Areas of PracticeProviding in-home legal services to Southwest Michigan
The focus of my Law Practice is on Estate Planning, Elder Law, Probate and Medicaid Planning. If you are unfamiliar with these areas of the Law, I have provided brief explanations of each as follows.
What is Estate Planning?
Estate planning is one of the most important steps any person can take to make sure that their final property and health care wishes are honored, and that loved ones are provided for in their absence.
Though often overlooked or put off in favor of more immediate concerns, a comprehensive estate plan can resolve a number of legal questions that arise whenever anyone dies:
What is the state of their financial affairs?
What real and personal property do they own?
Who gets what? Does a personal guardian need to be appointed to care for minor children?
How much tax will need to be paid in order to transfer property ownership?
What funeral arrangements are appropriate?
What is an "Estate"?
Your "estate" consists of all property owned by you at the time of your death, including:
- Real estate
- Bank accounts
- Stocks and other securities,
- Life insurance policies,
- Personal property such as automobiles, jewelry, and artwork.
How Can an Estate Plan Help?
Regardless of your age, or the size and complexity of your estate, an estate plan can accomplish the following:
- Identify the family members and other loved ones that you wish to receive your property after your death.
- Ensure that your property will be transferred to those you have identified, as quickly and with as few legal hurdles as possible.
- Minimize the amount of taxes that will need to be paid in order for your property to pass to others after your death.
- Avoid the time and costs associated with the probate process by utilizing estate planning devices such as living trusts and "payable on death" accounts.
- Dictate the kinds of life-prolonging medical care you wish to receive should you be unable to make your wishes known when the time comes.
- Handle your affairs in case of incompetency.
- Set forth the kind of funeral arrangements you would like, and how related expenses are to be paid.
- Elect guardians to raise minor children in the event of your death.
What is Elder Law?
Elder Law is a relatively new specialized field of law that deals with the issues faced by the fastest growing segment of the U.S. population, the elderly. This area of law combines elements of Estate Planning, Wills and Trusts, Guardianships and conservatorships, Health Care Planning, Medicare/Medicaid Planning, and Elder Rights.
Seniors are more active and live longer than ever before, but they have a new set of legal concerns that have rarely been addressed by earlier generations. Older people have always needed Wills and Estate Planning to pass their assets to their beneficiaries. Now that they are living longer, there are more issues about their future care that have to be included in Estate Planning, such as plans for housing, future medical care, and what to do if the person should become incapacitated. One of the most important questions that is being raised is how to provide long-term housing, with possibly increasing levels of care, as the seniors age. This, in turn, is giving rise to a whole new industry of senior living facilities and raising many legal questions about contract rights and the power of facilities to discharge residents. As continuing care becomes more and more expensive, seniors are also in need of information about long-term care insurance and government benefits.
What is Probate?
Probate is a legal process that begins with a "petition" (a request) to open the estate and name a personal representative who is responsible for the administration of the deceasedís property. The next step is when an official Notice to Creditors is printed in a local newspaper and Notice of Administration is sent to other involved parties. Creditors then have a set amount of time to file their claims from the first date of publication. Then the personal representative can pay the debts of the estate and distribute the remaining estate assets. Finally, a petition for discharge is filed, and the estate is closed.
While on one hand, this may sound simple, probate law and the handling of estates is in fact a complex system, which presents you with multiple requirements and tasks to be preformed by the personal representative, an experienced attorney. For example, an estate including only a single house and single bank account that has been left to a single beneficiary will probably be a far easier and quicker process to deal with than an estate containing multiple houses that are located in various states, and that are left to multiple beneficiaries. This becomes especially difficult if an estate includes leaving assets to a minor.
If youíre dealing with probate issues in Michigan, there are some factors of prime importance that youíll benefit from knowing. The first of these factors has to do with how the procedure works. Without knowing this, youíre likely to have a long and difficult road, before you are able to get your case pushed through.
Youíll also want to make sure that you are up-to-date on formal testacy, and especially on how hearings are prompted by petitions. This is important for just about anyone involved in the Michigan state probate system, given that this hearing will contribute a great deal to the outcome of the estate being probated. Also, it is a good idea to be clear on Ďelectioní and the consequences of not electing in a timely fashion. This could result in penalties that, aside from being costly, could prevent your case from going through as planned.
Probating an estate is a matter thatís not to be taken lightly, which is one of the main reasons why many people hire attorneys. By doing so, they find the process to be less stressful and are able to rest assured knowing that their cases are handled as they should be.
There are two main procedural factors that contribute to the probate process, which are of extreme importance, especially for someone who is not very familiar with Michigan state laws. The first of these is a time limitation that is placed on numerous procedures. It is imperative that these deadlines are followed, as not doing so can cause additional work and lengthy delays.
The second procedural factor has to do with the writing of formal, legal documents. This factor converges with the first, resulting in these documents having deadlines that are set by the state of Michigan. Some of the documents that youíll have to write are petitions, affidavits, requests, orders, inventories, etc. If you donít have much experience in writing formal, legal documents, you may consider hiring an attorney to handle this, as the guidelines set by the state must be followed precisely.
The formal testacy proceeding begins, when the court decides on a time and place for the hearing. Petitions must give notice in the way that the state of Michigan describes in the statutes. These notices will need to be sent out to the decedentís heirs, as well as to the devisees and personal representatives named in the will. On top of this, these petitions must meet Michigan state standards, which can be difficult for people inexperienced in writing and reading legal documentation.
People dealing with formal testacy issues in the Michigan state probate system find it convenient to hire an attorney who can help them write up these petitions, so that their cases may go smoothly and as planned. People who try to make their way through the system on their own often find the experience to be quite time-consuming and stressful, given the nature and language of the laws.
As you can see, handling Probate laws is not an easy thing to go through or deal with, which is one of the many reasons why itís often a good idea to hire an attorney experienced in the field of Michigan probate law to help you with the matter. Having an attorney on your side will help you make sure that the estate and assets of your loved oneís particular case are handled in a proper and legal fashion.
What is Medicaid Planning?
There are two elements associated with Medicaid planning: the legal strategies needed to qualify for benefits, and the actual application process.
The first step of the planning is to make a series of legal and financial decisions that will result in assets and income qualifying for Medicaid. There are several legal strategies to choose from, including the use of certain types of trusts.
For many clients the process seems overly complicated. Fortunately, it is possible to calculate and explain what assets are at risk and what assets would be immediately protected. It is also possible to determine when a person needing nursing care will qualify for Medicaid, and how to ensure that Medicaid begins paying as soon as legally possible, to minimize the loss of assets to the spouse who still lives at home.
The second step of the planning is the formal qualification and application process. There is a specific qualification and application process to receive benefits that must be followed to be eligible for benefits. An attorney can be retained to assist in the filing of the application for Medicaid benefits with the local Medicaid department so that the nursing home resident can begin to receive the benefits.
Itís important to understand that Medicaid planning to get the nursing home resident eligible for Medicaid in the future is separate from and different than actually applying for the benefits from the local Medicaid Department. Like most financial and estate planning, Medicaid planning is always better if done in advance. However, even if tragedy strikes unexpectedly, itís good to know that there are still options available to keep from depleting your assets.
As a lawyer licensed by the State Bar of Michigan, I am bound to abide by a specific code of ethics. But I believe that as servants of Christ, we are held to a much higher standard of morality, justice, and fairness. So I work hard to provide you the best possible representation under the laws of the state while adhering the teaching of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.