While your estate plan is an important set of legal documents, it is also a representation of your vision. We guide you through the estate planning process, issues relating to finances, taxes, family dynamics, and funding of trusts. We ensure that when you leave our office with your completed estate plan, you truly have a personal plan that works for you and accomplishes your goals – not just a wish list of words on paper.
The estate planning process begins with gathering detailed information about your goals, plans, assets, and liabilities. At every step of the way, we will provide you with detailed options for planning, and make it easy for you to understand the legal terms used in estate planning documents.
We pride ourselves on ensuring that there is never a time where you do not understand something about your estate plan documents or how the documents work together.
In addition to ensuring that you gain and maintain control over what happens with your assets after your death, estate planning is often undertaken to avoid probate court, which can be time consuming and deplete estate funds. Every decision we make in estate planning takes into account how the problems of probate court may be avoided in your situation.
The important documents included in a complete estate plan designed to avoid probate court are:
A last will and testament is a legal document setting forth your wishes in the event of your death. Wills are typically used to give assets and tangible personal property to loved ones, and may also provide instruction for important matters such as naming guardians for minor children or conveying wishes for funeral arrangements. Wills are subject to probate court, but are valuable documents as a set of instructions for the probate court to follow. Without your instructions, the laws of the state of Michigan govern what happens to your property, which may not be what you intend. While a will may be used as the only testamentary document in some cases, a will is most often used in conjunction with a trust, ensuring that any asset not properly funded into the trust becomes a part of the trust estate.
A trust is an important legal document that allows you to convey ownership of your assets to the trust, where you hold title to your assets as trustee, rather than hold title to your assets in your individual name. This allows you to continue to receive the benefit, use, and enjoyment of your property during your lifetime, but provides for your wishes upon your death without involving the probate court. For this reason, a trust offers privacy and ease of administration after death. Trusts are especially useful for maintaining control over assets in many situations, including providing money to minor and young adult children, to beneficiaries with marital trouble, legal issues, or creditors, to individuals with special needs, and to spouses with children from a prior marriage.Trusts may be revocable or irrevocable. A revocable trust allows you to revoke the trust and restore title of your assets to your individual name at any time in your life. An irrevocable trust does not. All revocable trusts become irrevocable upon death of the creator.
Financial Power of Attorney
A financial power of attorney, more formally known as a durable power of attorney, gives another person the power to handle your financial affairs in the event of your mental incapacity. Financial powers of attorney can be effective immediately, giving someone else the power to act on your behalf while you are mentally competent, or “springing,” giving someone else the power to act on your behalf only upon your mental incapacity as determined by a physician. Having a financial power of attorney in place helps to ensure that, in the event of your mental incapacity, the probate court will not have to appoint a conservator. Without your advance instructions in a financial power of attorney, the conservator appointed by probate court may or may not be an individual who you would choose to act on your behalf. Executing a financial power of attorney now allows you to avoid probate court and take control of that choice by personally selecting someone to act on your behalf.
Healthcare Power of Attorney
A healthcare power of attorney gives another person the power to handle your medical decisions in the event that you are no longer able to do so. In this document, you may name your own patient advocate who will be authorized to act on your behalf for medical decisions. You may leave instructions for the patient advocate as to your wishes for medical decisions, including end of life decisions. Having a healthcare power of attorney helps to ensure that the probate court will not have to appoint a guardian to make medical decisions for you. Without your advance instructions in a healthcare power of attorney, the guardian appointed by probate court may or may not be an individual who you would choose to act on your behalf, and the individual may not be aware of your medical and end-of-life wishes. Executing a healthcare power of attorney now allows you to avoid probate court by taking control of choosing your own healthcare patient advocate, as well as making your medical and end-of-life wishes known in advance.