Attorney & Mediator
Attorney & Mediator

It’s Only for the Wealthy

Many people think that Estate Planning is only for the wealthy.  They will think that if they only own a home and a few CD’s at the local bank, they do not own enough to engage in Estate Planning.  Nothing could be farther from the truth.

If you own anything – you have an estate. You owe it to yourself to plan for the ultimate distribution of this estate when you are no longer here. That means that you are the individual who should decide where your property will go.

The size of your estate may affect what documents you use in your plan.  You may not need a Revocable Trust.  You still need a plan to assure an orderly distribution of your estate when you pass away.

It may actually be more important for the smaller estate than the very large one.   A multi-million dollar estate without a plan will still leave plenty for everyone.  If a smaller estate is distributed incorrectly because of no plan, the results have a greater impact.

What you need is a plan – the type of plan and the tools that you use will depend on your goals and needs – but you still need a plan.

Selecting the wrong agents

The selection of a Personal Representative or Trustee, an Agent under a Power of Attorney or an Advocate under a Designation of Patient Advocate is a choice that often gets too little thought.

Often, parents will feel that they must name their children and that this must be done by birth order.  They believe that the most important issue in their selection is the feelings of their family – they don’t want anyone to have hurt feelings or be upset.

Birth order, the feelings of family members, and similar considerations are not a good basis for selection of agents for these tasks.

Personal Representatives, Trustees and Agents under Power of Attorneys require attention to detail, organization, financial responsibility and hard work.  If the individual that you have selected is not good at completing tasks, is a procrastinator, or can’t balance a checkbook – you have selected the wrong individual.  They must be capable of doing tasks on schedule and accounting for all of their actions and expenditures.

Additionally, if it is likely that there will be arguing and confrontation involved in the process, the individual needs the backbone to stand up to other family members.  It may be that a family member is the wrong selection – perhaps it is more prudent to select an individual who is a disinterested third party.

When selecting an advocate under a Patient Advocate Designation, you need to select an individual who will honor your wishes – who will do what you wanted – not what they want.  Additionally, it must be an individual who is comfortable dealing with health care personnel during an emotionally difficult time.  If the individual that you have appointed is uncomfortable in hospital settings, is unable to ask tough questions, or make tough decisions, then again, you have selected the wrong individual.

Additionally, it may be that selecting a contemporary of yours will be the better choice than an individual who is much younger, such as a child.

Selection of an agent is a decision that requires considerable deliberation and thought.  It is important that the skill set of the individual is a good fit for the duties of the job.

Family Love Letter Workshop – March & April 2012 dates

Our next workshops for the “Family Love Letter” will be:

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Old Mission American Legion Hall

4007 Swaney Road

Traverse City (Old Mission), MI 49686

2:00 p.m.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Traverse City Golf & Country Club

1725 S. Union Street

Traverse City, MI 49684

10:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m.

Please contact me to reserve your seat!

Telephone: 231-933-0829


Planning For The Same Sex Couple – What about the kids?

Children in alternative families have the greatest need for planing than any other.  This is an area where the laws have not caught up with lifestyles and family-styles.  In most jurisdictions in which I practice (Northern Michigan) – the courts will not permit adoption of children by two men or two women.  Even in the case where one woman has the child biologically, the courts will not permit adoption by the other partner.

This is a tragedy waiting to happen.

In the event of the death of the parent (biological or adopted), the surviving partner who the child considers to be his or her parent has no automatic legal right to raise that child.  Your surviving partner could find him/herself in a prolonged legal battle with biological relatives of the deceased for guardianship and/or adoption of the child.

While there are a great many families who are supportive and would not institute such legal proceeding and in fact would support the subsequent adoption of the child by his or her other parent, we all know that there are many that would not.

While the courts are to be guided by what is in the best interest of the child, it is also true that many are biased against a same sex parent having rights over and to the child – and would therefore consider the best interest of the child being served by being adopted by his or her grandparents.  This could be a tragic situation for the child.

How can you protect your child?

You may name a Guardian for your child in your Will.  It is critically important that this be done by the legal parent in an alternative family.  In this way, there is no question that in the event of your death, your partner is the legal guardian of the child – and not relatives that would assert that right.

It is also important that you name your partner as the child’s Conservator as well.  That will provide continuity for all financial affairs concerning the child.

As with other estate planning options, this is one small, but vitally important step to assure the well-being of your child in the event of your death.

What is the Number One Mistake in Estate Planning?

The number one mistake is Estate Planning is procrastination or not making a plan.  People mean to get to it – or they think they are healthy and young so that they don’t need one – or that they really don’t own enough…… the list goes on.

If you own anything at all – you have an estate – and you require a plan.

I have one client who is 101 years old and very healthy.  I have also done Probate estates for individuals who were in their 30’s and 40’s.  Tragedy can strike at any moment – yes, it can happen to me or you.

If you think that you will get to it next week, or next month, or next year – remember that tomorrow may not get here for you.  Besides, how long have you said that you will get to it next week, month,………

Eliminate the number one mistake – start your estate planning today – don’t put it off.