Since life can be unpredictable, it’s wise to take a proactive approach to estate planning. By making arrangements long before you actually need to, you’ll ensure your loved ones are taken care of no matter what happens.

Of course, that’s assuming the arrangements you make are actually legally binding. The best way to guarantee as much is by enlisting help from a seasoned estate planning attorney.

With your family’s financial security at stake, however, you shouldn’t turn to just anyone. Estate planning is a vast practice area, encompassing everything from wills and trusts to special needs planning. To ensure you’ve found the right lawyer, ask the following questions before hiring them:

1. Have You Helped Many Clients Whose Situations Were Similar to My Own?

Do you own a small business? Are you a real estate investor? Do you have loved ones who aren’t related by blood or marriage relying on you for financial support?

Whatever your situation, it’s imperative that you find an attorney who’s familiar with your estate planning needs. You need someone who can propose practical solutions for ensuring all your wishes and contingencies are carried out after your passing.

2. How Long Will It Take You to Get Back to Me?

As you consider the kinds of arrangements you’re going to have to put in place, questions will inevitably arise. When they do, you deserve a prompt answer from your lawyer. That means if you end up having to leave a message, you should be able to count on them getting back to you within a matter of days, not weeks.

While you can ask the attorney about their average response time during your initial consultation, it’s also wise to do a little research of your own. One of the easiest ways to gauge a firm’s commitment to their clients is by reading reviews from past clients.

3. What Is Your Fee Structure?

Since everyone has unique needs when it comes to estate planning, there’s really no standard pricing structure for formalizing the arrangements. As such, it’s important to confirm that the attorney you’re considering hiring is within your budget before you proceed with their counsel.

You should also inquire about the firm’s fees should you ever have to modify your estate plan. Since your circumstances will likely change over the years, your wishes probably will, too. When that time comes, it would be nice to know the practice will honor whatever fee structure you agreed upon from the start.

4. What Do You Need from Me to Get Started on My Estate Plan?

If, at the end of your consultation, you’ve decided to hire the attorney in question, ask for a list of all the documents they’ll need from you to start making your arrangements. The sooner you get everything to them, the sooner they can put your plans in place, and the sooner you’ll have peace of mind knowing your family is protected.

Speak with a Michigan Estate Planning Lawyer

For a knowledgeable estate and trust attorney who’s well-versed in Michigan law, look no further than Smith & Johnson. Our team assists clients with all kinds of probate matters. To schedule a free initial consultation with one of our Michigan estate planning attorneys, call 231-946-0700 or submit our Online Contact Form.

If you’re facing a custody battle, you shouldn’t turn to just anyone for legal guidance. When family time is at stake, it’s imperative to enlist help from a seasoned professional.

Unfortunately, a lot of firms tout their family law experience, but not everyone is actually equipped to resolve complex custody disputes. As such, it can be challenging to find the right attorney to take your case.

The best way to determine whether you should proceed with someone’s help is by taking advantage of your initial consultation. During this meeting, you’ll get the opportunity to ask questions about your case, as well as the firm in general. Based on the lawyer’s answers, you can then decide whether you want to proceed with their counsel.

So, what kinds of questions should you be asking? Let’s take a look:

1. Have You Resolved Disputes with Elements Similar to My Own?

While every custody case is undeniably unique, there are only a handful of scenarios that can lend to a dispute in the first place. Whether you’re in the early stages of divorce or you have been separated for a while but your ex wants to move out of state, it’s important to find someone who’s familiar with all the nuance of the issues at play.

2. What Do You Think Is the Likeliest Outcome to My Case?

In addition to giving you some idea of what to expect, the answer to this question will let you know if you’ve found a reputable firm. Since legal proceedings are ultimately unpredictable, a family law attorney who practices with integrity will never promise to achieve a specific outcome for a client.

If they have enough experience handling similar cases, they should be able to discuss the trajectory yours will likely take; however, they shouldn’t make any guarantees.

3. How Often Will You Update Me on the Status of My Case?

You should be kept in the know at every turn. As such, it’s wise to ask about the level of communication you can expect to receive from the firm over the course of the proceedings. Will they reach out monthly? Weekly? Or only when there’s a major breakthrough in the case?

4. How Can I Reach You If a Question or Concern Arises?

If you reach out to your lawyer, you should be able to count on getting a prompt response. Therefore, it’s wise to inquire about the firm’s accessibility during your first meeting. You can also read testimonials from past clients to see whether the practice provides the personalized and attentive service you expect from your legal team.

Speak with a Michigan Child Custody Lawyer

At Smith & Johnson, we know how stressful child custody battles can be. If you’re facing some kind of custody dispute, get the full force of the firm backing your every move. Call 231-946-0700 or submit our Contact Form to schedule a free initial consultation with a child custody attorney in Michigan.

The best time to write your will was the day you turned 18. Since most teenagers aren’t thinking about their mortality on their 18thbirthday, however, chances are you weren’t, either. Thankfully, the second best time to write your will is today.

By making arrangements long before you actually need them, you’ll have peace of mind knowing your family is protected in all eventualities. Since the foundation of every comprehensive estate plan is a last will and testament, drafting this document is a great place to start. Here are a few tips on proceeding:

1. Do Include Alternates

If you name an executor, health care proxy, and/or power-of-attorney in your will, it’s wise to include alternates. There’s always a chance that the parties you include will be unwilling or unable to step up should the time come. In such a scenario, the court would have to assign the role to someone else, and it might not necessarily be the person you would have chosen.

2. Don’t Let Minutiae Slow You Down

It’s easy to get overwhelmed when drafting your will. How do you distill your entire life and legacy into the terms of a single document?

While there is undoubtedly a lot to address, it’s best to start with the biggest issues first. Examples include things like asset distribution and guardianship of any minor children. As long as your will addresses 90 percent of the issues at hand, you’ll have peace of mind. What’s more, you can go back and add additional terms later, once you’ve tackled all the most important elements of the estate.

3. Do Ensure the Terms Are Legally Binding

For a will to be legally binding in Michigan, it must be in writing, signed by the testator (or at the testator’s direction), and signed by at least two witnesses. Just because you ensure all of the above, however, doesn’t mean the court will abide by the terms you included.

When it comes to estate planning, there are certain things you simply cannot do within the confines of a will. For example, you cannot leave money to your pets.

The easiest way to confirm everything you’ve included in the document will be honored is by consulting a local attorney. After discussing your wishes, a lawyer will help you draft your will and then implement any additional arrangements needed to ensure the court will honor everything.

4. Don’t Forget to Review It Periodically

Once you’ve finished writing your will, make a note to pull it out from time to time and review it. Since your circumstances will likely change over time, you’ll probably want to modify some of the terms in your will, as well.

Call 231-946-0700 for a Free Consultation with a Michigan Estate Planning Attorney

When you’re ready to write your last will, turn to the knowledgeable team at Smith & Johnson. We can help you draft a comprehensive document that will ensure your loved ones are taken care of even after you’re gone. Call 231-946-0700 or complete the Contact Form on our website to schedule a free initial consultation with an estate planning lawyer in Michigan.

If you’re planning on ending your marriage, it’s only natural to worry about how the divorce will affect your children. While the transition will inevitably prompt a host of emotions—some of them undoubtedly negative—there are ways you can make the process easier on your kids. Let’s explore some of the most effective strategies below:

1. Present a United Front

If at all possible, you and your spouse should tell the children about the divorce together. If you share more than one child, you should also make an effort to tell them all at the same time. This will reinforce the idea that no matter what, you’ll always be a family.

Some parents are inclined to tell their older kids first. They might assume the older ones have realized something is wrong, or they may just want to give them plenty of time to make peace with the fact that their routine will be changing soon.

Experts generally advise against sharing the news in stages, however, since it places a burden on those who learn about the divorce first but must keep it a secret from their siblings.

2. Maintain a Normal Schedule

Kids thrive when they have a predictable routine. Once you and your spouse implement a new living arrangement, try to get the children back to a normal schedule as soon as possible. It’s also wise to keep them in as many of the same activities as you can, like sports, art classes, and after-school programs.

3. Encourage Your Children to Share Their Feelings

Divorce can prompt complicated emotions in everyone, including children. Ask your kids how they’re feeling often, and make sure to validate what they say. That means empathizing with their emptions, rather than brushing them off, albeit well-intentioned, in an attempt to make them feel better.

4. Give Them Age-Appropriate Choices to Make

Watching their parents get divorced can make children feel powerless. To give them back some sense of control and help mitigate chaos in the process, let them make age-appropriate decisions. For example, you can let them take the lead on decorating their new bedrooms or, if you had to move out of the district, on picking which sport they want to play in their new town.

5. Refrain from Saying Negative Comments About Your Spouse

At the end of the day, it’s probably in your children’s best interests to maintain a relationship with their other parent. As such, it’s important that you avoid saying things about your soon-to-be-ex that might alienate the kids.

Even if they ask outright why you’re getting divorced and you ultimately believe your spouse is to blame, you should frame your answer in such a way that he or she is not painted in a negative light.

Speak with a Michigan Family Law Attorney

Have you decided to end your marriage? Are you planning on filing for divorce in Michigan? For help with every aspect of the proceedings, turn to Smith & Johnson.

Since 1965, we have been counseling clients in a broad range of practice areas. To schedule a free initial consultation with a family lawyer in Michigan, call 231-946-0700 or submit our Online Contact Form.

Since life is ultimately unpredictable, it’s wise to take a proactive approach to estate planning. You should consider drafting a last will and testament as soon as possible, for example, instead of waiting until you’ve reached old age. In doing so, you’ll be able to put certain protections in place that ensure your loved ones are taken care of in all eventualities.

It’s important to remember, however, that your circumstances will inevitably change over time. That means if you do write a last will sooner rather than later, you should be prepared to review it periodically. Chances are you’ll need to modify its terms on occasion, so they always align with your current situation.

Read on for some of the most common scenarios that should prompt a review of your last will:

1. Changing Your Marital Status

Whether getting married or divorced, you’re probably going to want to update your estate plan. While the laws of intestate succession grant certain rights to spouses—and take them away from ex-spouses—modifying your will is the only way to ensure your precise wishes will be honored.

2. Having Children or Grandchildren

Whenever you gain a new descendant, you should consider whether you want to include them in your last will. If they rely on you financially, it’s also advisable to update other aspects of your estate. You might want to purchase life insurance, for example, to ensure they have ample financial security in the event of your passing.

3. Starting a Business

Every business should have a succession plan. If you start a company, make sure the terms of your will are in line with the succession plan. This will help mitigate disputes in the event of your untimely passing.

4. Moving out of State

Every state has slightly different laws when it comes to estate planning. That means if you relocate, some of the terms in your will may no longer be enforceable. Consequently, you’re going to want to review the document carefully with an attorney who practices in your new home state as soon as you get settled.

5. Acquiring a Major Asset

Whether you win the lottery, buy a home, or receive an inheritance, you shouldn’t wait too long to add the new asset to your will. Otherwise, the state will decide how it’s distributed upon your passing, which may not actually be consistent with your wishes.

Discuss Your Case with an Estate Planning Attorney in Michigan

For help writing or updating your will, turn to the knowledgeable team at Smith & Johnson. Our estate and trust attorneys are well-versed in all aspects of wealth transfers, as well as probate, guardianships, contested wills, and special needs trusts.

We’ll address your concerns, answer your questions, and ultimately help you decide how best to plan for the future, so your family is protected no matter what. To schedule a free initial consultation with an estate planning lawyer in Michigan, call 231-946-0700 or submit our Contact Form.

When people who share children separate or divorce, they must devise an arrangement for handling all aspects of childrearing moving forward. Called a custody arrangement, this plan addresses everything from where the kids will live to how major decisions will be made on their behalf.

If you’re planning on seeking custody in Michigan and you’re wondering what the proceedings will entail or how these agreements are reached, read on. Here are the answers to some of the most frequently asked questions on the subject:

1. How Do the Courts Decide Who Gets Custody?

The Michigan Child Custody Act assumes it’s almost always in a child’s best interests to maintain a relationship with both parents. As for determining specific logistics, like where the children will reside and how much time they’ll spend with each parent, judges evaluate 12 primary factors. These include:

  • The existing emotional ties the child has with each parent,
  • The living situation of each parent and their ongoing ability to provide a stable home life,
  • The moral fitness of each parent, and
  • The mental and physical health of each parent.

2. What Is the Difference Between Physical and Legal Custody?

In Michigan, physical custody refers to living with the children. Parents who have shared physical custody each get to reside with the children at least some of the time. If one parent lives with the kids for significantly more than 50 percent of the time, they have what’s called “primary physical custody.”

Some courts are moving away from using the term “primary,” however, in an effort to avoid making the other parent feel marginalized. Instead, many judgements are issued with no mention of a “primary” parent at all, regardless of whether one party has the kids for a much larger portion of time.

Legal custody, on the other hand, refers to the right to make major decisions on behalf of the children. Examples include decisions regarding education, medical care, and religious upbringing. Parents often have joint legal custody, though there are scenarios in which only one party is awarded this right.

3. Can You Ever Change a Custody Arrangement?

Generally speaking, the courts do not like to modify orders regarding custody because children need stability. Family judges recognizes that circumstances can change, however, so there are scenarios in which it’s possible to adjust an existing arrangement.

In order to secure a new order, you must present clear and convincing evidence that the modifications you’re proposing are in the best interests of the children. Petitioning for a change can be an uphill battle, but with the right legal strategy, it may be possible to secure a new arrangement.

Discuss Your Case with a Child Custody Attorney in Michigan

At Smith & Johnson, we know how stressful custody battles can be for all parties involved. If you’re facing some kind of custody dispute, we’ll be proud to advocate for your rights every step of the way. To schedule a free initial consultation with one of our child custody lawyers in Michigan, submit the Contact Form on our website or call 231-946-0700.

Lawsuits filed by Timothy Smith of Smith & Johnson, Attorneys PC on behalf of 36 Northern Michigan municipalities will bring in over 26 million to those cities and counties. These local funds will be allocated from a 26 billion dollar national settlement with just four of the numerous defendants named in this litigation. Smith & Johnson, as counsel of record for 36 cities and counties across Northern Michigan and the Upper Peninsula, is proud of the role it has played to secure funds to reimburse municipalities for the monies spent cleaning up the epidemic these companies created and for future prevention and treatment of opioid addiction in our communities.

The Master Settlement Agreement between the municipalities and these 4 defendants requires the monies to be used for a variety of abatement measures approved by the Federal Court in Cleveland, Ohio. This settlement is the first of its kind to administer resources directly to the state and local governments specifically for relief programs to help rebuild the devastation caused by the opioid epidemic.

The settlement will allow for a broad range of approved abatement uses by state and local governments. Developed in consultation with the nation’s leading public health experts, the list of pre-approved uses includes a wide range of intervention, treatment, education, and recovery services so that state and local governments can decide what will best serve their communities. It is anticipated that entire communities will benefit from the effects of the opioid-remediation efforts funded by the settlements and the injunctive relief the settlements provide.

In addition to monies, the groundbreaking opioid settlement also provides long-term injunctive relief for the state of Michigan. The agreements require vital changes to both distributors’ and manufacturers’ conduct to protect the health and welfare of our communities.

The agreement will result in court orders requiring Cardinal, McKesson, and AmerisourceBergen to:

  • Establish a centralized independent clearinghouse to provide all three distributors and state regulators with aggregated data and analytics about where drugs are going and how often, eliminating blind spots in the current systems used by distributors.
  • Use data-driven systems to detect suspicious opioid orders from customer pharmacies.
  • Terminate customer pharmacies’ ability to receive shipments, and report those companies to state regulators, when they show certain signs of diversion.
  • Prohibit shipping of and report suspicious opioid orders.
  • Prohibit sales staff from influencing decisions related to identifying suspicious opioid orders.
  • Require senior corporate officials to engage in regular oversight of anti-diversion efforts.

The agreement will result in court orders requiring Johnson & Johnson to:

  • Stop selling opioids.
  • Fund or provide grants to third parties for promoting opioids.
  • Not lobby on activities related to opioids.
  • Share clinical trial data under the Yale University Open Data Access Project.

The settlement monies will go a long way towards stemming the current level of opioid abuse and addiction. By changing the way these companies do business, this settlement agreement and injunctive relief will play a role in ensuring that this opioid crisis will never happen again.

The litigation against the remaining defendants in the lawsuit will continue and additional monies from the remaining manufacturers, distributors and retailers are anticipated. For more information, contact Tim Smith of Smith & Johnson Attorneys, P.C. at (231) 946-0700 or

Am I Eligible for Expungement in Michigan Under the New Law?

If your criminal record has been holding you back, you may soon be in luck. Thanks to the “Clean Slate” initiative, up to 1 million Michiganders are going to have an easier time securing employment and housing in the near future by having their records set aside.

Often called expungement, criminal record “set asides” refer to a process whereby convictions are essentially dismissed. This, in turn, provides more opportunities for those who have been held back by their public criminal records.

Governor Gretchen Whitmer signed the “Clean Slate” initiative in October of 2020. Comprised of seven bills, the legislation marks a promising time in history for Michigan residents.

In addition to allowing for the automatic expungement of some misdemeanors and felonies, the new law will permit people to “set aside” criminal records containing most traffic offenses, including first-time OWI convictions in certain scenarios.

It also treats multiple convictions stemming from the same incident as one offense for the purpose of expungement, provided the transgressions occurred within a single 24-hour period. In the past, multiple misdemeanor or felony convictions were ineligible for expungement, regardless of the circumstances.

Finally, Michigan’s new law allows people to petition for the expungement of marijuana-related offenses if said offenses would not have been considered criminal acts after the recreational use of the drug was legalized.

The “Clean Slate” initiative modified the waiting period, as well. Eligible individuals who remain conviction-free can request to set aside misdemeanors after three years, serious misdemeanors or one felony after five years, and multiple felonies after seven years. What’s more, some convictions will be automatically expunged without the affected individual even filing an application.

Like most statutes, however, several exceptions apply. As such, it’s wise to consult an attorney and discuss your unique situation before proceeding with an application.

A knowledgeable criminal defense lawyer can scrutinize your record and let you know whether requesting a set aside could be worthwhile. If it could, they can then assist you with every step of the process.

What About the Clean Slate for Kids?

After signing the package mentioned above, Governor Whitmer signed the “Clean Slate for Kids” initiative. This package aims to help juveniles exit the justice system more easily by sealing their records from public view. It also includes terms for automatically expunging juvenile records for individuals who do not go on to commit future transgressions.

With both initiatives, the hope is that Michiganders who have found themselves on the wrong side of the law can get a second chance. Instead of their past mistakes holding them back, they can go on to thrive while becoming productive members of society.

Speak with a Michigan Criminal Defense Attorney

Wondering if you’re eligible for expungement under the “Clean Slate” initiative? To confirm you are and then determine how best to proceed, turn to Smith & Johnson.

Our tenacious team has been representing Michiganders since 1965, and we’re proud to continue protecting their rights to this day. Call 231-946-0700 or complete our Contact Form to schedule a free initial consultation with an aggressive criminal defense lawyer in Michigan.

Smith & Johnson is proud of the role it played as counsel of record for Grand Traverse and Marquette counties. These two clients are projected to receive nearly 5MM in monies from the recent opioid settlement. S & J represents 36 counties and cities across Northern Michigan who collectively are projected to receive over 26MM from this settlement. Litigation is ongoing against the remaining defendants in that federal litigation with additions monies projected to provide additional monies to these Northern Michigan clients.

Learn more about Marquette County’s settlement here.

What Are the Different Kinds of Child Custody in Michigan?

If you’re facing a child custody battle, you’re probably wondering what the final arrangement will look like. Who will have the kids when? And how will you and your ex handle major decisions on their behalf, like those regarding their education, medical care, or religious upbringing?

Thankfully, once it’s been finalized, a Michigan custody order will address all such questions. To learn more about the various kinds of custody in the state, read on:

Legal Custody

When a parent or other party has legal custody of a child, it means they have the right to make important decisions for him or her. In most arrangements, both parents are awarded legal custody. Generally speaking, a judge will not revoke this right from a parent unless they have a very good reason to do so.

In a joint legal arrangement, parents share the responsibility of making decisions for their children. As such, they must be willing to cooperate with each other and ultimately prioritize their children’s best interests above all else.

In a sole legal arrangement, only one parent has the right to make decisions on behalf of the children. As such, he or she does not have to consult the other before proceeding with any major milestones.

Physical Custody

Physical custody refers to where the children spend their time. When a parent has physical custody, it means the children live with him or her.

In a joint physical arrangement, the children reside with both parents and move between homes on a predictable schedule. Depending on the specifics, one parent may be considered the primary custodian, while the other is considered to have parenting time.

In a sole physical arrangement, the children live with one parent 100 percent of the time, while the other parent may or may not have visitation rights.

As children get older, the court will consider their preferences before awarding physical custody; however, that’s just one of 12 factors they account for, which means it won’t be the deciding factor.

When Parents Share Custody, Does Anyone Have to Pay Child Support?

This is one of the most common questions regarding joint arrangements. The short answer is, probably.

In Michigan, child support obligations are determined using the Michigan Child Support Formula. This formula accounts for all kinds of factors, including each parent’s income and how overnight visits are divided.

In most cases, the parent who has the children for fewer overnights ends up being responsible for paying child support. As for the precise amount of the obligation, that also depends on a host of factors.

Speak with a Michigan Child Custody Lawyer

At Smith & Johnson, we handle all aspects of separation and divorce, including custody disputes. Whether you need help navigating a new issue or you want to modify an existing order, you can count on our tenacious team to advocate for your rights every step of the way. Call 231-946-0700 or submit the Contact Form on our website to schedule a free initial consultation with a child custody attorney in Michigan.