What seniors need to know about estate planning

Local experts can provide guidance

John Yonkers, an attorney with Brogan & Yonkers Estate Planning & Elder Law, and other members of the firm are hosting several free seminars throughout the Upper Peninsula. The seminar is called "Do I Need a Will?" and will focus on the deed and estate planning process and will touch on recent legislative changes regarding transfers of properties among family members. (Journal file photo)

MARQUETTE — It can be hard in many ways for people to begin seriously considering what will happen when they pass away or become incapacitated in some way. Although considering mortality and the possibility of future disability are emotionally difficult, it is extremely important to make plans for these events, as without planning, a person and their loved ones can encounter unnecessary additional stress in the event of death or disability.

“It’s much easier to consider these things…when all is good in the world,” John Yonkers, of Yonkers & Brogran Estate Planning & Elder Law said, noting that taking time to carefully consider options is much better than a “knee-jerk” reaction that occurs during a serious crisis.

People of all different ages and socioeconomic statuses tend to think they are too young or do not own enough to begin estate planning. However, this is a common misconception.

“We try to really impress upon people is that everybody needs some sort of estate plan,” Yonkers said.

Anyone over the age of 18 should consider making arrangements to give a trusted person “power of attorney”, which, in Michigan, can give another person the ability to make financial and/or medical decisions for you in the event of death or an incapacitating event. If a person does not make “power of attorney” arrangements, the matter falls into the hands of the courts, which can take up valuable time in a crisis situation.

Beyond the basic “power of attorney” arrangements, it can also be helpful to set up a will or trust, depending on the needs and structure of a person’s property, income, family and interests. Yonkers explained that wills and trusts differ in important ways.

“In the state of Michigan all wills have to go through probate (court)…or else, technically, the things that are inside of there don’t have to be done, or can’t be done,” Yonkers said. “The trust, on the other hand, avoids probate all together. The reason the trust does that..it’s actually a living document, it is an entity of its own, it is allowed to own property, it is allowed to own bank accounts, things like that.” “In that, I always tell clients, the trust has this main benefit that none of us have and that is, it’s just like a person…but it doesn’t have a heartbeat. So it has this mission, and it is able to run with that until its mission is fulfilled, which is usually the passing of property to somebody else.”

Yonkers said that if a person is not ready to set up a will or trust, it is critical to make “power of attorney” arrangements if nothing else, as this will allow a trusted person to act on their behalf the moment they become unable to act on their own behalf.

However, it’s important to understand basics of estate planning when thinking about making arrangements.

People who seek help with estate planning for the first time often need on-the-spot estate-planning education from the attorney they visit, Yonkers said. While attorneys are happy to educate clients, the client can be better served if they come in with an understanding of the process and have had time to consider their specific wants, needs, questions and concerns beforehand.

To address this issue and educate people at all stages of estate planning, Yonkers and Brogan offers regular free seminars related to estate planning throughout the U.P as part of a community outreach effort. This year, they will be offering a new seminar, “Do I Need a Will?” in locations throughout the U.P.

“The estate plans we’re going to talk about in our presentation cover everybody from the 18-year old who is leaving the house for the first time all the way up to the person who is entering a nursing home…and beyond,” Yonkers said.

Yonkers explained educating people on estate planning is a major goal of the seminars, as this knowledge can allow people to carefully consider their particular situation and begin to outline their questions and concerns about the process before meeting with an attorney.

Even those who have an estate plan can benefit from on-going education, Yonkers said, as laws surrounding estate planning can change and its important to know if a plan needs to be changed or updated to reflect current legislation.

Yonkers also wants people to know there’s no “one-size-fits-all” approach to estate planning, as everyone has different assets and needs.

“Do you have children? Are you retiring?….It’s all dependent on where you are, but everybody needs some form of estate plan or will,” Yonkers said.

The “Do I Need a Will” seminar will be offered from 6 to 8 p.m. Feb. 15 in the Shiras Room at Peter White Public Library in Marquette. Attendees can sign up for a free 30-minute consultation session with an attorney from Brogan & Yonkers after the seminar. The seminar will also be offered in Escanaba from 6 to 8 p.m Feb. 15 at the Catherine Bonifas Civic Center. A March 5 seminar will be held at the Forsyth Township Senior Center in Gwinn from from 6 to 8 p.m. Interested parties are encouraged to RSVP to the free event by calling 906-228-6212. More information can be found at www.upelderlaw.com

Cecilia Brown can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 248. Her email address is cbrown@miningjournal.net.