Estate Planning 101: The Basics

Estate planning does not need to be complicated.  At The Elder Care Firm of Christopher J. Berry, Esq., we try to make putting together an estate plan as easy as possible.  In fact, there are six basic tools that should be part of any estate plan in Michigan.  As soon as you have loved ones, maybe a spouse and child, it’s time to begin the estate planning process to get these six pieces in place.

There is a difference between documents and actual planning.  Below we’re going to go over what the key 6 documents are.  It’s one thing to have a document, but what is more important is what is your estate planning goal…what are you trying to accomplish with your documents.

Maybe you have some of these estate planning documents are ready, but when was the last time that you have them reviewed by a certified elder law attorney in Michigan?

The six basic estate planning documents are as follows:

1. Trust

There are different types of trusts, including both revocable living trusts and Castle Trusts. A revocable living trust is an estate planning document that can help a family avoid probate and control the distribution of upon death. A Castle Trust is a type of trust that can avoid probate, control the distribution upon death, and also create asset protection for the person who created the trust. The modern asset protection trust, known as a Castle Trust, can immediately protect against lawsuits upon funding and start the five-year clock ticking for Medicaid and the look back period.

2. Last Will and Testament

A proper comprehensive estate plan includes more than just trusts, it also must include a last will and testament. Typically, when you have a trust-based estate plan you will still have what’s called a pour over will, which is a document that says that if any assets do end up in probate, they get knocked into the trust and follow the distribution terms of the trust.

In reality, the will that this point ends up being a spare tire where it is there just in case.

3. Financial Power of Attorney

A financial power of attorney is a document that appoints someone to make financial decisions, typically upon incapacity. This document appoints someone to manage the finances, make financial decisions and pay bills for another. What a lot of people don’t realize is that this authority ends upon death and that is why you need to have a will and a trust.

4. Medical Power of Attorney

A medical power  of attorney in Michigan is called a patient advocate designation. This is a document that appoint someone to make medical decisions if you are unable to. Included in that would be the ability to be removed from life support, and our office recall this the “god power.”

5. Personal Care Plan

in addition to having a financial power of attorney to appoint someone to make financial decisions we also think it’s important to have a medical power of attorney someone to make medical decisions, but,  taking it a step further it is also important to have a personal care plan. A personal care plan is a document that gives instructions to the people you appointed as financial and medical power of attorney on how best to care for you.

6. Deed for your House

Last, but at least, if you own real estate you need to have a deed for your home. You might have a Lady Bird deed which is like a beneficiary designation for your home or you may have a deed directly putting the property into a trust. Typically in our office we will do a Lady Bird deed and for your doing a revocable trust-based estate plan. However, if we are doing an asset protection trust, then we would deed the property directly to the trust.



You now know the six key estate planning documents in Michigan. Understand, these are just tools. What is more important is what are these tools actually planning for? In other words, what are your goals for your estate plan? Based on those goals the type of trust, the language inside of the trust, the language of the financial or medical powers of attorney may drastically change depending on your goals. That is why we find it important for clients to attend one of our life care planning workshops before they sit down with him elder care attorney.

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