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Grand Traverse County Michigan Divorce and Estate Planning Blog

Estate Planning: The Fundamentals

Everyone in Michigan should have an estate plan. People may think that they don't have enough to constitute an estate. Estate planning can ensure that whatever a person leaves behind will be handled according to his or her wishes and not left to the courts to decide. It may also protect one's heirs from unnecessary costs and expenses.

An estate is not just comprised of a last will and testament. There are other documents that can simplify the situation for those entrusted with one's end-of-life care. One such document is a durable power of attorney. This document allows someone to act on a person's behalf should that person become incapacitated. The person designated as power of attorney can manage finances, pay bills and make other financial decisions.

Divorcing without children in Michigan

When a couple is considering going through a divorce in Michigan, it is likely that they will have kids, and this is one of the main reasons why divorces can be so complicated. However, studies show that it is more common for couples to divorce without children, and it makes things considerably easier from a legal perspective.

Of course, going through a divorce, no matter what your situation, is never easy, and this is largely due to the emotional stress and tension that has led up to this point. But by making sure that the administrative and financial aspects of a divorce are well managed, you will be able to mitigate some of the most stressful factors.

Wills: They can bring peace of mind

Death – it is not something that anyone wishes to contemplate. However, it will eventually happen to everyone. It seems that wills, like death, are issues that people delay dealing with in Michigan. In reality, crafting a will can bring peace of mind.

Many people delay writing a will, but then they pass unexpectedly without having left instructions on what should be done with their belongings, finances, real estate and so forth. In the event of a large estate, this can lead to very complex legal issues. When Prince died suddenly, he did not have a will. The family may still be settling the very complex estate.

Estate planning is not just for the wealthy

When people think of estate planning they may rule it out for themselves, believing they don't have enough assets to constitute an estate. Estate planning is not just for the wealthy in Michigan. Everyone can benefit from an estate plan.

Estate plans can vary in complexity, and range from very simple documents to a complex set of documents that may include wills, trusts and health care directives. The nature of the estate plan is often reflective of the desires of the family. A strong case can be made that everyone should have a will, while many of the other possible documents can prove beneficial to establishing an adequate estate plan as well.

Divorce, pets and property

Divorce can be a very contentious time in a couple's lives. There are so many issues to be settled in a divorce such as who gets the house, custody if there are children and division of assets. But who gets the family pet? In Michigan, about 62 percent of couples own a pet. Is there such a thing as pet custody?

Legally, a pet is property. However, many couples view their pet as part of the family. With children, a parent can sit them down and try to explain the situation, but this is not the case with pets.

Divorce over 50

In the United States, divorce in the general population is decreasing. However, divorce among the baby boomers, or those over 50, is actually on the increase. Twenty years ago, one in twenty couples over the age of 50 were divorcing, now it is one in four. The reasons for this increase are many.

For one, people are living longer. After children are out of the house, some couples find they grow apart, and the prospect of all those years together can be daunting and too much for some of them to contemplate in Michigan. Another reason is that it is more acceptable to be older and single today than it was many years ago. However, a factor that must be considered is the prospect of dividing accumulated assets and how that will impact the couple going forward as two single people.

Beware of a data trail in your divorce

Some couples are quite open with one another about their email and social media accounts, going so far as sharing the same account. Others are more circumspect, maintaining their separate accounts, but perhaps being a bit lax about password security.

Whatever works for the specific couples is fine — until it's not, such as when divorce looms.

Pets and estate planning in Michigan

When establishing estates and trusts, people normally take into consideration who will care for minor children in the event of the parent's passing. Michigan families may be overlooking important family members. Pets are often considered part of the family, and as such, they should also be accounted for in any estate planning or family trusts.

A woman married into a family who owned an African Gray parrot. African Grays can live to be 75 – 100 years old. The family was working on a will where the daughter would take over care of the bird if the bird outlived the parents. Other animals in the family were not going to be given the same consideration. The woman's sister said she would take the family's dogs and cats in the event that her sister and her husband both died, but this arrangement was not going to be formalized in their estate planning as was the case for the parrot.

Estate planning and common mistakes with living trusts

Avoiding probate and providing privacy for loved ones is often the catalyst behind the Michigan resident's decision to establish a living trust. Yet, in many instances, the individual creates the living trust but, through a series of errors and omissions, does not realize the intended goal. Although the living trust has been established as a part of the estate planning process, the individual still has steps that must be taken in order to make it effective.

The first step to be taken once the trust has been created is to fund the trust.  This means that assets must actually be transferred into the trust. In other words, titles to real property need to changed and properly filed. Additionally, if vehicles are involved, the titles to the vehicles need to show the trust as the owner. These new titles will also need to be properly filed with the state.

Drafting wills -- a task that is all too easy to put off

Developing an estate plan often does not reach the top of the typical Michigan resident's "to do" list. In its most basic form, estate planning involves drafting a will. Regardless, drafting wills may make the "to do" list; however, far too often this important task does not make its way to the top of the list.

A will actually does not become effective until the death of the individual. Soon after this point in time, an individual is appointed to act as executor of the estate; usually, this individual is identified within the will. After the will goes through the probate process, the executor is the individual responsible for itemizing all of the individual's assets and debts. He or she then makes sure the debts are paid. Once this occurs, remaining assets can be distributed to beneficiaries under the supervision of the probate court.


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