$7.2 million and change: That’s how much money is coming to northern Michigan from an early round of federal opioid lawsuit settlements. Check out this article from the Traverse City Ticker.

Writing Your Will? How to Choose the Executor of Your Estate

Choosing whom to name as the executor in your last will and testament is a critical decision. This person will be responsible for carrying out your final wishes, settling your debts, and distributing your assets.

As such, it’s imperative to give the selection considerable thought. If you’re unsure where to start, here are a few tips for narrowing down the options:

1. Review the Executor’s Responsibilities

Before giving someone the role, it’s important that you understand the duties that come with it. This will ensure the individual you select can actually handle the tasks that come with settling your estate.

The executor will be responsible for:

  • Filing your last will and testament with the probate court,
  • Paying your debts and taxes,
  • Distributing assets to your beneficiaries, and
  • Filing estate tax returns if necessary.

2. Prioritize Trustworthiness

The executor should be someone whom you trust to carry out your last wishes. They should possess honesty and integrity, and they should be willing to assert their authority if any disputes arise.

3. Look for Someone Who Is Financially Responsible

The executor must be equipped to manage your final affairs effectively. This includes paying all debts and taxes on time. They may also have to oversee the liquidation of various assets prior to distribution. With that in mind, you’re going to want to choose someone who is well-versed at navigating complex financial transactions.

4. Consider Logistics

Since life is ultimately unpredictable, there’s no way to be sure that the person whom you name as the executor of your estate will outlive you. Generally speaking, though, it’s wise to choose someone who’s younger than you and in fairly decent health. This is why younger siblings and adult children are popular choices.

It’s worth noting that many people choose their spouses for the sake of simplicity. Keep in mind, however, that if you end up outliving your husband or wife, you’re going to have to update your own estate plan.

Availability is another important element to consider. Settling an estate is a demanding job, so you don’t want to choose someone who travels all the time for work or otherwise has very little free time to begin with.

5. Name a Backup Executor

Even if you put considerable thought in your selection, there’s no guarantee that the person whom you choose will be willing or able to settle your estate upon your death. As such, it’s wise to name a backup. That way, you’ll have peace of mind knowing your estate will be in good hands even if an issue regarding your first choice does arise.

Call 231-946-0700 to Speak with an Estate Planning Attorney in Michigan

Once you’ve decided on an executor, turn to Smith & Johnson for help writing your last will and testament. Our team can assist with every aspect of estate planning, so you can ensure your loved ones are protected in all eventualities. Call 231-946-0700 or submit our Contact Form to schedule a free initial consultation with an estate planning lawyer in Michigan.  

5 Steps to Take Right Away If You’ve Decided to End Your Marriage

Ending your marriage will probably be one of the most difficult things you ever have to do. Consequently, it’s natural to drag your feet. If you’ve decided to proceed with divorce, though, there are certain steps you should take right away to protect yourself and ensure the process will be as stress-free as possible. Read on to learn what they are:

1. Call a Family Law Attorney

Upon deciding to dissolve the union, you should seek the advice of a family law attorney. A knowledgeable professional will help you understand your rights and obligations. They can also guide you through the legal system while advocating for your best interests every step of the way.

2. Gather Important Documents

Hammering out the logistics of the split demands all kinds of documentation, from tax returns and bank statements to business evaluations and property appraisals. It’s wise to make copies of all relevant records and to store them in a safe place, away from your spouse, until you can give them to your legal team.

3. Prioritize Your Safety

If you’re worried about your safety, ask your attorney how best to proceed. Depending on the nature of the situation, it may be possible to move out of the family home without relinquishing your rights to it. At the very least, if you’re in immediate danger, head to a loved one’s house until you can work out a more permanent arrangement with your lawyer’s help.

4. Devise a Budget

Regardless of your current financial situation—maybe both you and your spouse work, or maybe only one of you does—the divorce is going to affect the amount of money you have coming in. It’s wise to create a realistic budget that accounts for this change as soon as possible, so you can get used to the adjustment. Adhering to a new budget will also provide incredible insight on what you should ask for in the way of assets during the proceedings.

5. Consider the Advantages of Mediation

If you anticipate a fairly amicable split, mediation may be the easiest way to address the logistics. During this process, the couple consults a neutral third party who aims to help them arrive at mutually agreed-upon terms.

Mediation is less adversarial and more cost-effective than going to court. It also tends to be considerably less stressful, which can reduce the emotional toll that the divorce takes in general.

If this is the route you end up taking, however, it’s still wise to enlist legal help. The mediator is not responsible for advocating for your rights and will merely be trying to get you and your spouse to agree on favorable terms that suit everyone.

Discuss Your Case with a Divorce Attorney in Michigan

Ending a marriage can be a difficult decision, but by seeking the advice of a family law attorney, gathering important documents, prioritizing your safety, making a budget, and considering mediation, you can protect your best interests every step of the way.

To discuss your situation with a compassionate divorce lawyer in Michigan, turn to Smith & Johnson. Call 231-946-0700 or submit our Contact Form to schedule a free initial consultation.

How to Strengthen Your Child Custody Case: Tips for Parents in Michigan

Child custody disputes are some of the most emotionally charged and stressful legal battles that parents can face. If you’re fighting for custody in Michigan, here are a few tips that may help you strengthen your case, so you can secure the best outcome possible given the circumstances:

1. Review the State’s Custody Laws

Before proceeding, it’s important to have a clear understanding of Michigan’s child custody laws. Familiarize yourself with the different types of arrangements, as well as the factors that the court considers. This will give you a solid foundation as you work on your case.

2. Keep Records of Your Parenting Responsibilities

To demonstrate your commitment to your children and show the court that you’re a responsible parent, you should keep detailed records of the role you play in their lives. Any documentation that proves you were present, from medical records to tuition statements to eyewitness testimony, will show you’re an active and involved parent.

Social media content could also prove valuable. Keep in mind, however, that all your posts are ultimately up for scrutiny. As such, it’s wise to curate your online activity so it only shows you in the best possible light.

3. Consider Your Children’s Best Interests

When awarding custody, the court ultimately prioritizes the best interests of the children involved. As such, it’s important to consider whether the arrangement you’re seeking is actually one in which your children will thrive. If you’re certain it is, consider how you can prove as much.

4. Build a Support System

In even the best-case scenario, fighting for custody is incredibly stressful, so it’s imperative that you build a support system for yourself. This might include friends, family members, and a therapist. Having people whom you can count on when you’re feeling especially overwhelmed will help you stay focused and make it easier to keep your composure when going before the judge.

5. Seek Legal Counsel

A seasoned and strategic family law attorney can explain your rights and responsibilities and then help you navigate every stage of the proceedings. Along the way, they’ll also devise strategies for bolstering your case and gathering the most compelling evidence possible.

6. Be Open and Honest with Your Legal Team

If you do hire a lawyer, make sure to be totally transparent with them. The only way they’re going to be able to help you is if they have a clear understanding of your situation, including any circumstances that you may not necessarily be proud of but could influence the proceedings.

Speak with a Michigan Family Law Attorney

For help with your custody battle, turn to the seasoned legal team at Smith & Johnson. We have been representing Michigan residents since 1965, and we’re well-versed in all the statutes, precedents, and proceedings that can impact the outcome of child custody disputes. Call 231-946-0700 or submit the Contact Form on our website to schedule a free initial consultation with a family lawyer in Michigan.

Can You Modify Your Last Will and Testament?

A last will and testament is a critical estate planning document. In fact, regardless of your family dynamic, personal situation, or financial circumstances, your will is going to serve as the foundation of your entire estate plan.

In this legally binding document, you can:

  • Appoint an executor to ensure your wishes are followed and guide your estate through probate,
  • Appoint a guardian to watch over any minor children, and
  • Distribute assets to loved ones and/or charities.

Because life is ultimately unpredictable, it’s wise to draft a will as soon as you turn 18. Most people put off doing so, however, since creating an estate plan means facing your own mortality. This can be challenging mentally, spiritually, and emotionally.

That’s not the only reason why people are reluctant to write a last will, though. Those who consider themselves fairly practical tend to put off doing so because of their ever-changing circumstances. As you age, your situation is inevitably going to evolve, and that means the terms of your will must, as well.

Thankfully, you can modify your will as needed. As such, there’s really no reason to put off writing one.

In fact, there’s no limit to how many times you can change the terms of the document. As long as you implement the newest provisions in a legally binding way, the revisions you make will always hold up in court.

How Often Should I Review My Last Will?

Once you write a will, it’s wise to make a note in your calendar that reminds you to review it periodically. Most people find it makes sense to review their estate planning documents around tax time each year, since that’s when they’re taking inventory of their assets anyway.

If you cannot find the time to look over your will annually, at least try to do so every three years. It’s also advisable to review it after every major change in circumstances. Examples include:

  • Getting married,
  • Starting a business,
  • Having children,
  • Buying a house,
  • Receiving an inheritance,
  • Selling a business,
  • Getting divorced, and
  • Having grandchildren.

Chances are you’ll need to modify at least some of the terms in your will after any of the scenarios mentioned above. By doing so right away, the document will always be up-to-date. In addition to providing peace of mind, having a will with current terms will make things so much easier for your loved ones if something were to happen to you unexpectedly.

If you take anything away from this post, it should be this: Yes, you can modify your last will and testament, and no, there is no limit to how many times you can do so. As such, it’s wise to draft one as soon as possible and then update it as needed. This is the easiest and most effective way to ensure your family will be taken care of in all eventualities.

Speak with a Michigan Estate Planning Attorney

Need help writing your last will and testament? Turn to the knowledgeable team at Smith & Johnson. We have been representing Michigan citizens since 1965, and we’d be proud to counsel you, too. Call 231-946-0700 or submit our Contact Form to schedule a free initial consultation with an estate planning lawyer in Michigan.

The Dos and Don’ts of Sharing Child Custody with Your Ex

Sharing custody with your ex can certainly pose a challenge, especially as you settle into the new routine. In the long run, though, joint custody arrangements are almost always best for the children involved.

While growing pains are inevitable, there are ways to facilitate the transition so it’s easier on everyone involved. There are also quite a few missteps you should make sure to avoid, so as to keep from complicating matters, which will only make things harder.

Read on for some of the most important “dos and don’ts” to remember as you navigate this chapter in your life:

1. Do Cooperate with Your Ex

Cooperation is the foundation of every successful joint arrangement. If you’re having a tough time working with your ex, consider talking to a professional who specializes in separation and divorce. A knowledgeable therapist can give you strategies for diffusing tension and keeping interactions focused on your children.

2. Don’t Speak Badly About Your Ex

This may be an obvious tip, but it’s worth mentioning because it’s an easy one to forget in the heat of the moment. Avoid speaking badly about your ex to your children or to anyone when they’re within earshot. Doing so will only confuse them and may even leave them feeling as though they need to choose sides, which is the last thing you want them to experience.

3. Do Maintain a Positive Attitude

It’s natural to miss your children when they’re with their ex, but you should try to do everything in your power to maintain an upbeat outlook when interacting with them. If you call them every night before bed, for example, don’t talk about how lonely you are without them. Instead, talk about all the fun activities you’re going to do when they’re back at your house.

Putting a positive spin on things will make your children feel so much more comfortable and secure in their new dynamic.

4. Don’t Overlook Your Own Mental Health

Adjusting to change is never easy, so give yourself a little grace as you settle into the new routine. That being said, if you do find yourself struggling, don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Just because you keep things positive with your kids, for example, doesn’t mean you cannot divulge your negative thoughts and feelings to others. In fact, you should put together a support group, which might include a therapist, friends, and loved ones. Then, whenever you find yourself having an especially hard time, you have a list of people whom you can reach out to for frequent pep talks.

Call 231-946-0700 to Speak with a Child Custody Attorney in Michigan

If you’re facing a child custody dispute, turn to Smith & Johnson for strategic legal counsel at every stage of the proceedings. We have been representing Michigan citizens since 1965, and we’re well-versed in the state’s statutes and precedents pertaining to family law. Call 231-946-0700 or submit the Contact Form on our website to schedule a free initial consultation with a child custody lawyer in Michigan.

5 Tips for Corresponding with Your Ex During Divorce Proceedings

Ending a marriage is one of the most stressful scenarios you will ever face. Even if the divorce is your decision and you anticipate a relatively amicable split, you can expect to face both emotional roadblocks and financial hurdles along the way.

For many couples, one of the biggest challenges is simply interacting with each other over the course of the proceedings. Thankfully, there are a few strategies for handling these interactions in a peaceful way, so they can remain productive.

If you find corresponding with your especially difficult, here are a few tips for going forward:

1. Focus on the Issues at Hand

Oftentimes, maintaining laser focus and only addressing the logistics in question is the best way to keep the conversation from derailing. If your ex tries to steer the discussion in another direction, stand firm and keep guiding it back to the issues at hand.

2. Keep Everything in Writing

Having all communications with your ex in writing could protect you down the road if disputes over asset division or child custody end up arising. Make an active effort to say everything you need to say via email or text message, and then save the conversations in a secure place in case you ever need to refer to them at a later date.

3. Remember That Anger Is a Secondary Emotion

Mental health professionals often say anger is a secondary emotion. That means there’s usually something else fueling it, whether it’s sadness, fear, or betrayal. If your ex has a tendency to get angry during your interactions, consider what’s actually behind their emotion. If you can gain a little understanding, it will keep you from stooping to their level and getting angry, too.

4. Vent to Friends or Loved Ones

When you have an outlet, you’ll be much less inclined to have negative interactions with your ex because you’ll be releasing all those feelings elsewhere. Vent to friends and loved ones if you can. Depending on how powerful your emotions are, it may also be wise to consult a professional who specializes in helping those who are going through a separation or divorce.

5. Enlist Legal Help

If you hire an attorney, you can refer all correspondence from your ex to your legal team. Your divorce lawyer will handle every interaction on your behalf, so you don’t even have to worry about engaging with your ex. For many couples, having their attorneys handle the logistics of their divorce is often the best and easiest way to keep conflicts from arising and to ensure the proceedings stay on track.

Discuss Your Case with a Divorce Attorney in Michigan

If you’re facing divorce, you can count on the strategic team at Smith & Johnson for compassionate counsel every step of the way. We have a track record of successfully representing individuals in all the most complex divorce and custody disputes. Call 231-946-0700 or submit our Contact Form to schedule a free initial consultation with a divorce lawyer in Michigan.

5 Considerations to Keep in Mind When Writing a Last Will

 Thinking about your own mortality isn’t easy, but doing so is a must if you want to protect your loved ones in all eventualities. By taking a proactive approach to estate planning, you can ensure your family will be taken care of long after you’re gone.

If you’re unsure how to start, drafting a last will and testament is usually the best route. The foundation of every comprehensive estate plan, a last will can address almost all the essentials.

When you’re ready to proceed, here are a few considerations to keep in mind. In answering these questions, you’ll be able to ensure the document is as thorough as possible:

1. Who Will Oversee the Probate Process?

In your will, you can name an executor. This party will be responsible for guiding your estate through the probate proceedings. It’s typically a spouse, sibling, or adult child; however, you can also name a professional, like an attorney, to step in and take on the role.

2. Who Will Care for Any Minor Children?

If you have any children and something were to happen to both you and their other parent before they turned 18, who would care for them? In your will, make sure to name a guardian, so your children are cared for according to your wishes no matter what happens.

3. How Will Your Personal Property Be Distributed?

If your estate is fairly simple, you can distribute all applicable assets in your will. While there are other ways to bequeath property, many people find including it in their will is the easiest way to do so. Should you have concerns about any specific assets, however, talk to an estate planning attorney about how best to proceed before adding them to your will.

4. Who Will Care for Any Pets?

If you have any pets and something were to happen to you while they were still alive, the caregiver named in your will can step in and take them. On a side note, while you cannot leave assets to animals, it may be wise to leave something to their caregiver, so he or she has the funds to continue giving them a comfortable life.

5. How Will Your Family Proceed If Any Terms Cannot Be Met?

Sometimes, the terms of a will cannot be followed. For example, the person whom you name as executor may be unwilling or unable to step up and serve in the role. As such, it’s wise to include contingencies.

Include alternative arrangements for all the most important terms. This will keep the court from having to get involved and make decisions on your behalf after you’re gone should issues arise.

Speak with a Michigan Estate Planning Attorney

At Smith & Johnson, we’re proud to help clients protect their families by making comprehensive arrangements for their estate. If you’re ready to get started—or you need to modify existing arrangements—we can help. Call 231-946-0700 or fill out our Contact Form to schedule a free initial consultation with an estate planning lawyer in Michigan.

3 FAQs About Failure to Pay Alimony in Michigan

Alimony, or spousal support, refers to a financial arrangement whereby one spouse makes regular payments to the other during and/or after divorce proceedings. The purpose of alimony is to ensure the lower earner can maintain a reasonable standard of living the wake of the separation.

When the arrangement is court-ordered, there are consequences for failing to abide by its terms. Whether you’re the one who is owed spousal support or you’re the one who will be paying it, here’s what you should know about failure to pay:

1. What Should You Do If Alimony Goes Unpaid?

If you’re the one responsible for paying alimony but you’re unable to meet the obligation, it’s advisable to act as soon as possible. Assuming your circumstances changed significantly, you can file a petition to modify the existing order.

If you’re the one who is supposed to receive the support payments but your ex-spouse has fallen behind, you can likely file a motion asking the judge the review the situation. Depending on the circumstances, the judge may order the other party to cover the amount in arrears as well as stay on top of all future payments.

2. How Do Michigan Courts Enforce Alimony Orders?

The court has a few ways to enforce alimony orders after a failure to pay is brought to their attention. Income withholding is one of the most common approaches. This is when the payer’s employer takes the spousal support directly out of his or her paycheck.

The court can also hold those who fail to pay in contempt. Being in contempt carries with it fines, various sanctions, and even jail time.

Finally, there are scenarios in which it’s possible have a Writ of Execution issued. This is an order that allows for the seizure of the party’s property. The property is then sold, and the proceeds are distributed to the recipient. A Writ of Execution can also allow for the seizure of funds from a bank account.

3. Do You Need to Hire an Attorney to Assist with Unpaid Alimony?

While it’s possible to ask the court to modify or enforce a spousal support order on your own, it’s generally advisable to seek legal counsel. This is especially true when time is of the essence, as a seasoned professional can help you avoid unnecessary delays.

Hiring a lawyer will also free you up to focus on more important matters while your alimony case proceeds in good hands. This will relieve a considerable amount of stress, so you can continue rebuilding your new life.

Speak with a Michigan Divorce Attorney

At Smith & Johnson, we’re well-versed in all aspects of divorce. From dividing hundreds of millions of dollars in assets to addressing family-owned businesses, we’re equipped to do it all. We also assist with custody and child support.

Should you be planning on filing for divorce or facing some kind of family law dispute, we can help. Call 231-946-0700 or submit the Contact Form on our website to schedule a free initial consultation with a divorce lawyer in Michigan.

5 Qualities to Look for in a Child Custody Attorney

If you’re facing a child custody battle, it’s imperative to find the right attorney to represent you. Few disputes have more at stake, after all, than those regarding parenting time.

While it can be challenging to narrow down the options—unless you live in an undeveloped area, there are undoubtedly dozens of family law firms near you—there are a few qualities you can look for to make the process easier. Read on to learn what to look for in an attorney so you can hire one with confidence:

1. Applicable Experience

Just because an attorney practices family law doesn’t mean they’re automatically going to be familiar with all the nuance of your unique case. Before hiring someone, make sure they’ve counseled clients who were facing disputes similar to your own, so they have relevant experience to draw upon.

2. Compassion

Navigating a custody battle is inherently stressful, and it’s natural to experience a vast range of emotions at every milestone. As such, you’ll want to find someone who understands all that you’re going through and treats you with compassion.

At the end of the day, your attorney should make you feel comfortable enough to open up to them, so they know exactly what you want, need, and deserve. Consequently, they’ll be able to fight for your best interests with confidence.

3. Tenacity

It’s not uncommon for parents to face hurdle after hurdle when fighting for custody; however, attorneys who practice with tenacity don’t let those challenges stop them. They will leave no stone unturned when advocating for clients in the hopes of securing the best possible outcomes given the circumstances. If necessary, they will even take the opposing parties to court.

4. Integrity

Sadly, some firms aren’t above taking advantage of those who are facing the hardest chapter of their lives. You can determine whether the attorney you’re considering practices with integrity by seeing what past clients have to say about the counsel they provide. You should also evaluate their reputation within the legal field and the wider community in general.

5. Availability

You’re inevitably going to have questions and concerns over the course of the proceedings, and when you do, you deserve your lawyer’s attention. Ask how quickly it will take them to get back to you when you reach out.

You should also inquire about regular updates. Weeks or even months can pass without much progression during custody cases. Regardless, you deserve to have regular contact with your legal team, who should keep you in the know at all times.

Speak with a Michigan Child Custody Lawyer

At Smith & Johnson, we know how stressful family law disputes can be. Those involving custody are especially challenging, which is why we fight tirelessly on behalf of our clients.

If you’re facing a custody dispute, we’ll advocate for your rights aggressively at every stage of the proceedings. Call 231-946-0700 or submit our Contact Form to schedule a free initial consultation with a child custody attorney in Michigan.