You have been working hard your whole life to create the life you want for yourself and for your loved ones. It can be hard to face, but we all will eventually reach a time when we are no longer able to care for our families. Estate planning is a way to make sure that your loved ones are cared for after you pass, to plan for your own care if you become incapacitated, and to protect the wealth that you have accumulated throughout your lifetime.

Your “estate” is everything that you own. That includes real estate, bank accounts, investments, retirement savings, even your social media accounts and online presence. You don’t have to be wealthy to need an estate plan, and working with an attorney to create your estate plan doesn’t have to be expensive.

Lots of people think of an estate plan as just drawing up a will. Depending on your unique situation, you may want to write a will, but it will likely be just one document in a series of documents that make up your estate plan. You may decide to create one or more trusts, a power of attorney, an advance healthcare directive, and any other directives and designations necessary to create the result you want after you pass.

Our estate planning process typically involves three meetings with you over the course of about eight weeks. However, the exact time it takes will depend on your unique situation and how complex your estate plan will be. It’s also important to remember that estate planning is an ongoing process. As your life, family structure, and bank accounts change, it will be important to update and revisit your estate plan periodically. Think of estate planning as a long-term investment in your family’s future.

It is difficult to determine how much an estate plan will cost before meeting with an attorney and providing all of your asset information and documentation. Depending on your assets, goals, and wishes, different estate planning tools are recommended for different individuals. That is part of the reason you choose to work with an attorney — their experience and expertise will help you design an estate plan that works for you. That is why Legacy Counsel always requests that new clients first meet with the attorney in our Legacy Planning Session before quoting specific prices.

Yes! Wills can and should be updated periodically throughout your life. It is especially important to revisit your estate plan before or after major life events such as births, deaths, marriages, and divorces. If you already have a will, make sure to bring it with you when you are meeting with an attorney to use as a starting point.

Probate is the state process by which a court takes a look at a will and determines whether it is valid. The probate court records the will in the public record and then gives time to the public to contest the will. Probate courts will also determine what to do with an estate if a person dies intestate, meaning without a will. Without a will, the probate court will distribute a person’s assets in accordance with Michigan intestate law, which may or may not result in the outcome you would want.

As an estate planning practice, we strive to keep as many of your assets as possible out of probate. We do this by creating estate planning documents that allow assets to be transferred more quickly and without the need for court approval and public recordation. However, there are likely some assets that will not be able to avoid probate. In these cases, we create what’s called a pour-over will. This document will have to go through the probate process, but it will be much less expensive, stressful, and time-consuming if the majority of the estate has already passed to beneficiaries outside of probate.

When someone in Michigan dies without a will, the probate court will determine how to distribute assets in accordance with state law. Without a will, however, there may be assets that can be distributed based on beneficiary designations and pay-on-death clauses. These are assets like bank accounts, insurance policies, and retirement accounts. The forms designating who should receive the assets at the time of the account holder’s death control and will win out over state law.

Yes. If the deceased had any assets that are not already distributed by beneficiary designations or pay-on-death clauses, they will have to be distributed through the probate process. This can include real estate, personal property, and any funds that the deceased may have had. Michigan does have a simplified process for small estates, but these proceedings are still part of the public record.

A guardian is a person appointed to act for the benefit of a ward, who can bea minor child or an adult who is deemed unable to make or communicate responsible decisions for his or her health or safety. As a part of your estate plan, you will want to name a guardian for your minor child or adult child who requires care. Appointing a guardian as a part of your estate plan does not automatically make the named individual your child’s legal guardian; however, the court will heavily weigh your preference when choosing the appropriate guardian.

A guardian acts for the benefit of a ward. Typically, this includes making day-to-day decisions that benefit the child. A guardian is responsible for the child’s housing, schooling, and medical care. Guardianship responsibilities continue for the lifetime of the guardian or until the child reaches the age of maturity.

A guardianship designation is the provision in a will or other document that states who you wish to care for your children if you die before they reach the age of 18. If your child has another parent, he or she would likely care for your child in the event of your death. However, in the case that both parents are unable to care for your minor children, you will want to have an adult you trust designated as a guardian. If there is no one with legal standing under Michigan laws to take custody of your children in the event that both parents are unable to do so, the child will be placed, at least temporarily, with child protective services. This is a potentially traumatic experience for your child during a time that would already be incredibly difficult. Having a legally-sound document that names a trusted friend or family member as your child’s guardian avoids placing the child with Child Protective Services. It also avoids any potential conflict or court battle over custody of your child among family members and friends. For assistance creating a plan to protect your children, click here to learn more about Legacy Counsel’s Minor Child Protection Plan.

Yes. It is the responsibility of the guardian to arrange for the support, care, education, health, and welfare of the child. If the child was left some funds by his or her deceased parents, the guardian can receive funds to help provide for the child’s support from the conservator or trustee. However, if the child does not have any funds, it will be the responsibility of the guardian to pay for the costs of the child’s care.

Only a court can officially appoint a guardian. However, a declaration naming the parents’ preferred guardian will be weighed heavily by the court when choosing who to appoint. If the parents did not declare a guardian, then the court will determine an appropriate guardian in accordance with state law. The court will look to family members first, before considering friends. However, the most important thing that the court will take into account is what is in the best interest of the child.