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How Elder Law Became a Practice

President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the Older Americans Act

Elder Law was born out of need and has become a specialty arm of the legal profession. It’s origins date back to 1965 when the  Older Americans Act (OAA) was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson. 

“Congress declares that, in keeping with the traditional American concept of the inherent dignity of the individual in our democratic society, the older people of our Nation are entitled to…” OAA Act of 1965

This was the first federal initiative to address and provide a wide range of services for senior citizens. Among those were legal services which ultimately created the practice of elder law.

The American Bar Association recognized the growing need for legal aid for seniors and formed its own Commission of Law and Aging in 1978. As the years passed law schools took notice and in 1985, the Association of American Law Schools formed a section on aging and the law. Today law schools across the county offer elder law courses as part of the curriculum. 

While most areas of the law focus on a specific discipline, elder law focuses on a specific type of person. The goal is to help aging Americans to legally navigate the issues of life that arise simply because of age.

To strengthen and secure the legal autonomy, quality of life, and quality of care of elders’ – The American Bar Association

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Emily’s Story

“Doug and I created our first estate plan when our daughter was born. We are opposites when it comes to finances; I’m a spender and he’s a saver.  However, the one thing we always agree upon is having a blueprint for our finances and children.
 
As our family grew, so did our expenditures and assets. For us, it just made sense to then take some time and a little effort to put the measures in place to protect our children and assets.

Chuck’s office made our estate planning seamless and stress free from start to finish. After our first consultation, we were able to complete the paperwork via email and fax. 

We’ve come to realize the people we talk with, in our age group, have not thought about guardianship for their children or estate planning. We feel relief and peace of mind having a plan in place and can’t thank Chuck and his staff enough for their professionalism and expertise!”

Life is busy for all of us, but you have to devote time to protect the ones you love. 

 Emily was 26 and her husband Doug, 31 when they started their estate planning. They have continued to work with our office to make changes as needed with a simple phone call, email or quick visit. 

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What is a holographic will?

This is a will that is handwritten by the testator (the person creating the will) and is not witnessed. Michigan is one of several states that recognizes and accepts holographic wills. For a holographic will to be recognized it must meet the following requirements;

The holographic will must be dated
The testator must sign the will
The will must be in the testator’s handwriting
The will addresses issues of guardianship, personal representatives
and property distribution
It must be evident that the document was intended to serve as the
testator’s will.

A court will look at other documentation, some that is not handwritten by the testator to determine the validity of the will.

Forgery, contesting content and previously written wills make holographic wills ripe for contention.  Due to the potential for uncertainty, one should be very careful in relying on a holographic will.

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What is an Estate Plan?

Think of a game plan or making travel plans. Both involve organizing the details for a big event. Coaches create strategies and organize a team. Travelers arrange transportation and make itineraries and packing lists.

Your estate plan details what will happen when you pass away. The plan spells out how your assets will be managed and distributed. Estate planning documents include wills, trusts, powers of attorney, patient advocate designations, deeds and beneficiary designations.

When we die or become incapacitated we want our assets administered as efficiently as possible. We want our belongings and assets in the right hands and we want to avoid extra expenses such as capital gains or estate taxes.

By using the correct combination and coordination of estate plan documents your hard earned assets go to your beneficiaries with a minimum of time and expense. 

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Who is your digital asset fiduciary?

 

fiduciary is a person appointed to manage the property of another person. A digital asset fiduciary can manage digital property like computer files, web domains and virtual currency.  

Current law restricts fiduciary access to electronic communications such as email, text messages and social media accounts unless the original user consented in a will, trust or power of attorney.

Digital assets have value and need to be managed much like your property and possessions. Start by taking stock of your online universe. Create a digital asset inventory, including user ids, passwords and ‘secret questions’. Consider these digital accounts making the list;

  • Email
  • Social media
  • On-line subscriptions
  • Marketplace accounts
  • Cloud services
  • Photos
  • Streaming services
  • Music
  • File sharing and storage
  • Financial services
  • On-line dating
  • Medical, insurance and utility websites
  • Loyalty programs
  • Software programs
  • Contact lists

When you have completed your inventory, write down where you’ve stored the information and put that in your safe deposit box or store it in a secure location. Then consider adding the appropriate verbiage that names your digital asset fiduciary in your powers of attorney, will or trust.

Posted in Beneficiary Designations, Estate Planning, Identity Theft | Tagged , , |

Marijuana Q & A

Recreational marijuana became legal in Michigan as of November 2018. Yet many questions remain about usage. Here are a few answers.

Who can use marijuana?
Under Michigan law, anyone 21 or older can use marijuana and travel with up to 2.5 oz. anywhere except on school property, a school bus or a correctional facility.

Where can I buy it?
At this time you cannot legally purchase recreational marijuana. The state is still working on the structure of issuing licenses. Best guess is you will see recreational marijuana stores open by early 2020.

Where can I legally consume marijuana?
By law, it is illegal to consume marijuana in a public space, punishable by a civil infraction.

What about drug testing?
Michigan is an at-will employment state, so that means employees can be hired or fired because of marijuana use.

How does Federal law affect my use?
Even though Michigan has legalized recreational marijuana, you are committing a Federal crime by possessing, buying or selling marijuana. Federal law treats marijuana as a controlled substance, just like cocaine or heroin. While you can be charged with a Federal crime for legal use of marijuana in Michigan, law enforcement agencies are generally reluctant to do so.

Posted in Drug law, Personal Protection | Tagged , |

Legal Tune Up

One claim of a good lawyer is they don’t let their clients end up in court. With proper planning that claim is often true. Let me remind you of a few legal housekeeping tips, that if ignored, might lead to bigger problems only solved by a trip to the courthouse.

Does your estate plan avoid probate?
Will your assets pass on to your beneficiaries?
Is your real estate titled properly?
Do you have a will?
Are you avoiding unnecessary estate taxes and fees?
How are you protected from personal or financial liability?
Have you named a power of attorney, should you become incapacitated?
Does your business have a buy/sell agreement?

If any of these issues are a concern, I suggest a consultation to review your circumstances. Proper planning is the secret to avoiding legal problems that the court might have to resolve for you.

Posted in Beneficiary Designations, Estate Planning |

Parents, Teen & Alcohol

PARENTS
You cannot, under any circumstances, give alcohol to your children’s friends, even in your own home, even with their parent’s permission.

You cannot knowingly allow a person under 21 years of age to remain in your home or on your property while they are consuming or possessing alcoholic beverages

IF YOU BREAK THE LAW
You can face a maximum sentence of 90 days in jail and or a $1,000 fine. You can be held responsible if you give alcohol to anyone under 21 years of age and they, in turn, hurt someone or damage property.

Posted in Personal Protection |

Pets as Property

Did you know that pets are legally classified as property? This is hard to imagine when we consider them companions, best friends and family. But as property there are legally enforceable documents that can help secure a pet’s future.

This is worth consideration, as informal vows and promises made by friends and family to care for your pets, should you pass away or become incapacitated, often fail.  Reasons such as allergies, conflicts with other pets, or the exclusion of pets from some residential communities can get in the way. 

By adding a provision to your will, details regarding the care and guardianship of your pet can be spelled out. You can go a step further and create a pet trust during your lifetime. This would allow for the disbursement of funds from the trust to cover pet expenses.

 The idea of legally enforceable documents that ensure companion animals’ continuing care is relatively new but increasingly popular.

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Planning for Social Security

One of the great mysteries of our 60’s is when to claim your social security benefit. The dilemma is whether to start at the earliest opportunity (62), wait until full retirement age (66) or delay until 70 to receive the maximum benefit. The question is compounded when we are married and have the option to claim a spousal benefit against our spouse’s Social Security.

The timing of potentially four different claims (yours, your spouse’s and each of your spousal benefit claims) can have a significant impact on your ultimate benefit and when those benefits should start.

A new online social security calculator runs the math for each possible scenario. The site is called Open Social Security. It’s free and does not ask for your Social Security number. You’ll input your marital status, gender, birthdate and current estimated Social Security payments at 66. It will report the best strategy to maximize the Social Security benefits you and your spouse will receive over your lifetime(s).

The best way to solve the Social Security dilemma is to do your homework. Taking a look at the math for your situation is the information you need to plot your financial future.

Posted in Beneficiary Designations, Estate Planning |