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Why You Should Have Your Estate Planning Affairs In Order

Why You Should Have Your Estate Planning Affairs In Order

   Rhonda Clark

Estate planning is ALIVE!  It is more important now than ever to have your estate planning documents in order, which may include:

  • Will. A Will identifies who will inherit property that passes through the Probate process and who will be in charge to handle the Probate process.  Probate re-titles property that is in your own name alone at death.  It does not include jointly titled assets or those with beneficiary designations.  The Probate process is a public process.
  • Trust. A Trust is a written agreement that defines how the property will be used and managed during your life, if you should become disabled and upon death, it identifies who and how your property will be disposed. A Trust avoids probate if all assets you own are either titled in the name of the Trust or transferred to your Trust through a beneficiary designation at death.  You maintain total control over your assets while you are capable and acting as Trustee, and you will designate someone to assist you as successor Trustee upon your disability or death.  If your Trust is fully funded (no assets are titled in your name alone at death), the Trust administration process is completely private.
  • General Durable Power of Attorney – Financial. This document allows you to choose an agent that you know and trust to handle your financial affairs if you are unable.  It can be effective immediately or it can “spring” into effect when a doctor determines you are unable to handle your own financial affairs.  A durable power of attorney for finances, even if you are married and all your assets are joint, is an important document to have.  You may need to file a joint tax return, communicate with the Social Security Administration, health insurance providers or assist with retirement benefits for your spouse.  If you or your spouse do not have a General Durable Power of Attorney – Financial, you will not be able to assist each other with financial affairs if the need arises.
  • Durable Power of Attorney – Healthcare. By operation of Michigan law, this document “springs” into being when 2 doctors or a doctor and a licensed psychologist determine you are unable to make informed medical decisions.  A Durable Power of Attorney – Healthcare authorizes your patient advocate to hire and fire medical providers, assist with living arrangements, determine type of treatment, care and nature of service, including end-of-life decision making.  The document can also include mental health treatment.
  • Lady Bird Deed. Although a deed is never a perfect substitute for other estate planning documents, it can avoid your home needing to go through the Probate process upon your death.  For many clients their largest asset is their home.  Passing it to their children upon death without going through the Probate process eases their mind.  Think of a lady bird deed similar to a “pay on death” designation at a financial institution.  The home remains your asset entirely while you are alive.  You can sell it or transfer it at any point during your lifetime.  If the home remains untouched, the property transfers to the beneficiary you name at your death.

I am still able to help you get your affairs in order, even though the signing process might be different than before. Although Executive Order 2020-41 loosened notary and witness execution of remote documents, many clients do not have the technology required to sign documents remotely.  We have, however, taken time to compile a list of essential service providers, such as our local banks, CPA’s and other financial institutions, who are willing to assist our clients with the signing of documents in an emergency situation.

No time is better than the present to get your estate planning affairs in order.  None of us have a crystal ball.  It is better to take charge of your life and have the documents you need in place now to take care of you later, rather than procrastinating.  If a crisis should arise, you may have to rely on the court system to help, which is very different today, than before the COVID-19 crisis began.