Updated: Dec 17, 2019
A comprehensive Michigan estate plan allows you to select the people you trust most to manage and care for your possessions, finances, and children. And, don't forget about naming someone to make medical decisions for you in the event you cannot do so on your own.
But are you wondering where to start? How do you create a will in Michigan? What decisions do you need to make if you want to create a Michigan irrevocable trust or revocable trust (aka living trust)? The terminology can be confusing and the decisions difficult, so let's start by clarifying the most basic question: "how do I decide who should do what?"
The key to deciding is to consider the day-to-day impacts. For most people, they will need to name someone to the following three positions:
ONE: PERSONAL REPRESENTATIVE(S)
A personal representative is sometimes referred to as an executor. This person is primarily responsible for handling your will.
You will need to name a personal representative in your will (pro tip: In Michigan, you will need a will even if you have a trust. This is often called a "pour over" will.). This person is responsible for carrying out the duties and responsibilities imposed by law relating to your estate, such as taking care of any debts, filing a tax return, and distributing assets.
What to consider when naming a personal representative: Is this person financially savvy? Are they organized? Is this person trustworthy and will they recognize the seriousness of the job? Do they know their own limitations and know when to ask a professional for help or advice?
If you decide to have a Michigan trust, whether separate trusts or a joint trust, you will need to select someone who will carry out the instructions you put in your Michigan trust. This role is called a "trustee" in Michigan. Your trustee will be responsible for properly managing and investing assets, distributing your property, filing taxes, and more. A trustee may share some similar and related responsibilities with your Michigan personal representative or executor. However, a trustee's responsibilities will often last much longer (even years if you are setting up a trust in Michigan for children or grandchildren).
What to consider when naming a trustee: Do you want your spouse to maintain control over property upon your death? Do you have a blended family (if so, contact a Michigan wills and trusts attorney to discuss selecting a proper trustee)? Is the trustee financially savvy? If the trustee is also receiving an inheritance under the trust, will it cause potential conflict and strife among the beneficiaries? Do they know when to ask for help? Are they comfortable working with other professionals, such as CPAs, attorneys, and financial advisors?
THREE: GUARDIAN(S) FOR MINOR CHILDREN
If you have minor children, this decision should take top priority. A guardian will take on the primary care of your children in your absence and fill an incredibly important role in their daily lives. A guardian may or may not be responsible for overseeing your children's inheritance. (Pro tip: Name 1-2 back up guardians in case your first choice is unable to act.)
What to consider when naming a guardian: Do you share the same or similar values? Are they financially stable? Does your child already have a close relationship with them? How will your child be impacted by relocating? Do you like and trust their spouse? Are they willing to take all of your children?