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Expert Advice on Estate Planning for Homeowners: An Interview with Peter C. Jensen, Attorney at Law

By Peter Jensen

Tell us a little bit about your company and areas of law that you practice.

We do a variety of Estate planning from simple wills to more involved trust documents. Generally, our estate planning includes various Power of Attorney and Patient Advocate documents to meet the client's needs while they are alive, should they become mentally, physically or otherwise unable to handle their own affairs during their lifetime. We handle the administration of both wills and trusts after the client has died, to assist the family and representatives to bring the clients legal and business matters to a close.

This office is a general law practice, focusing on real estate matters, dealing with most aspects of buying and selling real estate and the civil litigation that can arise from sales that have been defaulted on. We handle general civil litigation and criminal defense, with additional focus on employment matters, labor law, municipality law, and medical facility and school law, and also including some divorce work.

Is there something that most people don't know about estate planning that they should know?

If you seek the advice and services of an experienced attorney during your life time, your estate will go much smoother after you have passed away and/or if you become disabled during your lifetime. Most estates are administered under "Independent" probate, with little to no "courtroom time". The costs of administering a Trust and of Probating a Will are generally approximately the same. You should never take the advice from any non-professionals in this regard because everyone's circumstances are unique to their own situation. Your legal documents should be designed with your own circumstances being considered, by a licensed attorney in the state you live in.

What are some of the biggest reasons estate planning is essential for homeowners?

Estate planning is essential for everyone that owns real estate or any assets for that matter. Estate planning allows for special needs of family members, often times allowing allocation to the family members most in need. Without well designed estate planning documents in place at a person's death, their assets will most likely be disbursed according to the laws of the state where their property is located, which may not actually be how a person would want their assets to be handled after their death. It also allows an individual to designate who they wish to handle their estate or trust administration after their death. It can be more costly for your family after your death if you don't have your estate planning documents in order.

Can you give a brief breakdown of the key steps in the estate planning process you go through with your clients?

We start with a discussion of the approximate value of their assets and in what form their assets are (i.e: land/farm/investments etc.), and generally what their goals are for their lifetime and after their death. I inquire if the parties are beneficiaries of VA benefits, retirement benefits and the type of retirement benefits they have. We discuss if there are any family members with special needs, disabilities, and if they own multiple properties. We weigh out the different options available to them and work on what will most efficiently and effectively accomplish their goals while staying within the confines of the law, both during their lifetime and after their death.

What is one of the challenges homeowners face when they are creating an estate plan?

Decision making seems to be the biggest problem individuals face when thinking of their estate planning. An example would be, not knowing who to leave in charge of their estate after their death or who to appoint to care for them in the case of disability during their lifetime.

What happens when someone wants to make changes to their estate plan?

This is not a problem if their estate planning was done properly initially. Amendments or Codicils to Wills are not uncommon and can be appended to the original documents.

What practical advice do you have for homeowners who have not given much thought to creating an estate plan.

Individuals that own and real estate or assets of any kind should seek the advice of a experienced attorney to discuss and put an estate plan into effect for their protection and the protection of their family members.

What's the best way for people to contact you and your company?

They may contact my office at 989 823-8577 and schedule an appointment with me at either of my two offices in Central Michigan.

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