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Estate Planning Essentials

Posted by attorney Benjamin Hirsch

The real question when starting to plan your estate, is “What do you want done?"

Think about your biggest concerns. Estate planning involves looking at what you have and figuring out where you want to go. There are a myriad of alternatives in how to get there.


Probate is the public process of determining the heirs to an estate, paying all the debts and outstanding expenses of the deceased, and then dividing the estate amongst the beneficiaries or heirs according to the will or the law.

If you die without a will (known as dying “intestate") in Michigan, your assets will be divided amongst your immediate family. Depending on who is alive at the time of your passing, the court will divide your estate up in one of a number of different ways as set forth by the statutes, often at added expense to your family members.

If you die with a will, the will tells the Courts who will manage your estate, who will get your belongings, and, if applicable, who will become guardian of your minor children or other disabled family members.

Alternatives to a Will

Wills become public after your death. The details of what you owned and its value is open to anyone who wants to read the court file. Because of that, many people look for more private ways to transfer their assets. Some alternatives include Life insurance policies or trusts., with the details of what you owned and how much it was worth available to anyone curious enough to read the court file. As a result, many people look for a more private way of transferring their assets. In Michigan, alternatives to making a will include:

· Life insurance policies or trusts

· Gifting cash or other assets before your death

· Accounts with listed beneficiaries.

· Holding property jointly with others.

· Retirement Accounts

· "Revocable living trusts" (sometimes called "grantor trusts"), giving all your assets to a trustee for management before your death

Your estate plans should be based on who you need to take care of, perhaps a person who can’t take care of themselves. Or maybe you’re concerned about the possibility of having to apply for Medicaid.

Think about what you want done when you pass and who would do a good job at it. A capable elder law attorney will go through your plans with you and tell you the most advisable way of doing it.

It’s your estate, you worked hard for it during your life, you should be entitled to have some control over it when you pass.

It's never too early to prepare essential estate planning documents, but it can be too late. A high percentage of people - even retirees - don't have estate plans and many more who do have documents that are out of date. Don't wait until it's too late, because when it comes to a will and other estate planning documents, when it's too late, it's too late.

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