At Inhulsen Law, we believe informed clients make the best decisions about their estate plans. That's why we want to break down complex terms and clarify confusing principles so that you make the right choices for your estate planning. Contact our office either online or at (616) 747-0000 for an initial consultation to get specific legal advice for your estate plan. In the meantime, here are responses to some of the most frequently asked questions we get when new clients come to our office in Grand Rapids.
What is Estate Planning?
Due to its name, the biggest misconception is that estate planning is for the wealthy. Estate Planning is for everyone. An "Estate" is simply the aggregate of your assets, whatever they may be. If you have a home and life insurance, your estate is likely larger than you may believe. Estate planning is a process allowing you to arrange how you want your assets to be managed and distributed upon your death, and equally important, how you want your affairs handled if you are temporarily incapacitated.
What goes into an estate plan?
At Inhulsen Law, we develop custom estate plans for your unique family and circumstances. There are a variety of legal instruments which together may accommodate your specific needs - including some or all of the following:
- Last will and testament
- Living trust
- Irrevocable trusts (e.g., life insurance trusts, gift trusts, special needs trust, charitable trust)
- Asset protection from divorce, creditors, others
- Health care directives, including medical powers of attorney, living wills, health care proxy, do not resuscitate (DNR) or do not intubate (DNI) orders
- Succession plan for business
- Charitable planning
What is probate?
Probate is the legal process of transferring the property from a deceased person's estate to their heirs or beneficiaries. It is overseen by the local probate court.
What happens if I die without a Will in Michigan?
Dying without a will means you die intestate. Your assets and belongings will get passed to your heirs according to your state's intestacy laws.
Do I need a lawyer to write my Will?
While you do not need a lawyer to write a will, not doing so is a considerable risk. A last will and testament that was not written by a lawyer or that was created using an online form are more likely to be challenged, deemed invalid, or leave significant assets unaccounted for, which can create confusion and unforeseen outcomes.
Do I need a Will if I have no children?
If you die without a will, your estate will pass to others through your state's intestacy laws. So, even if you do not have children, you still need a will if you do not want the state to make decisions for you about who gets what from your estate.
Keep in mind you do not have to create a will to benefit only family. A will allows you to pass your estate in a way that will serve what matters most to you: this could be preserving the financial wellbeing of your partner, parents, or siblings, but also setting money aside for the care of a pet, or assisting a charitable organization aligned with your values.
Does my Will automatically change if I divorce?
No. It is crucial to update your will after getting a divorce so that your most recent wishes are reflected in it.
What is the difference between a will and a living will?
A will – also called a last will and testament – comes into effect when its creator dies and directs the executor on how to transfer the property in the estate. A living will, on the other hand, comes into effect when its creator is alive but incapacitated – it tells others what the creator's preferences and medical decisions are regarding their healthcare.
What is a trust?
A trust is legal instrument that pools your assets aside to be managed by a trustee, for the benefit of someone else, called the beneficiary.
What is the purpose of a trust?
A trust sets aside some assets for a trustee to manage for the sake of a beneficiary. The assets set aside in the trust do not go through probate, simplifying and expediting its transfer out of the estate. The trustee must follow the instructions set out by the trust.
Can I have both a will and a trust?
Yes. Many trusts are testamentary trusts, and are created in the decedent's will. Lots of other trusts are made during the person's life to set aside some assets outside of their will.
Are trusts only for wealthy people with lots of assets?
No, trusts can be created by anyone who wants to avoid theirs assets going through probate. Trusts can set aside money for beneficiaries who who aren't ready to receive the money in a lump sum. They are especially common when the beneficiary is underage or is unable to manage their own affairs.
What happens to jointly owned property when one spouse dies?
When spouses jointly own property and then one spouse passes away, the property is automatically passed to the surviving spouse. An example would be the marital home owned by both spouses.
What is a guardian?
A guardian is a person who is responsible for someone else's well-being. People often appoint a guardian for their underage children in their will or for their adult children with special needs. These legal guardians can make legal decisions on behalf of their charges, much like a parent.
How can I designate a guardian for my children?
Naming a legal guardian for your underage children is a common provision in a will. You also have the ability to appoint a conservator for adult children who may be unable to make certain decisions.
If you do not appoint a legal guardian via a will, the court will appoint one upon your death. For this reason, it is important even if it seems like commonsense to make sure you designate a guardian in your will.
How can we make sure our special needs child is cared for after we die?
A common way to ensure a special needs child continues to receive the care they need is to appoint a guardian for them and to create a trust fund in their name.
How can I make sure my pet is cared for after I die?
A common way to care for pets after their owner passes away is to state in the will who is to care for the animal and then create a testamentary trust for the benefit of the pet.
When do I need a power of attorney?
A power of attorney is essential for people who are unable to make important medical or financial decisions on their own behalf, usually because they are incapacitated or suffering from a medical condition. There are five types of powers of attorney, each with their own purpose:
- Durable power of attorney
- Medical power of attorney
- General power of attorney
- Limited (special) power of attorney
- Springing power of attorney
Contact our Estate Planning team in Michigan today.
At Inhulsen Law, we know you have lots of questions about estate planning. Our estate planning team in Michigan is here to answer your specific questions. Contact us either by using our online form or calling us directly at (616) 747-0000 to schedule a initial consultation.