We offer peace of mind


What Is Proper Estate Planning?

Proper Estate Planning allows you to plan for yourself and your loved ones without giving up control of your affairs. This can only be done with significant personal counseling about your options. Our simple definition of estate planning is that your estate plan should allow for the possibility of your own disability. Then ultimately, it should allow you to give what you have to who you want, when and how you want, and avoid the most in fees and taxes. Personal counseling also allows you the potential to protect and preserve what you give to your heirs from their creditors, predators, divorce, or even themselves. Lastly, your estate plan should include fully disclosed and controlled costs for you, and for those you love; both now and after you are gone! Rarely does someone ask what will my plan cost after I am gone. As a general rule, that is where the bulk of the expense is incurred and those costs come out of what you have left to your loved ones!

Proper estate planning revolves around your relationship with a qualified estate planning attorney. Unfortunately, there are many businesses and salespeople masquerading as estate planning professionals. They are inundating the public with sales schemes that involve selling wills, living trusts, and other estate planning documents without the involvement of attorneys in the design and drafting of the documents. They are the opposite of what I and my colleagues in the National Network of Estate Planning Attorneys stand for.

To become that trusted partner, we employ the Three Step Strategy™ to accomplish estate planning for our client families. We believe that the full 3-step strategy may be unique in SE Michigan to our firm!

The Three Step Strategy™

  • The Estate Planning Solution: The Three Step Strategy™
  • STEP 1: Develop your plan with a counseling-oriented attorney and one who provides the all important trust "funding" (as opposed to a fill in the blanks word processing-oriented attorney).
  • STEP 2: Commit your family to an estate plan maintenance and education program.
  • STEP 3: Control costs and assure appropriate assistance for you and your family to transfer your wisdom along with your wealth.
It’s not just about having documents – It’s about getting results! The key to proper estate planning is clear, comprehensive, customized instructions for your own care and that of your loved ones, and the orderly, efficient, and effective distribution of your wisdom and your wealth - your legacy! These instructions can be included in a will, a trust, and in several other related documents. Many folks ask, "Which is better, a will or a trust." The answer lies in the titling of your assets during your life (see below) because if the title to your assets doesn't match your estate plan, neither document will work when needed! We find that most of our clients are best served with a combination of these tools, backed up by the Three Step Strategy™.

In our experience much of what passes for estate planning in this country is little more than word processing! We don’t believe you should pay a licensed professional to do word processing. Their value is in their counsel and advice, based on knowledge, wisdom, and experience. If word processing is all you want, you may as well do it yourself! But if you want an estate plan that works, seek good counseling.

Funding of a trust, or changing the title to your assets, is critical to whether or not your trust will work when needed. Often people create a trust to avoid probate after they die. Think of creating a trust as building a box. Once you build the box you need to fill it with all your "stuff" so that the instructions (your estate plan wishes and goals) that you leave in the box will govern the disposition of your "stuff." Only assets owned by you as trustee (boxwatcher) of your trust are controlled by the instructions of that trust. Thus, regardless if you leave instructions in a will or a trust neither will control the asset unless it is titled properly.

In our experience most law firms will create a "bare bones" trust but, they DO NOT fund their clients trusts. The funding process is detail oriented, laborious, and word processing or transactional attorneys, often leave it to the client to do themselves. Funding can be overwhelming and confusing to the lay person and most often it never gets done. That is a main reason that estate planning documents do not work when needed.

Our firm does not leave that eventuality to chance. With client assistance, our sophisticated software program allows us to fund your living trust, then we track the funding process to completion and verify to the client that it is done, and we provide reports to the client along the way.

This may be the key ingredient that distinguishes our firm; our Annual Maintenance Program. An estate plan faces a myriad of changes. First, there is constant change in your personal, family, and financial situation. Secondly, there is constant change in both tax law and non-tax law that impacts your estate plan. Third, there is constant change in your attorney’s experience and expertise. Your professional advisors are continually improving through on-going education and collected experience. Since everything constantly changes, you cannot expect a plan to accomplish what it was intended to accomplish if it is never updated. The costs of failing to update are typically far greater than the costs of keeping your plan current.
The cost of any estate plan has three parts: the part you pay for counseling and design up front (or for word processing); the part you pay for updating (or the larger cost of failing to update); and the part your loved ones pay after death. Regardless of documents, there are always after-death costs. Wills go through probate. Trusts have to be settled. In either case, assets must be transferred and often a death tax return must be prepared. Be sure you are discussing all the parts of the cost with your attorney before you begin to plan. Understand what all the costs will be in advance, and ask how they can be controlled.
The Importance of Title

Everything in estate planning comes down to title. Personal protections depend on title. Tax savings depend on title. In other words, you and your family only receive the benefits of your planning if your planning controls your wealth. Control comes from title.

There are basically three types of title: Individual Name; Joint Name/Ownership; and Contract/Beneficiary Designation. Joint Name property includes tenancy in common, joint tenancy with rights of survivorship, and in Michigan, tenancy by the entirety. Contracts include beneficiary designations (such as life insurance or retirement plans) and trusts. Assets owned in individual name are the only assets that are controlled by a will and must go through probate court. Jointly owned assets or accounts and beneficiary designations are controlled by operation of law and as a result are not controlled by either a will or a trust.

The Importance of the Team Approach

Creating an estate plan is not difficult, but it does require the involvement of all your professional advisors: your attorney, your accountant, and your financial and insurance advisors. If all the professionals are included in the planning, you are much more likely to have a plan that works. If not, you may receive conflicting advice that leads to confusion and inaction.

We suggest that you allow us to involve your other advisors in your planning, and keep them apprised of steps you are taking. That way everyone is fully informed and has a chance to offer their particular expertise to the process.