Estate Planning Services in Grand Rapids and the Surrounding Area

Do I really need to see an estate planning attorney? 

The short answer is yes - you should at least consult with an estate planning attorney in your area. You have spent your entire life building your estate. Why would you leave important issues that will affect you and your heirs to chance? While no one looks forward to meeting with a lawyer to discuss what will happen if they are sick, incapacitated or deceased, proper planning now can avoid immense stress and heartache later on for you and your loved ones. Many people "just want to avoid probate" while not really understanding what it is or how the process works. We can help you do that through our estate planning services in Grand Rapids and Coopersville. If you have lost a loved one and are facing probate, it is in your interest to have a skilled probate attorney guiding you. Learn more on our probate attorney services page.

At LEMMEN & LEMMEN PLC, we believe the best estate planning policy is to hope for the best and plan for the worst. Our attorneys have more than 45 years of combined experience and offer estate planning services in Grand Rapids and our Coopersville offices. Call us today at (616) 837-6221 for a consultation.

 

Frequently Asked Estate Planning Questions

"My Wife Says We Should, But Do We Have To?"

Let's face it, going to see a lawyer is not high on anyone's list of things to do. Why, I'm not sure, since lawyers tend to be a lovable lot. But you're still reluctant to do so, aren't you? As disagreeable as that may seem in and of itself, it gets worse. Going to see a lawyer to talk about your own death or mental incapacity, who wants to do that? Well, we all know we are going to die someday. Will we ever become mentally incapacitated? No one knows, but in these types of matters, good policy is to hope for the best and plan for the worst.

Finding an Estate Planning Attorney in Grand Rapids You Can Trust

So now that you have reluctantly decided to do some estate planning, what's next? You have to find an attorney who practices in the area of estate planning. How do you do that? A good place to start looking is by asking friends, relatives and other acquaintances if they have done any estate planning and if so, is there an attorney whom they might recommend? While lawyer advertising will tell the general public the type of areas the lawyer practices in, they cannot tell you whether you'll be satisfied with the working relationship you establish with an estate planning attorney. Many lawyers who practice in the area of estate planning also practice in other areas of the law. It is not necessary to find a lawyer who restricts his practice exclusively to estate planning in order to get a suitable estate plan for your family. If you are still feeling a little uncomfortable because of your unfamiliarity with the attorney you have tentatively chosen, it doesn't hurt to call the attorney's office to speak with the attorney about your situation. Don't expect the attorney to spend half an hour on the telephone with you discussing your specific problems. However, a telephone call may give you a little more insight into the attorney's experience, fees and whether you think you'll be able to establish a comfortable working relationship with the attorney.

Preparing for Your Appointment

Now that you have found a lawyer who may come with a recommendation of someone whose opinion you trust, what do you need to have with you for your first appointment? When you make your appointment, you should make a point of asking the attorney or the attorney's receptionist what type of information the attorney would like you to bring to the appointment. Generally it is helpful for you to know, or at least have given some thought to, whom you want to take care of your financial affairs and to make medical decisions for you in the event that neither you nor your spouse are able to do this for yourselves. A first and second choice is generally desirable. You should also consider to whom you ultimately want to leave your assets. But don't get uptight about this. It is not necessary to have all the answers to every question that might crop up before your appointment with the attorney. These things can be worked through as you proceed with your estate plan.

Estate Planning Documents Your Attorney Will Cover

What types of documents, in general, would you expect to be discussing when you meet with the attorney? The attorney is going to have two basic areas of concern. First, what happens if, during your lifetime, you become mentally incapacitated? Second, what will happen to your assets at your death? With respect to the first question, the attorney will be discussing the execution of a medical durable power of attorney or health care directive. This document gives your designee the authority to make medical decisions for you if you are not able to do so for yourself. It can also give your designee access to your medical records and give you the opportunity to nominate a person to serve as a guardian should a probate court ever determine that the appointment of a guardian would be in your best interest.

The attorney will also recommend that you execute a durable power of attorney naming an agent and substitute agents to attend to the financial end of life on your behalf if you are not able to do so yourself. It enables you to take the extra precaution of nominating your chosen agent as your conservator should a probate court determine that an appointment of a conservator was in your best interest. This could prevent the appointment of an outside person or agency to be in charge of your financial affairs.

The attorney will also be discussing a last will and testament. If you decide not to use a revocable living trust as part of your estate plan, the last will and testament will be the document that disposes of your assets after you die. In your will you will designate your beneficiaries and name a personal representative to be in charge your estate. If you have minor children, you can also designate a guardian for them.

You may wish to use a revocable living trust to hold your assets during your lifetime and to convey your assets at your death. A trust has several advantages. The first advantage is that, by creating a trust and funding it during your lifetime, a successor trustee can manage these assets on your behalf should you become incapacitated. Second, at your death, assets that are held in the name of the trust can pass to your beneficiaries without going through a probate process. You should ask, and your attorney should take the time, to clearly explain what a trust is, how it works and why it works the way it does. For that matter, your attorney should also take the time to explain all these documents to you and how they fit together to cover the potential problems that might arise.

Estate Planning Costs

You and your attorney should also discuss the costs involved so there are no unpleasant surprises later. While the attorney may not be able to tell you exactly what the fee will be at the first meeting, because it may be based partly on time spent, the attorney should be able to give you a ballpark figure. Be aware that if you have an unusually complicated plan for the disposition of your assets and take an unusual amount of the attorney's time, you will probably be billed accordingly.

Conclusion

Once you and the attorney have agreed on what your estate plan is going to be, the attorney will set a second appointment with you and mail copies of the documents to you for your prior review. At your second appointment, you could expect to go through and sign the documents. A thorough attorney will take the time to explain each one of the documents to you and answer any questions that you might have. Additionally, if you are using a trust in your estate plan, some time will be spent discussing your various assets, whether they will go into a trust and the mechanics for actually titling them in the name of the trust. Executing a trust without funding it would largely be a waste of your money. With proper instructions, most of the transfer of assets to the trust can be done by you. You may need your attorney to handle more complicated things as the transfer of real estate to the trust or the proper designation of a trust as beneficiary of things like insurance policies. What you will eventually discover is that, with guidance, transferring assets into a trust is not a particularly complicated affair. Most institutions you will deal with are very familiar with this process. Even though it may be the first time for you, it won't be the first time for them.

So now that you have a rough idea of how estate planning works, is there any short list of dos and dont's for you to remember? Yes, there is:

  • DO listen to your wife.
  • DON'T procrastinate.
  • DO ask a friend or acquaintance for a reference to an estate planning attorney. See our client referrals.
  • DON'T be scared into doing estate planning with a salesman representing an attorney you don't even know.
  • DO give some consideration to gifts to your local charities.
  • DON'T forget that if you don't support your local religious, educational or philanthropic charity, who will?
  • DO consider your local community foundation. Call one of their representatives if you have questions.

What are the Differences Between Wills and Trusts?

Wills and trusts accomplish the same goal, passing your assets to your heirs after your die, but they use different approaches to reach this goal. While wills and trusts can be used to structure estates and allocate assets, they come in many different varieties in order to meet the needs of a diverse population. Our attorneys can help you identify your estate planning needs and create a legal framework for protecting your assets, taking care of your loved ones and making sure your estate is sound.

How does a will work?

A will, in its plainest sense, is a set of instructions for the probate court to follow telling the probate court who you would like to inherit your assets. After all, every type of asset has to have an owner. When you die your assets that you own generally become property of your estate by operation of law. The probate court follows the instructions left in your will to legally transfer ownership of the assets in your estate to your beneficiaries or heirs.

How does a trust work?

A trust allows you to avoid probate because the trust becomes the legal owner of your assets during your life. If at your death all your assets are owed by your trust, there will be no need to probate your estate. Your trust continues to exist after your death. Consequently, none of your assets even enter into your estate when your assets are owned by your trust at your death.

Since during your life your trust owns your assets, in most cases, you want to be the primary beneficiary of your trust. A "trustee" is the person who runs the trust. While you are alive and of sound mind, you will want to serve as the trustee of your trust. Your trust will also contain provisions naming a successor trustee to run the trust at your death or when you are no longer able to take care of your own financial affairs. The trust will also name secondary beneficiaries, the people or charities you want to inherit your property after your death.

Advantages of a Trust over a Will

The advantage of a trust over a will is your loved ones do not need to go to the probate court to inherit your property at your death. Also with a trust, your loved ones will not need to seek probate court approval to manage your property for your benefit while you are alive but are no longer capable of handling own financial affairs.

Schedule an Appointment with Estate Planning Attorney in Grand Rapids or our Coopersville Office Today

For more answers to your Wills and Trust questions, contact us today for a consultation.

Elder law is often misunderstood and thought to involve making a will or preparing assets for probate. While elder law is related to other aspects of estate planning and utilizes tools such as trusts to protect assets, its main purpose is making sure that the elderly are able to obtain the treatment and care they need without losing their property and endangering their spouse.

At LEMMEN & LEMMEN PLC, our attorneys have the experience, knowledge and resources to help you protect your assets and ensure you will be able to qualify for the assistance and care you need. We work closely with our clients to create elder care plans that meet their unique needs.

To speak to a lawyer about your current situation and elder care options, call us today at (616)837-6221 for a consultation.

Medicaid Planning

The largest aspect of elder care for many is Medicaid planning. In order to continue receiving Medicaid benefits after going into a nursing home or assisted living facility, many elderly people must sell off their property or lose their assets, leaving a spouse outside of nursing care at risk of financial peril.

In order to protect assets and property and still receive Medicaid assistance, it is usually necessary to create trusts to safeguard assets or restructure an estate in a way that creates tax benefits.

Before taking any actions such as gifting money to relatives, it is important to discuss your options with an experienced elder law attorney in Michigan.

Grand Rapids Elder Law and Asset Protection Lawyers

To discuss your situation or your loved one's elder care needs with an attorney, contact us for a consultation.

Estate Planning to Care for a Person with Disabilities

Planning for your loved one's future requires knowing what benefits are available and how to protect your child's eligibility to receive those benefits after you are deceased. Methods exist that allow parents to leave a meaningful inheritance for their child with a disability without affecting the child's eligibility to receive government benefits. Not all government benefits are means-tested; payment of some benefits does not depend on income or assets.

Childhood Disability Benefits—also for Adults

Did you know that an adult of any age with a disability who has never paid any Social Security taxes at all can receive Social Security benefits regardless of her income or assets? Individuals who become disabled prior to age 22 can qualify for Social Security benefits based on the earnings record of a parent who either receives Social Security disability benefits, retirement benefits, or who has died. Individuals eligible for adult children benefits, also called "Childhood Disability Benefits," are immediately entitled to monthly wage payments, and after a 24 month waiting period, are eligible for Medicare. These benefits are not means-tested.

The eligibility for these benefits is described in the Code of Federal Regulations at 20 C.F.R §404.350 as follows:

(a) General. You are entitled to child's benefits on the earnings record of an insured person who is entitled to old-age or disability benefits or who has died if—

  1. You are the insured person's child, based upon a relationship described in §§404.355 through 404.359;
  2. You are dependent on the insured, as defined in §§404.360 through 404.365;
  3. You apply;
  4. You are unmarried; and
  5. You are under age 18; you are 18 years old or older and have a disability that began before you became 22 years old; or you are 18 years or older and qualify for benefits as a full-time student
    as described in §404.367.

The Code of Federal Regulations allows an adult with a disability to receive Social Security benefits, in certain circumstances, based on the earnings records of individuals other than her parents. If an adult with a disability can show that she is a wage earner's legally adopted child, stepchild, grandchild, step grandchild, or equitably adopted child, the adult with a disability can receive benefits based upon the wage earner's earnings record.

However, if the beneficiary of Childhood Disability Benefits marries, dies, or is no longer disabled, benefits will cease.

Supplemental Security Income (SSI)

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is a disability program administered by the Social Security Administration for individuals with limited resources—currently, those with a net worth of less than $2000. SSI benefits are means-tested. To qualify for SSI benefits, an individual must meet certain medical and financial requirements. When a child with a disability is under age 18, she may meet the medical requirements to qualify for SSI benefits, but her parents' financial assets will be counted and in many cases will disqualify the child. At age 18, Social Security no longer considers the parents' resources. Assuming the individual has less than $2000 in countable resources and a medically determinable impairment that prevents her from working full-time in a competitive employment situation, the individual will be eligible for SSI benefits. These benefits consist chiefly of a monthly wage benefit and immediate eligibility for Medicaid in most states.

Amenities Trusts

An amenities trust allows parents to provide an inheritance for their child with disabilities without compromising the child's eligibility for means-tested government assistance, such as SSI and Medicaid. The trust provides vital resources that can be used to improve the child's quality of life without jeopardizing her access to necessary public benefits. The amenities provided by the trust can be anything except food, shelter, and direct distributions of cash. However, to protect SSI eligibility, the trust cannot pay any of the following obligations belonging to a trust-recipient with disabilities: basic utilities (such as gas, water, electricity, sewer, and garbage removal), rent, mortgage payments, property tax, and escrowed property insurance. Amenities trusts can pay for any goods or services that will not disqualify the beneficiary from government benefits. Commonly, these goods and services include entertainment, travel, clothing and support services. Additionally, it is possible for an amenities trust to own a residence for a person with disabilities provided the individual has enough income, typically funded through SSI payments, to pay the trust a reasonable rental amount. In this way, parents can provide residential alternatives to group homes for their child after the parents are no longer physically able to care for their child.

While parents are still living, these types of trusts are usually not funded, nor is there a need for the trust to be a separate entity apart from the parents' existing trust. In other words, the amenities trust can be a provision contained in the parents' existing trust. At the last surviving parent's death, a share of the estate should pass to the amenities trust to fund the trust. This amenities trust will be operated by a person who is called a "trustee." Since a trustee's principal job is to manage money for a beneficiary, the trustee should be financially competent.

Powers of Attorney and Guardianship

The trustee of an amenities trust may provide financial assistance to an individual with disabilities after her parents are deceased but has no legal power to assist in many important decisions, such as living arrangements for the person or medical decisions. If during their lifetime parents are providing vital assistance in these areas, they should also plan for who will provide this assistance when they are deceased or no longer able to do so.

If an adult child has executed power of attorney documents giving her parents the legal authority necessary to be the adult child's agent for making business or medical decisions, then these documents should also contain successors who can fill the parents' role at the appropriate time. If a parent is a child's guardian, the parent should name a stand-by-guardian or appoint a successor guardian in the parents' will.

Conclusion

Although the details of the various options for providing for your child's future can seem quite complex, the good news is that they exist and can prove to be very helpful. Be sure to look into your child's eligibility—even as an adult—to receive Childhood Disability Benefits if you, as a parent, qualify for Social Security benefits. In addition, if your child is over 18, has less than $2000 in assets and possesses a disability that keeps her from working, she could be eligible for SSI benefits. Finally, explore the options that an amenities trust would provide to enhance the quality of your child's life, and also look into the related power of attorney and guardianship issues.

It is crucial to have both a medical power of attorney and financial power of attorney in place, along with a will or trust. While you are alive, having these in place can prevent your family from having to go to court to have a guardian or conservator appointed when you are unable to make these decisions for yourself. Having these documents in place will allow you to choose the people you trust to handle your affairs.

 

 

Estate Planning Services in Grand Rapids

The Grand Rapids Estate Planning Attorneys of LEMMEN & LEMMEN PLC

We are available to provide individuals and families throughout West Michigan estate planning services in Grand Rapids or our Coopersville offices. Contact us for a consultation or call us directly at (616) 837-6221.