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Give Me Some RESPECT (Is Your Estate Plan In Order?)

by Sep 25, 2018

Give Me Some RESPECT (Is Your Estate Plan In Order ?)

            Well, it has happened again. A couple of years ago I wrote on the lack of a Will, and its consequences, after the sudden death of iconic pop star Prince. With the recent passing of the Queen of Soul, and Michigan resident, Aretha Franklin, it is Déja vu all over again, as she never made out a Will or set up (and funded) a Trust for her four children and loved ones. Aretha’s death has put a focus not only on the performer and her music but also on the need for a comprehensive estate plan.

When you die without having made out a Will, this is called dying intestate. What this means, from a practical standpoint, is that her estate will be administered, and her property divided, pursuant to the laws of intestate succession of the State of Michigan. Hopefully, her estate can be settled fairly quickly without a lot of fighting. It will all be a matter of public record so anyone that is interested can go down to the Probate Court, pull her file, and see what she owned, the parties to whom she owed money, and the disposition to be made of her assets.

While Aretha Franklin’s death was not unexpected, the question remains: why didn’t she not take some steps to put her financial affairs in order? Certainly, no one knows when tragedy may strike but, from all accounts, she had been ill for quite some time. Why didn’t she, like most people, do something? Perhaps, like most of us, she just put it off as no one likes to think about death, especially their death, even though we all know it is coming.

That being said, do you know where your “stuff” will go when you are gone? Do you have a Will or Trust Agreement? Did you know that over 60% of adult Americans die intestate; i.e. without a Will or Trust Agreement in place? Probably the most famous was Abraham Lincoln, and he was a lawyer! Others include Martin Luther King, Jr., Howard Hughes, Pablo Picasso, Sonny Bono, Jimi Hendrix and, of course, Prince.

What about your kids? Have you named someone to act as their Guardian and/or Conservator, to raise them and attend to their financial needs if you and your spouse are both gone? Do you want the Probate Court to make that decision for you? The court will have to do so if you do not leave a surviving spouse and you have not named someone to fill those roles.

What happens if you are in an accident or have to go into the hospital for some medical procedure and cannot make certain medical decisions for yourself? Have you nominated someone (called a Patient Advocate) to make those decisions for you and indicated the degree of care you desire?

What if you are in the hospital or away on a trip and a need arises to take care of some financial matter, like closing on a real estate sale, filing tax returns, handling some stock transfer or banking transaction? Do you have a power of attorney in place that will enable someone to handle such financial transactions for you?

Have you thought about cremation versus burial? Have you given some direction to your loved ones as to what is to be done with your remains? Have you nominated someone to act as a Funeral Representative to deal with these issues, the funeral home, and the cemetery?

What are the advantages of a Trust versus a Will and the costs for each? What do the laws provide as to the disposition of your property once you are gone and who decides where your property will go? Who would act as Personal Representative (formerly called an Executor) if you do not name someone to fill that role? What exactly is probate? Is it expensive and how long does it take?

How about alternative estate planning devises, such as putting property into joint ownership, placing the kids’ names on your bank accounts, or signing a deed to your property and putting it away until you are gone (the so-called “deed in the drawer”)? Are these things you should consider? What is a “Lady Bird Deed” and what benefits does it provide? What is “portability” and how does it help minimize your possible estate tax liability? How and when do you make the election? What is real property tax “uncapping” when property is transferred? Are there ways to avoid uncapping if you want a family member to retain the cottage, for example, and how does it apply if property is transferred to certain relatives?

Don’t you think you owe it to yourself and your family to properly take care of these things before it is too late? Just because you can’t take it with you does not mean that you should leave things in a mess for others to clean up. As we all learned in kindergarten: If you made the mess, you clean it up.

The bulk of Americans will die without having made out a Will. You have worked too hard for too long to get where you are. Make sure that you control your end of life decisions and that your property goes where you desire, not what the law or some Court may decide. Contact the estate planning professionals at Damon, Ver Merris, Boyko & Witte, PLC at (616) 975-9951, if you would like to discuss putting together an estate plan that meets your needs and wishes. We have been doing this for decades and can put your mind at ease.  – Larry A. Ver Merris   9/25/18


While this posting originates from a law office, none of the contents should, in any way, be considered legal advice. If you have not signed a retention letter describing the legal services to be provided and the amount to be paid for such services, you are not a client of this firm.

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