While no one likes to consider their mortality, advanced planning with a Metro Detroit estate and wills attorney will help your family during a difficult time. Estate planning lets you protect your loved ones, control the distribution of your assets, and direct your end of life care. At Sumner & Associates, P.C., we empower our clients through comprehensive estate planning services. We also help their families administer their wills and trusts.
Who Needs an Estate Planning Attorney?
Many people mistakenly believe that only the very wealthy need an estate attorney. However, almost everyone in Metro Detroit could benefit from a well-prepared estate plan and properly drafted will. When you die, most estates must go through probate – the legal process of identifying your property, debts, tax obligations, and distributing your assets to your heirs.
Unless your estate is very small, probate is typically time intensive and complicated. For this reason, many people use an estate and wills attorney to:
- Create an estate plan with the goal of minimizing or avoiding probate,
- Guide their family through necessary probate proceedings,
- Ensure business continuity (if you are a business owner),
- Designate charitable gifts, and
- Administer their wills and trusts.
At Sumner & Associates, P.C., our estate and wills attorneys handle a wide variety of issues, including:
- Comprehensive estate planning,
- Drafting wills and trust documents,
- Estate and trust administration,
- Guardianships and conservatorships,
- Powers of Attorney,
- Probate proceedings, and
- Special needs planning (if you or a loved one have serious disabilities).
If you have questions about estate planning or an existing will or trust, contact Sumner & Associates, P.C. Unlike some law firms, we pride ourselves on personalized service and estate planning solutions. And we’ll make sure you fully understand your options.
Understanding the Fundamentals of Estate Planning
While nothing compares to the insight and guidance of an experienced estate planning attorney, you should understand some basic information about the estate planning process. When you die, you typically must go through probate and pay estate taxes. Probate is a formal court process where your assets are itemized, your debts are paid, and your remaining property is distributed to your heirs. Unless your estate is very small, a probate judge will oversee this time-intensive and costly process.
However, a skilled estate and wills lawyer can help avoid probate court proceedings, minimize estate taxes, and still distribute your assets according to your wishes. Your estate plan will vary, depending on your financial situation, family, and long-term goals. For example, the parents of a young child will have very different goals (such as designating a guardian and caring for the child ’s physical and emotional needs) than those of a senior citizen who is concerned about his or her end of life planning and estate tax burden.
What Does an Estate Plan Include?
Depending on your goals, your estate plan might include:
- Last Will and Testament: a document that explains how your property will be distributed after your death. Administering a will typically requires probate.
- Living (Inter Vivos) Trusts: a revocable trust that benefits you during your lifetime and transfers your assets to your beneficiaries once you die. A living trust can help you avoid probate.
- Guardianship: if you become incapacitated, a trusted person will make decisions for you. You can also designate a guardian for your children.
- Powers of Attorney: allows a trusted person to make certain decisions on your behalf (if you are incapacitated). For example, health care powers of attorney can guide your medical treatment if you are unable to make your own health care decisions.
- Special Needs Trusts: sometimes called a “supplemental needs trust,” it provides financial support for a severely disabled family member or loved one without risking their eligibility for federal and state benefits.
- Testamentary Trusts: a trust established after your death, based on instructions within your will. Typically, testamentary trusts are created for minor children. Unlike a living trust, they do not help you avoid probate.
- Charitable Trusts: trusts that help fund a non-profit organization or advance a charitable mission.
An estate planning attorney can also help you understand which assets are excluded from probate. At Sumner & Associates, we will tailor your estate plan to meet your exact needs. We strive to build lifelong attorney-client relationships. As your needs and Michigan’s probate laws change, we can help you revise your estate plan.
An Estate Plan Can Also Help Guide Your End-of-Life Decisions
Your estate plan can do more than distribute your property. If you become incapacitated, it can authorize a trusted loved one to make your medical decisions for you — and give this person guidance about your end-of-life priorities. It can also authorize someone to manage your finances, small business, or family farm through powers of attorney. Finally, your estate plan can include your funeral plans — easing your family’s burden during a difficult time.
If you’re interested in end-of-life planning, contact an estate planning lawyer at Sumner & Associates. We’ll take time to understand your personal goals and then help you build a plan that protects your loved ones and clearly expresses your final wishes.
What Happens If You Don’t Have an Estate Plan?
If you die without a will or other estate plan, the probate court will distribute your assets based on Michigan’s inheritance rules. While this sometimes will reflect your wishes, these rules can sometimes have unwanted results. For example, suppose you have children from a previous relationship, but later remarried. If you die without a will, your children might lose their inheritance — since your assets will transfer fully to your new spouse. When you craft a detailed and legally-binding estate plan with help from an estate planning attorney, you can prevent this kind of unfortunate omission.
Can I Just Use an Online Form to Create an Estate Plan?
There are plenty of “free” and “low-cost” estate planning forms online, but it’s important to understand their limitations. First, most of these forms are incredibly general and do not address the specific requirements of Michigan probate law. Second, when you use an online form, you don’t get the kind of personalized advice and long-term planning that you can only get during a one-on-one meeting with an estate planning attorney.
When you create a relationship with an estate planning attorney, you get an ally. At Sumner & Associates, we help our clients articulate their long-term goals, help them modify their estate plans as their lives change, and help them respond to changes in federal and Michigan laws. You’ll never get that kind of personalized attention from a website.
Finally, we too often see poorly-drafted wills from DIY estate planning websites. These problematic documents can lead to disputes, hurt feelings, and wasted time and money. Rather than risk your legacy, it’s best to consult with an estate planning attorney from Day One.
I’m My Loved One’s Personal Representative. Now What?
Are you struggling to administer a loved one’s will or estate plan? An estate planning attorney at Sumner & Associates, P.C. can help. We guide families through probate matters, offering practical and compassionate advice. This might involve inventorying your loved one’s assets, identifying their debts, filing reports with the probate court, and managing the heirs’ expectations.
If disputes arise, an estate planning attorney can also help you resolve a will contest or another probate matter either through alternative dispute resolution or in court. While our goal is to always resolve these matters quickly and fairly, we’re also tireless advocates for our clients and their legal rights. To learn more about our probate practice, contact Sumner & Associates, P.C. today.
Prepare for Your Future With an Estate and Wills Attorney
If you have questions about estate planning, contact an estate and wills attorney at Sumner & Associates, P.C. today. Our dedicated team will work with you to protect your interests and meet your long-term goals. Our firm has over 50 years of combined legal experience in the Michigan area, including practice with:
If you don’t leave a will, your assets, property, and belongings will be distributed by what is known as intestate succession, an algorithm that allots a specific percentage of your assets to specific relatives with your spouse at the top of your list and your children next in line. A legal will gives you more control over how your assets are distributed when you pass. But in order to be valid, the will needs two witnesses to sign off on it. It can also be contested if one of your heirs isn’t happy with the results. When you have an estate planning lawyer draft your will, you can be assured that it is ironclad.
Living trusts are estate planning tools that allow you to set aside property or assets for specific purposes. These include:
- Revocable Living Trusts. Revocable living trusts allow you to set aside property or assets. They are essentially legal “containers” for assets. You can set aside money, real estate, investments, businesses, and more. Some folks even use trusts to set aside financial support for a beloved pet. While you’re alive, you have total control over the trust, hence the term “revocable”. Once you pass, the trust becomes irrevocable, and its assets are transferred according to your wishes. Trusts have several advantages over wills when transferring assets.
- Irrevocable Living Trusts. Irrevocable living trusts are not under the direct control of the grantor at the time they are constructed. Assets held in an irrevocable living trust are thus not considered part of your estate. This provides certain tax advantages. An estate planning attorney can tell you more about irrevocable living trusts.
- Special Needs Trusts. Those with lifelong illnesses or disabilities generally require the financial support of their family. Concerned family members can gift money and assets to those with disabilities but have to be aware that those who get social security and public benefits cannot directly possess the money without disqualifying them from receiving public benefits. A special needs trust provides a way that the assets can be held by the individual without threatening their Social Security payments.
If you become incapacitated and can no longer take care of your own needs, you can assign a guardian who will see to your needs. Typically, this is a spouse or a trusted sibling. The guardian has decision-making power over their ward’s day-to-day needs and finances. If you don’t name a guardian, another person can petition the court for guardianship. The guardian has considerable power over their ward, so this selection must be made carefully. For instance, those with severe dementia would be candidates to have a guardian watch over them.
When your assets pass through probate, the transfers are all a matter of public record. Additionally, the process can be costly and time consuming. Your creditors get first crack at liquidating your assets to settle outstanding debts, and your heirs come second. Your tax liability, privacy, and wishes can be protected by looking into living trusts to distribute valuable assets. While some assets, like real estate, cannot avoid public records, there are a number of benefits that trusts provide.
Speak to a Rochester Hills Estate Planning Attorney Today
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