Estate Planning Needs - Advice for West Michigan
Time is a terrible tyrant. For those of us in our 40s, 50s, and 60s, we can look back and wonder where it all went – those carefree days as students, those stress-filled days as young parents, and those challenging days as we built our lives.
We can also look ahead and wonder – what does tomorrow hold for us?
While none of us can predict the future, we can take steps to make it easier – on us and for our loved ones should something happen to us.
At our Muskegon based law firm, we take the time to conduct a thorough assessment of your needs. While one client’s requirements may be addressed with a simple will and durable powers of attorney, another’s might require a detailed review of emotional, family, and financial needs. No single one-size-fits-all solution exists in this challenging area of life and law.
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Everyday, the news is filled with tragic accidents where a person’s life either is suddenly ended or he or she is left unconscious or incompetent for months, years, or forever. None of us believes that could happen to us, but if it did – what would our wishes be regarding our health care? What about necessary financial matters? And who would make these decisions for us?
Prudent clients come to us to discuss such unpleasant matters – just in case. While we can’t provide protection against life – and death - we can offer them Durable Powers of Attorney that can spell out wishes in detail for both financial matters and for health care – including when to terminate treatment.
We also draft wills and a variety of trusts to suit the client’s particular needs.
In a very basic sense, a will is a letter to a probate judge, read after the client’s death. It instructs the judge on how to dispose of the person’s property in his absence. Wills are public and generally require probate court action.
Revocable grantor trusts, on the other hand, are more like contracts. They continue to exist after the client’s death, and the trustee’s job is to make sure the client’s wishes continue to be carried out. Such trusts generally are nonpublic and no court involvement is necessary.
Need for special trusts sometimes occurs. Perhaps a client has a special needs child receiving a government entitlement benefit. If that child were to receive an inheritance his or her primary support could be jeopardized. A Special Needs Trust might benefit that child. For others, need for one client’s Medicaid assistance might affect a healthy spouse’s rights and income.
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Time and tragedy don’t take holidays. Some individuals never obtain a power of attorney and suddenly it’s too late. Then what decisions are made and who makes them?
Such cases often require the creation of either a GUARDIANSHIP or CONSERVATORSHIP or both.
In very general terms, a guardianship is awarded by a probate court judge to allow one person to make decisions regarding another person’s physical life. Such decisions could include whether the patient should be hospitalized, admitted to a nursing home, and what – if any – treatment should be provided.
Likewise, a conservatorship is awarded by a probate court judge to allow one person to make financial decisions regarding another person’s financial life. Such decisions could include whether to sell the patient’s homestead, how or where to invest the patient’s assets, and payment of the patient’s bills.
Both guardianship and conservatorship require motions and motion hearings in the probate court of the patient’s home county. And both trump any existing power of attorney.
In most cases, personal representatives of wills, trustees of trusts, and agents of durable powers of attorney do a good job for the people they assist. But sometimes it’s clear to family members and others that the job isn’t getting done or the trusted individual isn’t trustworthy. When that happens, our attorneys can help through litigation to remove such individuals and replace them with others to protect the ward or the estate.
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At our law firm, we realize lawyers do not have exclusive insight regarding complex financial matters affecting our clients. Thus, we routinely consult with financial and investment advisers – both our client’s own counselors and individuals whose advice we’ve come to respect.
We are strong advocates for our clients. And we take pride in making certain each client understands all options and his or her wishes are preserved.
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