Karen L. Stewart - Attorney & Counselor
Karen L. Stewart - Attorney & Counselor
Frequently Asked Questions

Do I need a Last Will and Testament?
A Will is a legally binding document setting forth your wishes and instructions on how you want your property distributed after you die.  If you die without a Will, the State of Michigan, by statute and through your county probate court, decides who gets your property and in what portions.  This may or may not be the way you would have chosen to pass on your estate.  In addition, in your Will you can designate who you want to act as guardians to take care of  your minor children. A Will passes assets that you hold in your name alone and is administered by the Probate Court.


What is a Revocable Living Trust?
A Trust is a legal arrangement in which assets are transferred by the settlor (person who establishes a trust) of the trust to a trustee (administrator) to be used for the benefit of one or more beneficiaries. 

A Living Trust is a trust created during the settlor's lifetime. It usually can be amended or revoked during the settlor's lifetime but becomes irrevocable upon the settlor's death.  The settlor is usually the trustee and beneficiary during his or her lifetime.


What are the advantages of a Revocable Living Trust?

  • Probate Avoidance
    Probate is the process by which title to assets owned in your name alone are transferred after your death. This process may be expensive and time consuming.  Trusts avoid this expense and delay. Trusts can also avoid court appointment of a conservator to manage your assets if you become incapacitated.

  • Privacy
    When your estate goes through probate, your Will and other documents become public record. Trust provisions and the assets in your trust are not subject to public disclosure.
     
  • Estate Tax Savings
    A Trust, with proper tax planning provisions, may enable you to reduce or eliminate estate taxes.
     
  • Management of Assets for Children or Grandchildren
    You select a person to serve as successor trustee so that trust assets can be maintained in the trust after your death instead of being distributed outright to beneficiaries who may be unable to manage the assets themselves.


How do I place assets in the Revocable Living Trust?
To achieve full benefit from a living trust, it is important that appropriate action be taken to transfer assets into trustee ownership, often called Funding a Trust.  This is the process of re-titling your bank accounts, bonds, stocks, real estate, and other assets so that the trustee of the living trust is the owner of the assets or naming the Trust as beneficiary on life insurance and retirement benefits.  Proper funding can ensure that estate tax savings are attained.


What is a Durable Power of Attorney?
A power of attorney is a legally binding document by which you authorize another person to act on your behalf.  This may be as limited or as broad as you choose. A Durable Power of Attorney continues to be effective in the event of your disability - the very time a power of attorney is needed most.  Your agent under your power of attorney can manage your finances in a private manner without going to the probate court.


What is a Patient Advocate Designation or Medical Power of Attorney?
Most people have heard of a living will - a document that expresses your wishes concerning life-sustaining or "heroic" measures.  In Michigan, living wills are not legally binding, but Patient Advocate Designations are.  You appoint a person of your choice to make medical decisions for you if you are incapacitated and cannot make them yourself. Your Patient Advocate does not need to be appointed by the probate court.