By Tony Snyder | May 4, 2012
The title to this article is both humorous, and yet more appropriate to your life than you might realize. When I was a kid, my mother used to always say to me, “The way you like to spend money, you’d better grow up to be a brain surgeon or lawyer”! Knowing what I know now, I should have become a brain surgeon…but I digress.
My mother’s point was I really liked to spend money and even having my allowance darned near burned a hole in my pocket! Granted, we all go through a phase where we want everything and the thought of saving our money for a “rainy day” seems ridiculous. And, hopefully, we out grow it and start to learn the value of money (and saving it).
But what if we don’t? Or what if that “phase” goes on longer than it should? We don’t know when our children will start to learn the value of money and what if we’re not around to help guide and teach them? Not to worry, that’s why I’m a phenomenal estate planning attorney! I put a Spendthrift provision in all of my estate planning documents.
What is a Spendthrift provision, you ask? It’s nothing more than a section in your Will/Trust which states the following:
“No beneficiary entitled to any form of future distribution from a trust created hereunder, shall take or have any title in the Trust until the same shall be actually received. Further, no disposition, charge or encumbrance by way of anticipation by any beneficiary shall be of any validity or legal effect, nor shall the future interest of such person be in any way liable for any claim of a creditor, spouse, divorced spouse, or any other claimant to whom a beneficiary may be in any way liable, nor shall it be subject to any legal process or bankruptcy proceeding.“
Whew, that’s a lot, isn’t it?! Let me explain in laymen terms: You don’t get the money until you’ve earned it! Ok, maybe that’s a bit simplistic, but it’s fairly accurate. It’s the idea that whatever money the beneficiary is entitled to from the Will/Trust can’t be borrowed against, it can’t be mortgaged, nor can it lost in a bankruptcy or event of a divorce. Now, the key here is that you have not yet received the distribution. Once you get the distribution, you can lose the money in bankruptcy or to a divorcing spouse. That’s why my estate planning documents also allows the Successor Trustee to withhold disbursement to a beneficiary if the Successor Trustee believes that the money will be wasted (usually on drugs/alcohol) or lost to the aforementioned reasons of the provision.
So make sure when you establish your estate planning documentation, you ensure your loved ones don’t burn through it even before they get their grubby little hands on your hard earned money!
By Tony Snyder | April 30, 2012
For those of us that live in Michigan, there may be a “nice problem to have” in your future. Ever play Mega Millions or Powerball and dream of what a life with an extra $300+ million would be like? We all had Mega Millions fever last month when the jackpot reached an astronomical $656 million. Alas, no one from Michigan found all six numbers and that magical mega number. But if that had, we’d have known all about who they were, where they lived and where the winning ticket was found.
The local Lansing newspaper did a story on lottery jackpot winners and their anonymity…and you might be surprised at what happens to you if you win. The MI Lottery Commission is granted the authority to create its own rules regarding how the State handles winners. Here, in the great State of Michigan, if you win the coveted jackpot, expect to have your sh*t flaunted all over town (Wow, that was just Maury Povich, right there).
But it’s true! The director of public relations for the MI Lottery Commission, Andi Brancato stated, “Winner awareness is extremely important for us, and it’s important for the transparency of the lottery and the credibility of the lottery. People are skeptical…they want to know that there was an actual winner”. Really? Do the citizens of Michigan really think that it’s completely made up when a winner is announced?
But here’s the interesting point, if you play what are referred to as “in-state games” (those being games hosted exclusively by Michigan [think Classic Lotto, the Keno games, etc.]) if you win over $10,000 then the benevolent civil servants will protect your identity. Huh, so play games Michigan benefits from the most (in-state games) and your anonymity is of the utmost importance. But play a multi-state game and expect every Tom, Dick and Harry to come a-knockin’ on your door claiming to be your long lost Uncle!
I really liked the spin Ms. Brancato placed on protecting winners identity if they win a Michigan jackpot, “People want to (remain anonymous) because they perhaps do not want to hear form relatives they haven’t talked with, or they might not want to be besieged by people collecting for a good cause.”! Ha, love it! Apparently citizens only want to remain anonymous when they play Michigan sponsored games…but Mega Millions or Powerball and they can’t wait to be pimped out by the Lottery Commission.
Look, I get it, I really do. It’s GREAT publicity to be able to show a winner to the unwashed masses. It keeps the dream alive that anyone (yes, even YOU) could someday become a multi-hundred millionaire. But what about the very real dangers which come from having that kind of money and notoriety. Forget the obnoxious begging which will come from it, think about the kidnapping (or worse) which could (and does) occur. Remember Frank Sinatra, Jr?
Again, at the end of the day, it’s a nice problem to have, I’ll admit. With the right attorney, financial advisor, insurance agent and accountant, you can easily lock up your money to prevent such atrocities from occurring, but what’s the likelihood a kidnapper is going to ask to review your financial documentation before snatching your kid from the playground?
This loss of privacy should be an option to the lottery player, perhaps has an offset to the true robbery which will occur at the hands of the State: taxes. Don’t get me started on 40%+ you’ll pay to the State just for playing those numbers from LOST. Good for Maryland and Kansas who respect their citizens enough to allow winners to keep their good fortunes private.
I would remiss not to include a cheap plug for my law office, should you ever win $10,000 or more in any sort of legal gaming situation.
(A shout out to the LSJ for bringing this issue to light)
By Tony Snyder | February 22, 2012
Have you seen this article yet? Here’s the quick and dirty:
Two high school boys were in a fight on school property. A female teacher sees the fight, verbally attempts to break up the fight, when she’s unsuccessful she pours her hot tea on the two boys. She warned them she’d do it, apparently they didn’t hear or didn’t believe her. Now one of the boys has filed an assault complaint with the local authorities and the school has placed the teacher on temporary leave.
Under Michigan law (and I’m paraphrasing), an assault is any harmful touching which isn’t consented to and isn’t appropriate for the safety and well being of the person doing the assaulting, nor being done to protect someone else. Ok, so the question really becomes: Was this action harmful with no other method available to provide protection?
This is a great issue to take to a jury. One the one hand, if I’m the attorney for the teacher I’m going to argue that kids are bringing guns to school, the fight was between an 18 year old and a 15 year old (as opposed to two students of the same age), teachers have a duty to keep our children safe, who knows what sort of injury could have occurred if it continued to escalate, etc etc.
On the other hand, if I”m the attorney for the 15 year old boy I would contend that there are numerous other ways to break up a fight, including but not limited to getting a male teacher, letting the boys fight to the death (well, not ALL of them will be good options), that hot tea is NOT the best way to achieve the desired outcome, serious injury could have occurred to both the boys, shouldn’t teachers have better judgment than high school boys…you get the point.
So what do you think? Was the teacher justified to take the actions she did or did it go to far? You by the judge!
By Tony Snyder | February 5, 2012
This is the time of year when New Year Resolutions are made and, inevitably, getting one’s estate planning put into place is typically listed. As the Will or Trust is written, family members are bequeathed Grandpa’s pocket watch, Mom’s china collection and Aunt Sally’s antique clock. Any estate planning attorney worth their salt will also make sure to account for any minor children and with whom they would be placed in the event that something happened to their parents. But, sadly, one family member who frequently gets left out of the estate planning is our pets.
In the event that something happens to us, where would our pet go? Who would care for the well being of our cats or dogs? Our pets are a member of our family and yet we frequently overlook caring for their needs once we’re gone. Sure, we hear about those extreme cases where an eccentric socialite leaves their multi-million dollar estate to their beloved dog, but that’s probably a situation none of us will have to worry about. Tragically, it’s the other end of the spectrum which is more likely to occur—the “pound”. I’m elated that more shelters are becoming a “No Kill” location for animals, but those shelters are the exception, not the norm.
On the other hand, what if there was a way to alleviate that situation all together? There is, and it’s with a properly drafted estate plan. The great thing about putting your Will or Trust together now, while you still have a say in what happens to your pets, is that you can ensure your final wishes are met and your pet will be provided for, even when you are no longer able. The beauty of putting your wishes on paper is that you are only limited by your imagination. You can pick who your pets care giver will be, where he will live, what sort of food they get, toy type preference, exercise routine, who their veterinarian should be, the ideas are limitless.
Obviously, you should speak with whomever you are naming to care for your pet to make sure they are willing to accept this responsibility. But if they balk at the potential expense to them, you can let them know you have already established a funding source so that there is no out of pocket expense for their willingness to accept care-giver status for your animal
So as you check “Estate Planning” off your To Do List for 2012, please remember to include every member of your family in that plan. It’s the difference between a shelter for your pet or a loving home for a pet who has already lost something most important to them…you!
By Tony Snyder | January 26, 2012
Over the next few weeks, it is my intention to give you some “food for thought” on the WHY behind having your estate planning put into place now, while you have the opportunity to make those decisions for yourself…not a court making those decisions for you.
A specific devise is when we list an actual piece of property (like your Great-Grandfather’s watch, your mother’s wedding ring or the lake cottage) to a specific person. You might want your son to get your Hot Rod automobile you and he worked on together. You may want your cousin to get your collection of thimbles or your best friend to inherit your comic book collection. But unless you have something written down that a court could point to and say, “Yes, definitively, this was their final wish”, how can we enforce that? See, when you die intestate (that is, without a will or trust in place) we are obligated to give your stuff to people based on how Michigan law is written (or whichever state you live in…I’m a Michigan attorney, I only care about Michigan law…sorry Nebraska). The great State of Michigan requires a spouse to get everything upon husband’s death. That’s great but what if he specifically wanted his son to get that Hot Rod? Nothing says Mom has to give it to son. Or worse yet, what if Dad re-married and new wife hates step-son! Then guess what happens!?
Minor At Time Of Death:
Imagine you’re one of the millions of happily-divorced Michiganians and you have a minor child when you pass away. If you’ve no Trust in place, everything you own gets sold off and put into a cash account (usually) where it sits until the child turns 18 years old! Then, upon Junior’s 18th birthday, he inheirits every dollar in that account. Now, I can only speak for myself, but lots of fun times would have been had with the money which came from my parents estate, had I received that kind of money. Is that what your kids would do? No, of course not, they’re “good kids” after all. But forget the fat payday that would come with their 18th birthday, have you given any thought as to who would oversee those funds on behalf of your child until s/he turns 18? Let me throw a likely name out there: Your Ex! Do you understand why that is though? S/he is your child’s biological parent. The court is going to typically defer to the child’s surviving parent to provide care and assistance to Junior. How would you feel knowing your Ex was in control of money for your child, which came from your estate?
So your 19 year old daughter is at the mall every weekend? Your 21 year old son, the bar? If you’re concerned about how quickly your child would burn through their inheritance, regardless of their age, you can establish a Spendthrift provision within your Trust to control how quickly your child receives their money, or conversely, in how the money could be spent. Sure, in that latter instance you’re simply freeing money up for your child to spend on clothes, since you’ve put in place a restriction for disbursement for housing, as an example. But at least you know that your money isn’t being spent frivolously.
So here are my first three reasons why I hope you will consider the value of estate planning, specifically regarding a Revocable Living Trust. Please feel free to call my office at 517-643-2102 if you have any questions regarding this blog post.
By Tony Snyder | November 30, 2011
Are you ready for this? I had to deal with this provision because someone died without a Will in place and now we have to determine ALL the heirs!
Under Michigan Codified Law 700.2106(2) it reads: “If, under section 2103(c) or (d), a decedent’s intestate estate or a part of the estate passes by representation to the descendants of the decedent’s deceased parents or either of them or to the descendants of the decedent’s deceased paternal or maternal grandparents or either of them, the estate or part of the estate is divided into as many equal shares as the total of the surviving descendants in the generation nearest the deceased parents or either of them, or the deceased grandparents or either of them, that contains 1 or more surviving descendants and the deceased descendants in the same generation who left surviving descendants, if any. Each surviving descendant in the nearest generation is allocated 1 share. The remaining shares, if any, are combined and then divided in the same manner among the surviving descendants of the deceased descendants as if the surviving descendants who were allocated a share and their surviving descendants had predeceased the decedent.”
So what does it mean? It means that we have to determine whether or not you have parents, grandparents, siblings and nieces/nephews. If you have no spouse, children or parents (assuming you did…parents should be a safe assumption) we need to give your “stuff” to you siblings. But what happens if some of your siblings are still alive and some are dead?
You ready: We give it to the dead siblings’ kids! So lets take the Brady family as a perfect example: Greg Brady dies, he has no will in place at the time of his death. Surviving Greg are his brother Peter and his sisters Jan and Cindy. However, sadly, Bobby and Marsha were tragically snuffed out in arrant football to the face accident (hey, it’s my hypo). But before Bobby and Marsha died, they had their own family which produced two children by Bobby and four children by Marsha (I have to figure she was a minx!).
So who gets what? Greg’s estate is going to be split amongst his siblings. Peter get’s 1/5 of the estate, Jan gets 1/5 of the estate, as does Cindy also. But we’ve only accounted for 3/5 of Greg’s estate. What about the other 2/5? Here’s where it gets tricky-tricky! Bobby’s 1/5 will pass in equal shares to this two kids. So each kid will get 1/2 of 1/5, between the two of them. And for Marsha’s four kids? They will each get 1/4 of 1/5 of the share from Greg’s estate.
So let’s put some real numbers in and figure it all out. As I recall from a Very Brady Christmas, Greg grew up to be an ER doctor…or was it a Pediatrician? Either way. Let’s say after all the bills for his funeral were paid, we took care of the lawyer’s bill (top priority in after the funeral, here in MI) that Greg’s estate was valued at $100K. He had 5 siblings so we know that each will inherit $20,000. So fine, let’s cut a check for $20K each to Peter, Jan and Cindy. How will be handle the remaining $40K? Oh boy…well Bobby is dead but left two kids, so each kid will get $10K. Marsha, however, left four kids so they will each get $5,000.
Does your head hurt? It should. The joke in law school is if we could do math, we’d be doctors instead of lawyers. What a mess, huh? You know how Greg COULD have alleviated this problem? By simply putting a Will in place to accommodate how we could split the money amongst the surviving siblings, in the event any of the predeceased Greg. Now, we’re going to have to probate the estate and get quite a few more people involved in teh process than otherwise would have been required.
You’re not just doing a Will/Trust for your own piece of mind, you’re doing it for your family’s benefit. Don’t be a Greg Brady!
By Tony Snyder | November 1, 2011
There’s an interesting article about a mother/father who were charged with shoplifting and had their 3 year old taken from them and (temporarily) placed in Child Protective Service. Shoplifting is a multi-billion dollar problem, which we all pay for through higher grocery prices.Think the police have heard it was an “honest mistake” before?
So, read this article and then post your thoughts. Was it an over reaction by the supermarket? Or is this good policy to call the police when shoplifting occurs?
By Tony Snyder | October 30, 2011
So last week I wrote about why I both loved and hated “seasoned” criminals. But this week I wanted to talk about the pros/cons of newbie criminals and what it’s like to represent them in the courtroom.
I should start out by saying that I fully acknowledge that I’m painting with a VERY broad brush here. The cons to representing seasoned and newbie clients aren’t applicable to all my clients. But I’ve done enough criminal defense now to know what to expect regarding my clients. So, with that legal disclaimer out of the way, here goes…
Oh you newbs. Your hands sweat, your heart pounds, talk so fast even a cocaine addict couldn’t keep up! You’re so nervous and it’s so endearing. Here’s what I love about the newbie criminal defendants: First of all, they actually listen to what I’m telling them. They’re deliberate about their options, what’s in their best interest, why this is a significant situation. They’re main goal is to keep their record clean. They understand and appreciate what they’ve done and they never want to step foot into a courtroom again. I love that they want to know how the process works, what to expect and how to address the judge. They’re open to my advice, they follow my advice, they think I walk on water (I like that part the best). When I tell them why the Prosecutor has then, they listen. When I walk them through the elements of the crime (essentially what the Prosecutor has to prove to a jury), they get it. I love that they don’t try to beat around the bush when it comes to putting a factual basis on the record. They take full responsibility for their actions and they tell the judge only what he needs to hear, not the 24 hours leading up the event nor why their buddy is just as guilty as they are. I love that they’re open to probation and community service, they understand that actions have consequences and they’re ready to step-up to those obligations placed upon them.
That said, however, they are the neediest people you’re ever going to deal with. They need severe hand holding from beginning to end. You need to spoon feed them each and every minute detail, many times over and over and over and over. They want to know what I’m going to say, what the Prosecutor is going to say, what the Judge is going to say, what they have to say. And while I gladly explain it to them, I know that in 24-48 hours from our Pre-Trial conference, they’re going to be calling me up asking 132 possible scenarios that I’m supposed to magically look into my crystal ball and answer for them. They want definitive answers. It’s the “practice” of law, I remind them…not the “science” of law. I tell them that based on my experience as an attorney, I’ve seen the Prosecutor/Judge do “this or that” and I suspect that’s what’s going to happen as we move through the process.
Those aspects of a new criminal defendant is nothing, however, to the obnoxious “I can’t get a felony on my record” clients. Woah, they drive me nuts. “OH really?” I want to ask them. “Ok, well the Prosecutor WAS going to give you a felony but if you can’t have one, lets see if they won’t just give you a civil infraction ticket for that drug charge…or better yet, lets see if we can’t just get the whole thing dismiss!”. Idiots. If you didn’t want to get a felony on your record you probably shouldn’t have been buying from an undercover agent! I help my clients see the error in their ways, but it takes so much longer to get through to them. Where I really run into this being an issue is when they’re in jail and they talk to other inmates. I can’t tell you the number of times I hear, “Man, this ain’t fair! I’m talking to guys in here being charged with way worse charges [writers note: or they'll point out inmates with worse criminal records than their own] than what I’ve got and they’re getting theirs dropped down to misdemeanors”. I literally see red and have to pause and take a breath when I hear this. I do a good job of explaining that inmates lie (gee, imagine that) to make my client feel worse about themself and their situation. I explain that we don’t know what the other inmate’s criminal situation is or who he’s squealing about to get such an offer. I make it very clear they’re not the same situation and if they compare one to the other, they’re going to drive themself mad.
All in all, don’t get me wrong, I would MUCH rather represent a newbie client over a seasoned defendant. But they’re not always easy to handle, and the one thing a good attorney needs to have is good client management. Frankly, not having good client management skills when I first started the practice of law almost drove me out of the profession. I’m a much better attorney now than I was 4 years ago and I’ll be a much better attorney in 4 years from now, and 4 years after that. Any attorney worth their salt must get better each year. There’s just too much to the practice of law to NOT find something/someway to make oneself a better attorney.
By Tony Snyder | October 26, 2011
I can’t decide if I prefer the “seasoned” criminal defendant (you know, the kind that look at incarceration as a revolving door) or the fresh faced criminal defendant who has never stepped foot in a courtroom. I can tell you this much, I’ve grown to appreciate defendants with a rap-sheet as long as my arm, now that I’ve been in practice for as long as I have. Perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself, maybe it would help to explain things a little…
The Habitual Offender
This is the guy (or gal…but I believe stereotypes are accurate for a reason) that you see as the poster child for any given Dateline show, 20/20 newscast, 24 Hours mystery. He’s been in and out of jail/prison since he was 16 years old. He’s the one that you see being interviewed by John Stossel and for whom you feel absolutely no compassion.
So why might I enjoy representing this guy over the “newbie” criminal defendant? Simple. Experience! They now know how the court system works and they are, relatively speaking, low maintenance. They get what happens at a Pre-Trial conference or at Sentencing. They don’t need me to hold their hand throughout the process, be that as constant phone calls, letters (or if not out on bond, jail visits). They understand what my role is, what their role is, what the Judge/Prosecutor’s role is and we can get through the file rather seamlessly.
But don’t get me wrong, representing a hardened criminal does come with some of its own extreme draw-backs. First of all, and this is what I was alluding to in the opening paragraph, when you are a brand new lawyer, the clients know more about the criminal process than you do! They don’t teach day-to-day operations of a criminal courtroom, unless you did an externship while in law school. I was fortunate (kinda) to have had a mentor (kinda) to show me the ropes. But even my “mentor” had been doing it for only a year or so and he wasn’t really a very good teacher. I floundered my way through it, but it wasn’t a fun way to learn…trial by fire never is.
Now that I’ve gotten years of practice under my belt, I understand the system better and I know what to expect and how to navigate my way through it. But even so, you get defendants who think they know more about the law and the court system than you (the attorney) do. This makes it especially difficult because that means you have to work twice as hard to get through to them. I’m not too proud to admit that I have withdrawn as counsel a handful of times because the attorney-client relationship broke down. When the client starts trying to tell the attorney how to do his job, you know you’ve lost control and you need to get out, and get out fast! If I even starting smelling the hint of dissatisfaction, I attempt to regain control of/trust from my client. But if I think it’s a lost cause, I get the client to sign a stipulated motion to withdraw as counsel because my law license (and really, more the BS that I’ve heard comes from responding to a grievance) isn’t worth being grieved by a client. They have nothing better to do with their time so they come up with baseless reasons to get the attorney in trouble.
So the “Pro” to representing someone with vast experience in the criminal justice world is that they are considerably less difficult because they know what’s going on and they don’t need the hand holding. The distinct “Con” is what they get to the point where they think they know more than their attorney. Well guess what? If they did know as much as their attorney, they wouldn’t be in the court system (at least not without getting paid for it) in the first place!
Next time I’ll cover the Pro’s and Con’s of the Newbie Criminal.
By Tony Snyder | October 16, 2011
To all my faithful readers out there, we appreciate your patience with the AMS&Assoc blog. We’ve not posted anything since the end of May, and to that, we apologize. It is our desire to get something of substance up to you on this blog each week, either as an actual written post or as a podcast.
So go look us up on iTunes right now so that you never miss an exciting element of our podcasts. In the mean time, if there’s an area of MI law you’re interested in hearing about, please drop us a line through the website or at email@example.com and I’ll do my darndest to get it up within two weeks.
Thanks so much for your loyal following!
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