AN ESTATE PLANNING CHECKLIST OF THINGS YOU SHOULD KNOW

If you are like many Americans, we all have a “To Do List.” Sometimes, that list gets longer and longer with no end in sight. Oftentimes, it is easy to put off estate planning to get to those other things that are on your To Do List. People often procrastinate when it comes to estate planning because they feel that the whole estate planning process is daunting. 

It is the goal of our office to make the estate planning process as easy as possible for our clients. So, we put together another list for you. It is not a “To Do List” but, it is a list of things that you should know if you are considering implementing an estate plan for you and your family. We have prepared an Estate Planning Checklist by identifying common questions, concerns, and issues that arise during the process.

What is an Estate Plan?

The definition of an estate plan is different for everyone. The type of plan selected is often dependent upon the nature of the assets. In general, it is a plan that is put in place to make the administration of your estate an easier process. Your next question might be “What documents should be included in my estate plan?” The type of plan implemented is dependent upon the complexity of our estate. Our office prepares comprehensive estate plans for any size estate. A full estate plan will address both what happens if you become incapacitated and what happens if you pass away. Some of the core documents that are included in our estate plans are Trusts (and supporting documents), Wills, Financial Power of Attorney, and a Patient Advocate. Other documents included in your estate plan will be dependent upon your current situation and the type of plan you select.

What is the Estate Planning Process?

Now that you know what an estate plan is, one of your first questions to an attorney might be “What is the actual process?” In our office we utilize a five-step process. Call our estate planning attorney and the first step is for you as the client to complete a worksheet. We use this worksheet to get a better understanding of your own unique situation. The worksheet also helps you to think of important issues that come up in the estate planning process. Some of these issues include deciding who you would like to have handle your financial affairs and healthcare if you were not able to do so.

                The next step in the process would be a Family Estate Planning Session. The purpose of this meeting is to help you to understand the benefits of putting a plan in place. We also use the information that you provide on the completed worksheet to explain your options to you and to make recommendations to you based on your individual situation.

If you decide to go forward, the next step would be to design your plan. You choose the best options for your situation and your budget. Pricing depends on the options that you select. Consequently, we are unable to provide you with the cost of a plan until we have discussed, and you have selected your options. We would then prepare a unique plan that is specific to your situation. Once the documents were complete, we would schedule a signing meeting.

What are some special issues and concerns that arise during estate planning?

You may be asking “What are some other important issues that should be addressed in my estate plan?” Our office does not recommend utilizing an on-line plan. Essentially, DIY plans do not address all issues that may pertain to an individual situation. Our office recommends consulting an attorney who is experienced in estate planning that is able to issue spot and appropriately address the issue in your estate planning documents. Some common issues that are often missed when using a DIY plan are discussed below. Please note that this is not an all-inclusive list and you should consult with an attorney to discuss your specific needs.

If you have minor children, you will want to make sure that you designate who you would want to care for your children and how you would want that person to care for them. You also want to address what would happen to them in the event of an emergency and you (the parents) were unavailable. Other factors to consider are how and when you would want your children to receive their inheritance. 

Maybe, you have a child with special needs that receives benefits. Without proper planning for a special needs child your child could be inadvertently disqualified from receiving their benefits due to an inheritance from your estate. A plan should be implemented to insure that any potential inheritance would not disrupt your child’s benefits.

If you have pets, then you will want to make sure that your documents include provisions for their care. You want to make sure that you identify who you would want to care for your pets. You would also want to make sure that you detail the financial support that you would want to make available to the new caretaker that you have named.

Many people in Michigan go hunting and consequently own guns. Have you thought about what would happen to your firearms in the event of your death? If you fall into this category, then you would want to make sure that you have proper planning in place to address what would happen to your firearms. Failure to do so may result in someone that you care about inadvertently committing the serious crime of unlawful possession of a firearm upon your death.

Maybe, you are a business owner. If so, it would be important to implement a business succession plan in addition to planning for your personal affairs. This may include simply addressing what would happen to the business in your personal estate planning documents if you were an individual owner of a business. More complex planning would likely be required if you shared ownership with other individuals.

Why do I need an Estate Plan?

One of the common questions I hear is “Why do I need an estate plan?” Depending on the type of plan that you choose, you can avoid probate. Probate is an often expensive, long, time-consuming, and public process.

The cost of implementing an estate plan often is far less than the cost of going through the probate process. In probate, there are administrative costs that include court fees and attorney fees if an attorney is hired. Without proper planning, your estate might incur unnecessary taxes. A well-written estate plan will help you to avoid probate. Thus, more money is kept in your estate to go to your heirs. 

If you do not put a plan in place, then the State of Michigan has a plan for your estate. This is called “intestacy” which may result in an unintended recipient receiving your assets upon your death. By putting an estate plan in place, you increase the likelihood of keeping more money in your estate, you control who gets your estate and how it is distributed. It is also helpful to put a plan in place to make things easier on your family while grieving your loss.

The probate process can be long because you may be at the mercy of the judge’s docket. A busy docket can lead to increased timeframes of administering a probate estate. By implementing a plan that avoids probate, you can speed up the process of administering an estate. This helps to get money to your family more quickly.

Filings in probate court are a matter of public record. Anyone can go to the court, pull a file, and see what is in an estate. They can also see who is getting what from the estate. By putting a plan in place that avoids probate everything can be kept private.

How to use this Estate Planning Check List

This Estate Planning Checklist is intended to help you make your first meeting with an attorney to be more productive. Understanding the estate planning process can help make you feel more comfortable in implementing your estate plan. You should select estate planning options that are consistent with your goals and are within your budget. Everyone’s situation is different. There is not a one-size fits all estate plan. Your estate plan should address the specific concerns and issues relating to your personal situation. You should implement an estate plan if you want to avoid probate, make things as easy as possible for your family, and be in control of who would manage your health and financial affairs if you were unable to do so due to incapacity or death.

Were you a little too wild and crazy in your youth? Were you in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong people and now you have a criminal record? Maybe you were desperate and didn’t know what else to do and now you’re stuck with a record that is keeping you from getting a good paying job to support your family. Maybe it’s keeping you from obtaining affordable housing or furthering your education. Maybe you are not allowed to go with your children on a field trip or volunteer at their school. So, what can you do to improve your circumstances and make a better life for yourself?

People who have committed a crime, served their consequences and have been told they have “paid their debt to society” still wear the “Scarlet Letter” of a criminal record. This record can and does prevent some people from improving their circumstances. There are roughly 78 separate laws on the books in the State of Michigan that prevent convicted felons and some other former criminals from obtaining housing, better employment or higher education. Most employers are unlikely to even consider a job candidate who has a criminal record, even if the crime committed was non-violent or not financial in nature. You could have a simple misdemeanor and not be able to rent a decent home because the charge was for marijuana possession. Forget about obtaining a student loan, in some cases you are no longer eligible. A person with a criminal record will continue to pay for their mistakes even decades after the conclusion of their case.

There has been a way to erase these offenses from a criminal record for some time, but the process has been expensive, lengthy and only applied to persons with only one felony or two misdemeanors. You can still apply for this type of expungement. It currently can only be requested through the courts a minimum of five years after the sentence has been completed, and if denied you would have to wait 3 years to apply again. Remember, expungement is a privilege, not a guaranteed right. 

There is an extensive list of crimes are not currently eligible for expungement at all. This includes even simple things like some traffic offenses. The difficulties in obtaining an expungement has affected people of color and those living at or below the poverty line disproportionately to all other segments of the population which perpetuates the cycle of poverty.

As reported by The Detroit Free Press on October 12, 2020, a University of Michigan Law School study found that due to the narrow parameters of Michigan’s expungement law, only 6.5% of people who fit all the criteria required for expungement even applied to have their record expunged. The study also found that those who have had their convictions expunged are able to earn more, up to 25% more within 2 years of expungement, and are less likely to reoffend.

After many years of pressure on our state legislators by a coalition of organizations invested in our communities, several bills in a package of legislation, now commonly known as the “Clean Slate Act”, was signed into law on Monday, October 12, 2020 by Governor Gretchen Whitmer which extends the privilege of expungement to thousands of people who were not previously eligible. 

The State of Michigan is now a member of an elite group of states that allows some offenses to be automatically expunged and simplifies the process for application for expungement of others. Some crimes will be expunged retroactively. California, Pennsylvania and Utah are the only other states that have programs for automatic expungement. Michigan is the only state that will begin the automatic expungement of qualifying felonies. 

The “Clean Slate Act” will take effect on April 11, 2021.Under the new law the state has two years to create and implement the process for automatic expungement and there is language in the legislation that allows an additional six months for implementation. The earliest date in which automatic expungement can begin is April 11, 2023

The new automatic expungement process will remove eligible misdemeanors 7 years after conviction and eligible felonies 10 years after sentencing or release from being incarcerated, which ever is longer. Up to four misdemeanors and three felonies can be cleared automatically. A lifetime limit of unlimited misdemeanors and up to 3 felonies are eligible to be expunged under the improved application process.

New to the expungement system is that most traffic offenses will now be eligible with the exceptions of driving under the influence or traffic offenses that result in injury or death. You will be able to have a conviction for driving under the influence set aside, but it will still appear on your driving record as the Secretary of State will still decide licensing consequences for those offenses. The new law allows the creation of a streamlined process to expunge misdemeanor marijuana convictions if the charge would not have been a crime under the new recreational marijuana law, that took effect in Michigan on December 6, 2018, and remove some of those convictions retroactively.

Still excluded from expungement are assaultive crimes, serious misdemeanors, any crimes that are punishable by 10 years or more in prison, crimes that involve serious injury or death, crimes that involve a minor, crimes that involve a vulnerable adult, human trafficking and “crimes of dishonesty”. 

As with all new legislation, it can be overwhelming and confusing to try to navigate a new system while all of the bugs are being worked out. But you do not have to go it alone. You do not have to live the rest of your life with a stupid mistake on your record anymore. You do not have to wait until the new law takes effect. There is hope. Hubbs Law Group is in your corner and can help you erase your mistakes for a better life. Contact our office to see if you are eligible to wipe your slate clean under the new law.

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Happy New Year! Like many people, you probably celebrated having a few alcoholic beverages with family or friends. Then you decided to drive home…and you got pulled over. Maybe it was acr check-point, or you just happened to do something minor to catch the eye of a patrol officer. Whatever it was, it ended with a night in jail, an impounded car and a criminal charge.

“I’m okay to drive after only one drink.” “I’m just a little buzzed.” “Everyone does it once in a while.” Thinking this way and getting behind the wheel is your first mistake. Regardless of how you rationalize it, you are still in legal trouble that could cause a ripple effect through your entire life as you know it. 

Let’s start with some basic facts.  The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism defines a standard alcoholic beverage as 14 grams of pure alcohol which is equal to one 12 ounce beer, one 5 ounce glass of wine or 1 “shot” (1.5 oz.) of distilled spirits. Just one alcohol based beverage is enough to impair reaction times.  A blood alcohol content (BAC) of .08 in the state of Michigan is legally drunk. A BAC between .01-.07 is still impaired even if you did not feel “buzzed”.

The drunk driving statute is known as MCL 257.625 which provides, in pertinent part:

(1) A person, whether licensed or not, shall not operate a vehicle upon a highway or other place open to the general public or generally accessible to motor vehicles, including an area designated for the parking of vehicles, within this state if the person is operating while intoxicated. As used in this section, “operating while intoxicated” means any of the following:

  (a) The person is under the influence of alcoholic liquor, a controlled substance, or other intoxicating substance or a combination of alcoholic liquor, a controlled substance, or other intoxicating substance.

  (b) The person has an alcohol content of 0.08 grams or more per 100 milliliters of blood, per 210 liters of breath, or per 67 milliliters of urine or, beginning October 1, 2021, the person has an alcohol content of 0.10 grams or more per 100 milliliters of blood, per 210 liters of breath, or per 67 milliliters of urine.

  (c) The person has an alcohol content of 0.17 grams or more per 100 milliliters of blood, per 210 liters of breath, or per 67 milliliters of urine.  MCL § 257.625(1).

If you were pulled over and charged with driving under the influence, you should be aware of the possible consequences. In Michigan, there are several possible charges for operating a motor vehicle while impaired with escalating consequences depending upon a number of factors. As defined by the Michigan Secretary of State, Operating While Visibly Impaired or OWVI means that because you have in some way consumed an intoxicating substance, your ability to drive is obviously impaired. With this conviction, your license will be restricted for ninety (90) days.  A restricted license restricts the places where you can drive (to and from work, court, treatment, etc.) and/or sometimes imposes a driving curfew.  

Operating While Intoxicated or OWI has three different levels. The first level, there is an intoxicating substance in your system that impairs your ability to safely operate a motor vehicle. The second level, your BAC is at or above .08 as determined by a chemical test. Or, the third level, there is High BAC in which your BAC is at or above .17 as determined by a chemical test. All of these charges can and will be enhanced if there was a collision with or without injuries or fatalities.  Michigan has passed several aggressive anti-drunk and drugged driving laws. These laws require swift court action and stiff penalties for drivers who violate them. In theory, these laws require the courts to decide drunk driving and drugged driving cases within 77 days of your arrest. There is a mandatory 6 month driver license suspension, even for a first conviction. You may be eligible for a restricted driver license only after serving the first 30 days of the suspension.

          There is a mandatory one year driver license suspension for a first conviction of operating with a BAC of .17 or higher. If this applies to you, you may be eligible for a restricted license after serving the first 45 days of the license suspension, but only if an ignition interlock device is installed on any vehicle you own or will operate. An ignition interlock device is a device that measures your breath alcohol prior to being able to start your vehicle.

         The court will order you to participate in, and successfully complete one or more rehabilitation programs, including  an alcohol treatment or a self-help program, or any other program the court decides would be appropriate. The court is required to order these rehabilitation programs if you have one or more prior convictions or are convicted of having High BAC. You will be required to serve five days to one year of consecutive jail time, or 30 to 90 days of community service, or both if you have a second conviction of drunk or drugged driving.

        There are even harsher license sanctions for persons with multiple drunk or drugged driving convictions including suspension and revocation of your driver license. In addition, these laws make these drunk and drugged driving offenses felonies: being convicted of drunk driving a third time. Being convicted of drunk or drugged driving that caused death. Being convicted of drunk or drugged driving that caused serious injuries. The consequences for a felony conviction of drunk or drugged driving includes a prison sentence of 1 year to up to 20 years.

         A drunk driving charge is expensive. You will be required to pay fines of up to $10,000 depending on the situation, plus court costs. You will be required to pay a reinstatement fee of $125 if your driver’s license is suspended, revoked, or restricted.  The costs don’t stop there. You could lose your job or your home as well.

         The best thing you can do for yourself at this point is to hire an experienced Sterling Heights attorney who can help you minimize the damage and consequences to your life. Andrew J. Hubbs has been a successful criminal defense attorney for the last 20 years and is in your corner to help you get your new year and life back on track.

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As 2020 draws to a close, the time is ripe for reflection on what has occurred over this past year. The historical magnitude of the Coronavirus Pandemic has dominated the world consciousness and may have even struck close to home. Even when numbers are more under control and the curve is flattened, there is the reality that this pandemic is not over. If you have not caught the novel coronavirus, you are not yet out of the woods. No one knows how this disease will affect them and whether they will contract it. You could be lucky and have few to no symptoms and recover quickly, as many people have experienced. However, you could be one of the unlucky ones who do not survive. It’s that case that strikes fear in our hearts and minds…the thought that we may not survive if we catch this virus.

If you do catch the virus and end up in the hospital without the ability to speak for yourself and make your wishes known, then what happens? If you do not survive, who will take responsibility for your minor children? What happens to your finances and assets? How will you pay for funeral expenses? How will your children pay for college?

Have you made your New Year’s Resolutions yet? Here are eight relatively simple steps you should consider doing as soon as possible to protect your family and your assets in the event the ultimate disaster strikes:

1. Have you drafted a will? More than half of American adults make the mistake of not having a will. Most people think they will not need one because they are relatively young and healthy. Even if you do not have a multi-million dollar estate, someone will have to handle all of your financial affairs should something happen, and it will be much easier if there is a document explaining what should be done. This is especially important if you have any minor children. You should also name a trusted person as the executor of your estate.

2. Speak to an attorney about trusts. You may want to create a trust. This is always a good idea if you fall into one or more of the following categories: a) you have minor children and don’t want to leave your real estate properties directly to them; b) you have adult children and are not confident they will responsibly manage their inheritance;  or c) you want to protect your assets from ending up with a creditor or in the hands of a former spouse. By creating a living trust, your estate may avoid all the expenses and hassles associated with going through the probate process. It will be money well spent.

3. Assign a power of attorney to someone you trust. This relatively simple document authorizes someone of your choice to handle matters if you are unable to act on your own behalf. There are two types: financial power of attorney, which lets someone of your choice take care of your financial matters such as writing checks to pay your expenses; and medical power of attorney, which allows someone of your choice makes decisions about your health care when you are unable to do so. Without this form, your loved ones will likely have to go to court to handle simple matters if you were incapacitated, such as being on a ventilator in a medically induced coma (Covid-19 treatment). This is really important. You will have to decide whether you want a standard durable power of attorney or a “springing” power of attorney that requires a doctor declare you incompetent or incapable of making your own decisions before it becomes active. You should update this document about every three to five years even if it is correct since officials are sometimes reluctant about accepting an older form.

4. Create an advance directive. This document sets forth your preferences, such as whether you want a feeding tube or if you need to be placed on a respirator. It can be written to incorporate other related requests such as explaining under what circumstances you would want to be allowed to die.

5. Do you have enough life insurance? If you have any children that are dependent on you financially, you will need enough life insurance to cover lost income after the date of death.

6. Regularly update your beneficiaries. You may not realize it, but the listed beneficiaries on your 401(k), insurance policies, retirement accounts and investments will supersede your will. Review your designations about every two years or upon life events, such as a marriage, divorce or the birth of a child. Speak with an attorney to make sure you have properly named your beneficiaries.  It’s not uncommon of for people to have seriously outdated beneficiaries, i.e., when you enrolled in your first 401(k) at the grand old age of18, did you name your significant other at the time as the beneficiary? You really need to change that and fast.

7. Get your paperwork organized. Do you have your tax returns, insurance policies, brokerage and 401(k) statements, and mortgage paperwork in one place? If you don’t, you can be sure that your loved ones won’t have a clue where to find them when they need them, sending them into an estate-settlement nightmare. Do everyone a favor and put everything together in one place and then tell your spouse and/or closest family member where that is. In addition to the documents mentioned above, also include: your Social Security and health insurance/Medicare cards, plus the contact information for your doctor, lawyer and accountant.

8. Keep everything in the right place. Settling the estate is easier with the original will in hand. Just be sure to share access with your closest trusted family member, so he or she will be able to find the document when necessary.

These simple steps could save you and your family a lot of trouble and confusion in the event that the worst happens. It is the best insurance that your family will have an easier time caring for your needs and settling your estate if/when it comes to that. Attorney Colleen Hubbs of Hubbs Law Group is uniquely capable of addressing these tasks and more for your family. Contact our office to set up your appointment to make securing your family’s future your New Year’s Resolution.

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In 2004, Andy Hubbs pursued his dream of running his own law practice. Over the years, his practice has grown in size, experience, and reputation. His primary practice areas are in criminal law, drinking and driving defense, real estate, and business.

In late 2018, he merged his practice with Legacy Law Partners, a firm started by his wife, Colleen Hubbs. Legacy Law Partners specializes in estate planning and wealth preservation, as well as in probate and trust administration.

The merger of these law firms has been a perfect marriage with forty years of combined legal know how. Hubbs Law Group, PLC can handle a multitude of legal needs. If you have a case or legal need outside HLG practice areas, we can refer you to legal representation throughout the United States.

Despite the uncertain times we currently find ourselves in, Hubbs Law Group, PLC continues to strive to provide the highest level of customer service. We are conducting client meetings in person, by video conference, and over the phone. We are attending court hearings in person and by zoom video. Our aim to represent and inform our clients has not waivered. Most importantly, we will continue to be the constant and trusted advisors you have come to count on since 2004.

Take a look at We know for many of our clients, whether they are individuals or small businesses, times are difficult. Your struggles are real. With that in mind, we provide reasonable rates and flexible payment plans in order to make the services we offer affordable and within reach.