ letter/instruction booklet/ brochure. In that document, the responsibility of getting your stuff into your trust is placed squarely on your shoulders.

Did you know that? Would it be a waste of your time to, right now, dig into that fancy binder and find that memo? It is in there, I promise.

The memo is how the probate industry turns your kids’ righteous indignation at having to pay for probate into sheepish surrender. It was Mom and Dad’s fault! They did not follow the instructions! Aww gee! Heh heh… betcha ya didn’t see that coming!

What if there was a law firm that did the hard work of tracking down your assets with you and getting them into the trust. Would you be surprised if the process took longer? Would it be a shock that it cost more? Would you be against getting what you paid for?

Would you be surprised to learn that there is no free lunch?

American Middle-Class Values
Are The Wave Of The Future

Do you reject the idea that a rising tide lifts all boats? Is it too farfetched to think that today’s “rising tide” are the peaceful virtues of the middle-class lifestyle? Rapidly spreading across the globe. Raising hundreds of millions, billions of our sisters and brothers out of poverty. On to the path for a better life.

Our better future has its enemies. Craven, miserable, alive only with jealousy and envy. You extend the helping hand of friendship; they see only the claw of exploitation. You offer to help build, construct, improve, they seek only to tear down, demolish, devastate.

You are winning. Ever more desperate, they are losing.

Peace of mind and security are waiting for everyone who embraces productive work. While you are here. And after you are gone. Waiting for you. You have a choice. Despite what “everybody else” says.

Well, here you are. Now you know. No excuses. Get the information, insight, inspiration. It is your turn. Ignore the message? Invite poverty? Or get the freely offered information. To make wise decisions. For you. For your loved ones.

No Poverty. No Charity. No Waste. It is not chance. It is choice. Your choice.

Get Information Now. 800-317-2812

Everybody Knows: Wills Avoid Probate!
Reality Check: Wills Require Probate…

You are an expert for certain things. You know how to quilt. Or fish. Or woodwork. You might have learned on the job. Or as a hobby. But you are an expert. You know how this stuff works.

And then you hear someone else talk about it. A friend. A neighbor. Your brother-in-law. Maybe in the newspaper. And they get it wrong. Oh boy, so wrong. All wrong. A genuine achievement. Give that guy a blue ribbon! For wrongness.

Happens all the time, right?

It ain’t ignorance causes so much trouble; it’s folks knowing so much that ain’t so.
— Josh Billings, 1882

Announcing a New Feature on The Reporter: Things Everybody Knows, That Just Are Not So!

Things regular folks say and believe. That prevent effective action. Setting the record straight, one issue at a time. Shall we begin?

Reading Of The Will:
Who Gets The Leftovers?

For many folks, the question is: When I am dead, who gets the leftovers?

The answer, for many folks: Read the Last Will & Testament! Preferably on a foggy evening. In a creepy old house. With a creepy old lawyer. Surrounded by heirs of mixed ages and questionable virtue. Reading dramatically from the Will in his creaky old voice, the lawyer delivers deeds, heirlooms, and sacks of cash. Virtuous, good heirs rejoice. Evil, bad heirs plot their revenge! And it is all over in just a few minutes.

Would you be surprised to learn that reality is a bit different than the movies? After 2020, are you still shocked when the “experts” get it wrong?

What Is Probate?

Probate is how society cleans up your mess. What mess?

Basic Truth: Middle Class Michigan takes care of business. Handles things. Gets it done.

Right now, most of us own our home (with some help from the bank). And savings account. Investments. Furniture. You pay your bills. And file your taxes. You take care of you. And yours. Humming along like a top… No Problem! A nice tidy picture. You are a responsible person acting responsibly.

But what if things go wrong? What if you cannot take care of business? How could that happen?

If you are incapacitated… stroke, auto accident, Alzheimer’s? If you die. Who is taking care of your business now? Your nice tidy picture is not so nice and tidy anymore. It is a mess. Who does what? Who gets what? Now what?

Probate is the answer when folks do not plan. And most folks do not plan. Most folks wind up making a mess. Probate is the cleanup crew.

You Go To The Supermarket.
For A Loaf Of Bread. One Loaf Of Bread.

Have you ever tried this? Have you ever gone to the supermarket for a single item? And then before you find that single item… You gather up a dozen more groceries you cannot live without. This is how most people go through life. Carrying around their stuff in their own name. Like the supermarket shopper without a cart.

That is fine, so far as it goes. But what if you slip and fall. What happens to the groceries?

Whee! Whoops! Big. Mess. Call the Janitor! Cleanup on Aisle 3…

Probate Court Is The Janitor!

Probate Court is Johnny-on-the-Spot to clean up the mess you made when you slipped and fell. Probate gathers up your groceries and tries to figure out what to do with them. Janitors have a Rule Book about who gets what. It is called the “Estates and Protected Individuals Code.”

The Probate Judge is the Lord High Janitor, Exalted Over All Deputy Janitors. The Personal Representative (or Executor) does the real work. Junior Deputy Janitor.
The Junior Deputy Janitor has 3 jobs.

  • 1. Marshall the assets. Gather up the leftovers.
  • 2. Pay the bills.
  • 3. Deliver the leftovers to the deserving beneficiaries.


But What About The Will?!?

Your Last Will and Testament is simply instructions to the Junior Deputy Janitor. It is a note, a piece of paper. Fluttering about betwixt and between the mess. Let us hope the Junior Deputy Janitor finds the Will. Let us hope Junior Deputy follows the Will. Let us hope.

Your Will ONLY works in probate. It is simply instructions to the Probate Court, through the Personal Representative, expressing your desires. Expressing your will as to who should be in charge. Who gets what. Deriving its powers from the Probate Court.

Your Will only “works” after you have died.

Your Will only “works” by going through Probate.

Your Will does not avoid Probate… it is a creature of Probate, part and parcel.

Wills Are Awful And No Good!
Probate Is Awful And No Good!

Kind of extreme, don’t you think? Wills and probate have their place. Some techniques of great benefit to many middle-class families only work in probate.

You know that a rush to judgment often leads over a cliff. Let us calm down. Sensitively and sensibly evaluate our options. And choose according to fact, not fiction. Planning success is a choice, not chance.

We Got Through 2020.
Time To Move Ahead In 2021.

Last year, the number of regular folks planning their futures dropped. Significantly. Could it be that you had other things on your mind?

At the same time, our Crisis Caseload skyrocketed. Special PACE rules mean more families than ever qualify for immediate help.

And fewer people focused on planning ahead, LifePlanning™. The Carrier Team has been busier than ever, but I fear 2020 was a year of wasted opportunity for regular families. I am extremely concerned. What do you think?

You can get the information you want. In-person workshops and one-on-one meetings. Recorded and live-streaming webinars. Like you, we have never stopped serving. As you seek out new ways to accomplish your life’s work, we are on the same journey. By your side. Making the rules work for the people who play by the rules.

Sixty minutes that to accelerate your success. An hour to put 2020 in the rear-view mirror. Avoid Nursing Home Poverty. Reject silly Spend Downs. Learn how to preserve your loved one’s lifesavings, business, cottage, life insurance. Thousands of middle-class families have learned and use these techniques. Why not yours?
Got Questions? Get Answers!

COME TO A WORKSHOP… (800) 317-2812

What Comes Next Is Frequently Worse

Death Comes For Us All

Our time on this planet is limited. We do our best while we are here. To be a good spouse. A loving parent. A loyal sibling. A true American. To be able to look back on a life well-lived. You have worked hard. You played by the rules. You planned. And when you pass, there will be leftovers.

Maybe it is a loved one who has died. After the grief comes the realization that you have a big job to do. You are responsible to take care of what has been left behind.

Now what? What comes next? You have heard the stories of family strife. You “know” that this will take at least a year, probably two. You keep hearing that probate or trust administration costs will swallow up 4-10% of the leftovers. Pretty discouraging.

It does not have to be that way. Let us show you.

Will vs Trust

Wills only work in probate. A will is simply instructions to the Probate Court and the Personal Representative (Executor). Wills do not avoid probate. Did I mention that the will only works in Probate Court?

Millions of families have believed that revocable living trusts would avoid probate for them. Millions of families have been disappointed. Trusts only work on assets that have been retitled into the trust.

Attorneys, bankers, accountants, insurance agents, annuity salespersons, financial advisors, and the guy who mops the floor at the bank all know something that you do not. Everybody else knows that trusts do not work in the real world. That fact has nothing to do with the trust itself.

Trusts only work on stuff in the trust. And your stuff is not in your trust. Inconceivable!

Remember all those papers in that trust binder? All those papers you did not read? All those papers your loved one did not read either? Well, there was a memo about putting assets into the trust. Whoopsie. Say hello to probate! This is not a mistake. New estate planning lawyers are taught not to worry about funding, in reliance on probate. I wonder if the probate attorney fees have anything to do with it… Inconceivable!

Everybody knows you will not put your stuff into the trust. That is why you get a Funding Coach at the Law Offices of David L. Carrier. Someone to help you, nag you, enable you. To truly avoid probate. And nursing home poverty.

Simple will or the typical trust? Does not matter. Say hello to probate.

Delay Destroys De Family

Probate or trust administration drags on. Month after month. Family members wonder what is going on. One year. Two years. And on. Family fights fester. First, grief at mom’s death. Then, impatience. Soon, annoyance. Next, suspicion. Finally, anger.

“But our kids get along so well!” Check back 12-24 months after your death. No final resolution. No visible signs of progress. Tough? You bet. Inevitable? No way!

Git ‘Er Done! Six Months Or Less!

Preserve your family. Preserve your sanity. You do the grieving. We do the paperwork. Six months after you say “Go!”, we say “All done!” And four months of that time was required by the newspaper Notice to Unknown Creditors. Consistent communication calms kids.

Your Probate And Trust Administration Team

Attorney Terri Macklin and Senior Paralegal Lea Dillard head up your Team. Our staff accountants, paralegals, and client service agents back them all the way. Attorney Claire Clary rounds out the Team. As former executive director of Widowed Persons Services, Claire adds years of insights from helping hundreds of newly widowed persons.

Six Months! Really?

Not every time. But it is always our goal. We work hard to beat your expectations. Hundreds of times, hundreds of families, every year.

Unexpected Covid-19 Deaths Are Rising

You did not expect your loved one to pass so soon. You thought you had time. They did too. Things will get worse before they get better. Get help now.

What Now?

Preserve your family. Preserve your sanity. Call the Probate and Trust Administration Team now. It costs nothing. It could save your family. Make the rules work for the folks who play by the rules.


Send Email: TMacklin@davidcarrierlaw.com

Never a charge to talk. What are you waiting for? “What could it hurt?”

You know how it is. Everybody has something to say. And each one says something different. It is a whole choir singing flat: Financial Advisor. Accountant. Next-door neighbor. Friend from church’s lawyer. That get-out-of-debt guy on the radio. That financial guru woman on public television. Confusing? Yes. Here’s the straight story…

Probate Works Like This. It’s Simple.

1. You run into Meijer (or Spartan Stores or D&W) for a loaf of bread. Before you know it, your arms are full of items you cannot live without. And you are in control of that stuff.
2. But then: You slip and fall! Whoops… the stuff goes flying and makes a big mess. You had total control. Then you had none.
3. Clean Up On Aisle 3!
4. The janitor comes out to clean up your mess. The janitor takes your stuff and decides what to do with it. Where it goes. How it gets there. According to Janitor Rules.

Translation: Here is How Probate Works!

1. You earned and saved. Now you have stuff. Not groceries, but your home, insurance, investments, furniture, automobile, stocks, bonds. You have control. You earned it. It is all in your name.
2. But then: You died. You became disabled. You lost control.
3. Now nobody controls your stuff anymore. Not you. Not anyone else. But somebody has got to figure out what to do with your leftovers… And that’s the job of Probate Court… figuring out what to do with the leftovers.
4. Now a big chunk of your lifesavings goes to probate attorneys and a bit more to probate court.
5. Your beneficiaries get the rest. You hope.

But My Will Avoids Probate! Doesn’t It?

Wills do not avoid probate at all. Your will is nothing but a nice letter to the janitor, asking nicely that the janitor will do as you ask:

Last Will & Testament

Dear Janitor,
When I have slipped and fallen and you find my stuff, please let my spouse/child/someone special help you.
Please pay any bills that you get. Please advertise to see if anyone else wants to claim any of my money. Do not forget to pay yourself and anyone who helps you!

Please do not use your usual rules, but give my stuff to the following folks: 1,2,3…
Thanks Janitor!

Person Who Did Only a Will.

Remember: The Will does not do anything except tell the Probate Court where you want the leftover stuff to go. If anyone finds it. Then reads it. Then follows it. And if no one else complains.

  • If sole ownership and death, then Mess.
  • If Mess, then Probate.
  • If Probate, then Will.
  • If no Mess, no Probate.
  • If no Probate, Nothing for Will to do.

Get the information you need to avoid the janitor! Call 1-800-317-2812

by Bill Bereza, Associate Attorney

My dad was sure that he was going to live to 100. He was born the year after his parents bought the family farm, and he always talked about getting the farm into Michigan’s Centennial Farm Program. Planning for death or incapacity was never on his mind. When he was diagnosed with cancer, he kept on going as normal. He was still working on the farm the week before he went into hospice.

My dad refused to talk about death.

He never talked about what would or should happen with the farm if he became too ill to run it. He would never sign a will or a trust or a power of attorney, and he believed that insurance was a waste of money because “you’ll be dead” when the money comes in. As he came closer to the end, I learned that this was really because of his fear of death. He was still a young man when his father died. His father’s cancer wasn’t discussed until he was dying, so to my father, talking about the end of life meant death.

It’s hard to say that it is fortunate that my dad died quickly. He didn’t spend years in a nursing home. He died at home in the very same bedroom he was born in. We were all spared the guilt of placing him in a nursing home, knowing that he hated being away from his farm. We didn’t need to worry about how to pay for his care; the farm was my parents’ only asset. We knew that the farm was safe, that it didn’t have to be broken up and sold off in pieces to pay for the care that he assumed he’d already been paying for with every paycheck of his working life.

We had luck, a painful kind of luck.

Since then, my mom has made a plan. She has a power of attorney, a patient advocate, a will, and a trust to make sure the farm stays in the family and isn’t lost to the chances of fortune. She knows that what she and dad spent a lifetime working on will be protected for herself and her kids and grandkids. She has shared with us her thoughts, her fears, and her desires. She has given us the gift of relief, from doubt, uncertainty, and guilt.

It’s hard to talk with your kids about death. Some parents may use their own experiences with death in their own lives as an opportunity to discuss mortality with their kids, or as a reason to avoid bringing up a painful experience. The death of a parent is usually the first real painful experience most people will deal with. Your children will have to deal with it whether you want them to or not.

We all know that death is inevitable. Many people decide that because it will happen no matter what they do, they may as well do nothing. Only 4 in 10 American adults have a Will, according to a 2018 Caring.com survey. Furthermore, the survey found that only 1/3 of parents with children under 18 have a Will.

A basic, comprehensive estate plan will include, at minimum, a Will, a Durable Power of Attorney for Finances, a Patient Advocate Designation, Advance Directives, and one or more Living Trusts.

Whether you have a plan – or realize you need one – talking to your kids about it is essential.

Talk about life, before talking about death

The first thing to remember is that we don’t live life in perfect physical and mental health right up until the minute we die. Nearly 70 percent of Americans die in a hospital, nursing home, or long-term care facility. Chances are, you’ll need someone to make medical and financial decisions for you. After a spouse, the kids are most often named in a Durable Power of Attorney and Patient Advocate Designation.

What kind of life do you want, if you’re no longer able to communicate those decisions for yourself? The benefit of starting with incapacity when talking to the kids is that it lets you talk about the things you like. Your favorite foods, books, tv shows; these are positive things to share. The way to share your life wishes is to share with your kids what matters to you.

An Advance Directive is a way to put those life wishes in writing. It’s also a way to relieve some of the stress from your kids. Any child who has had to make care decisions for their parent has probably had to deal with guilt and wonder whether they really are doing the right thing for their parents. By having the conversation with the kids and giving them a written plan, you can ease their burden.

Ask your kids what is important to them, before you plan

Parents often worry about trying to be “fair” to all the kids, trying to plan to avoid what they perceive could be a problem. If you know that one child really cares about your medical care, or another child doesn’t want to deal with finances, or if the children agree on who should inherit what, you can make estate planning decisions confidently and comfortably.

Again, this should be a focus on what matters to your life, and the lives of your kids.

Manage expectations

The conversations we avoid often lead to bigger problems later. If a child is disappointed or surprised by one thing in your estate plan, they are more likely to dispute everything in the plan. A serious problem can occur if, after your death, a child believes that you were forced or coerced into making an estate plan or weren’t competent when you planned. If you tell the kids the plan now, they may be less likely to object later.

Managing the differences

In every family, there are differences between the kids: how well they manage money, how much they need money, and any inherent legal risks in their lifestyle or profession. You may even consider who is the most likely to care for you as you age – due to ability and/or geography – and what sacrifices they’ll need to make to do that.

These considerations can all contribute to how you decide to distribute your estate – equal is not always fair. You may want to leave less to your daughter, because she doesn’t need it, or you may want to leave money to your son in a restricted trust because he can’t handle it. By talking about this with your kids now, you can address your decisions and their questions together, instead of leaving them to make assumptions after you’re gone. The worst situations are when kids are left feeling as if they were “loved less” due to the decisions by their parents. Unfortunately, we do see that now and then, but most often, the reality is that decisions are made from the utmost love and foresight for each child.

Prepare an asset inventory

Most estate planning attorneys will have you prepare a financial information packet detailing your assets. Think of this as a tool for your kids as well. Dealing with the death of a parent can be the most difficult thing that happens to many people. The burden of hunting down what the parent owned, where bank accounts exist, are burdens you can prevent by keeping the inventory with your estate plan.

In any situation after your death, whether it’s in probate court or with trust administration, preparing an inventory is often the first step for your trustee, executor, or personal representative. You can help get that first step done for them.

Your final wishes

The simple things after your death can cause the biggest heartache for the children left behind. You may not care about your funeral plans, the casket decorations, the type of urn, the music or scripture readings. For your kids, this can be an important part of their grieving process. You can help them by discussing those plans with them and putting them in writing. Children often spend a lot of time and money on funeral arrangements because they think “that’s what mom would want” when in fact you may be happy with a simple gathering. They won’t know if they aren’t told.

The next step

Life is full of risk, and life is full of stress. Death is an inevitability, and not talking about it won’t make it go away. If there’s some risk and stress in talking to your kids about this now, there is sure to be risk and stress after you’re gone if things are left unsaid. An estate plan should be a plan for life, and by talking to your kids now, you can craft a plan that will fulfill the needs of your life and the lives of your kids.

by Molly Black, Director of Legal Services

If a Michigan resident dies without a will, otherwise known as dying intestate, the intestacy laws under the Estates and Protected Individuals Code (“EPIC”) dictate who will inherit the property of the decedent. This provides for an inflexible pattern of distribution which may not distribute your assets according to your wishes. The highest priority is given to their surviving spouse, followed by their descendants (children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren), parents, and siblings. The amount that a spouse will inherit depends on several factors, including whether or not it was a blended family.

Any jointly-owned property or accounts with named beneficiaries (commonly, life insurance policies and retirement accounts) will pass directly to the co-owner or beneficiary without going through the probate process.

There is also the question of who will administer the estate. A properly executed Will designates a Personal Representative to carry out your wishes after death. Without a Will, the probate court will appoint someone to administer the estate.

What problems could arise if you die without an estate plan?

The first problem your family could face after your death is determining who will make funeral arrangements. Without a legal document in place that appoints a funeral representative, a Michigan statute will dictate who has the authority to make decisions surrounding the funeral. This includes making decisions about burial vs. cremation, funeral location, and cemetery arrangements.

Secondly, without a Will, there is no guarantee that your property will pass to your intended recipients. Death doesn’t bring out the best in people and when money is involved, things can get ugly. This is especially true in blended families when your biological children and stepchildren don’t get along. You might have a better relationship with your stepchildren, but without a Will, they will not be treated as your own. This can also be devastating to unmarried couples. Intestacy laws only recognize your legal and blood relatives, so an unmarried partner will not inherit their deceased partner’s property if they die without a Will.

In addition to the disposition of property, parents also need to consider their minor children. If you pass away and leave a minor child behind who has no other legal parent or guardian, the court will select a guardian based on the best interests of the child. The court-appointed guardian may not be your first choice, so executing a Will allows you to appoint a guardian of your choosing.

What can you do now?

Planning ahead provides a road map for your family and provides reassurance that your property is passing to your desired beneficiaries. A properly executed estate plan will nominate a Personal Representative of your choosing to handle the administration process, provide clear distribution instructions and lessen the likelihood of family conflict. Everything from burial arrangements, to pet care, to guardianship for minors, to distribution instructions for your family heirlooms can be planned for by creating a comprehensive estate plan.

In addition to giving you peace of mind, having a plan in place can circumvent arguments among family members which will undoubtedly lead to wasted time, expense and family turmoil.

by Samantha Sprague, Attorney

CONGRATULATIONS! Becoming a parent is an amazing experience. One thing you should be accustomed to by now is asking questions. Sometimes you get a lot of ‘answers’ to questions you may not have even known to ask.

Whether you’re brand new to the parenting gig, or have several years under your belt, below are 3 common questions that every parent should consider.

1. What happens if I can’t make my own choices?

Self-care is important, to your sanity and to your health, and sets an important example for your little one. I meet with a number of parents who come in with the primary goal of taking care of their kids.

It doesn’t matter if the kids are 2, 22 or 55 – every good parent wants to make sure their kids are protected. However, the first thing any parenting book will preach is to make sure you take care of yourself.

Estate Planning is no different. Even before you bring your bundle of joy into the world, there are two documents you should have in place: (1) Healthcare Power of Attorney and (2) Financial Power of Attorney. This is the entry level of protection to make sure that if something awful occurs (e.g. car accident, stroke, medical procedure, etc.) you know who will be managing your assets and making medical decisions for you.

This is something that you should have in order before your little one arrives, but if they’re already here, there’s no time like the present to get started.

2. Who is going to take care of my child if I can’t?

No one person is invincible. You need a backup plan in case life goes drastically wrong and you are no longer able to care for your children.

What happens if you die?

Some people leave it up to chance and rely on the probate courts to pick someone to raise their kids. Generally, the courts will give preference to family members, but there are a lot of factors that are taken into account for something called “Judicial Discretion.”

Judicial Discretion means that where your kids end up is entirely in the hands of the probate judge, a person who has never met you, does not know your family, and is unaware of your wishes.

What can you do?

Every parent – regardless of how much money they have in the bank or what they own – should have a will. A will is where parents get to determine who is going to raise their kids if they cannot.

If a parent has guardianship and conservatorship language within their will, they get to choose who their child will live with and who will manage the stuff they leave behind for their child.

This does not eliminate parental rights if your child still has a surviving parent. However, if both parents should die or be incapacitated, the testamentary wishes (Will) outlined by the parents serve as guidance for the court.

There are other considerations that should be addressed with blended families, step-parent’s rights, and same-sex parents.

Each situation is unique and you should consult with an attorney on what your legal rights are and how you can make sure you are putting the right documents in place to provide surety that you decide who raises your kids.

3. How do I protect my kids with my Estate Planning?

As parents, we are hardwired to look out for our kids, to protect them, and to teach them to protect themselves when they are able to.

However, everyone approaches parenting a little differently.

There are helicopter parents trying to ‘bunk’ with their college-aged kiddo, and then there are those employing the sink-or-swim method my grandpa used to teach my mom how to swim in Lake Erie.

With your estate plan, you can put ‘safeguards’ in place for minor children, so the assets you leave are protected both FOR them and FROM them until they learn how to manage the money.

One way to ensure that anything you leave is protected is to create a Revocable Living Trust. This is a document that can be modified as your family grows and requires different types of protection.

A common practice within trusts is to put age restrictions in place. When you have multiple children of different ages you can ensure that minor children receive what they need while still allowing for a fair distribution.

If you are like many young parents, you may find that you are worth more dead than alive due to the low cost of life insurance. Making a trust the beneficiary of life insurance policies can ensure the money is protected for your kids.

There are numerous options for protecting assets for your kids. However, whatever you decide to put in place, it is important to remember that as your life changes and your kids grow, you should plan to update your documents. We recommend annual or semi-annual reviews to make sure your documents evolve along with your family.