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Estate Planning

Varnum assists families in preserving, managing and transferring acquired wealth

At Varnum, we believe that each person has a vision for life and the legacy he or she will leave behind. The vision changes and matures, but at any one time it is expressed as an objective or goals for the future. It often includes an element of financial well-being, perhaps centered on the need to preserve, manage and transfer acquired wealth. The vision may include a desire to assist family members and other loved ones to enable them to achieve their potential and their own visions. People also look to give back to the community that helped them succeed through charitable giving.

The estate planning services offered by Varnum provide a unique opportunity to share the hopes and expectations that make up your vision for the future.

Partner with Your Attorney

Through confidential discussions, you are able to explore opportunities and ideas. The emphasis is on building a relationship between you and your attorney – a partnership that may be relied upon long after the vision has been set down in writing. You and your attorney will spend time discussing your estate plan objectives and dealing with important issues, such as:

  • Establishing a plan to accomplish your personal and financial objectives
  • Providing financial security for your family and ensuring that dependents are cared for
  • Reducing the tax burden on your survivors by taking advantage of opportunities
  • Avoiding probate
  • Establishing a succession plan for a family business
  • Establishing a succession plan for a family cottage
  • Exploring options for charitable giving

Service and Experience

As one of the largest estate planning practices in the state, we will ensure that you receive attentive, timely and committed personal service. Our knowledge of the most sophisticated tax and planning techniques permits us to offer a broad range of services to fit your needs, ranging from the simplest plans to the most complex:

  • Wills
  • Trusts
  • Durable powers of attorney
  • Living wills and patient advocate designations
  • Gift planning
  • Succession planning for closely held companies
  • Succession planning for family cottages
  • Retirement distribution planning and IRAs
  • Charitable giving
  • Private foundations
  • Guardianships and conservatorships
  • Marital agreements


Death and taxes are notorious as two things in life we can count on. In fact, the estate tax includes some of the highest tax rates we face today. Through technology and continuing legal education, our attorneys maintain their position as strong leaders in the field of estate planning. We work continuously to ensure that you have an opportunity to explore the most creative and effective techniques in use today to achieve your vision:

  • Generation-skipping trusts
  • Irrevocable life insurance trusts
  • Charitable trusts
  • Qualified personal residence trusts
  • Grantor-retained annuity trusts
  • Planning for retirement
  • Family limited liability companies and partnerships

Whatever your estate planning needs, our attorneys are committed to providing you with the appropriate plan for your needs. We know this means more than just the right documents. We provide summaries, analyses and visual graphics to help illustrate the plan your technical legal documents create.

Cottage Law

The family cottage: The image conjures thoughts of relaxing under a shady stand of oaks, splashing in the lake, and the distinct smell of a campfire. A cottage is often an individual’s most important asset, if not from a financial standpoint, then certainly from an emotional one.

Deciding how future generations will benefit from the family cottage is often difficult. Yet appropriate planning will allow a family to enjoy the cottage for generations.

Issues to consider include:

  • Tax Issues, such as estate taxes, property taxes and uncapping-event avoidance
  • Passage of the cottage down to future generations: legal entities to own cottage, family member participation, scheduling, maintenance and rules for use
  • Boundary issues, such as riparian bottomlands ownership, and dry-land dispute

At Varnum, we can guide you through the steps of planning for your cottage, offering sound advice and unique techniques to allow you to pass the cottage on to future generations.

Elder Law

Varnum’s elder law attorneys work with individuals and families to discuss and establish plans regarding health and long-term care planning, the legal capacity of the elder, decision-making, estate planning, and public benefits (which include Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security).

When advising on these issues, our attorneys will be able to discuss, explain and implement plans for:

  • Preparation of powers of attorney, patient advocate and guardianship
  • Collection of information and verification for Medicaid applications and Medicaid asset declaration
  • Wills, trusts and probate of estates
  • Reviewing and re-titling assets to at-home spouse
  • Discussion and counseling regarding to asset strategies

Whatever your needs, our attorneys are committed to providing you the appropriate plan.

Estate Administration

We offer a wide range of probate and trust administration services upon the disability or death of a client. Some of the most important work we do is in this area. These situations present difficult problems to our clients. We see our role as that of family counselor, striving to assist our clients in a time of great need.

Administration work typically involves gathering assets and important documents, assisting individual fiduciaries in valuing estate assets, preparing appropriate tax returns, and generally ensuring that our client’s wishes are followed. Often, the administration process also presents the opportunity to do postmortem planning, which can be useful in further minimizing tax and probate exposure.

Our experience in the decedent estate area has taught us to recognize the signs of difficult family dynamics that often arise after the death of a loved one. Unfortunately, these dynamics occasionally lead to serious disputes and even litigation. Our goal, of course, is to avoid such conflicts, but when such disputes prove unavoidable, we utilize our trial team’s litigation expertise to protect our clients’ interests.

Family Office Services

Varnum’s family office services are offered in conjunction with our legal and personal trustee services. Through these services, we serve as a virtual business office for our clients and their families, assisting in the coordination of personal and family financial matters. Our first objective is to aid our clients and their families in establishing long-term financial goals. As your advisor, we coordinate, implement, integrate and monitor the professional services required to meet these goals. We work with other valued family advisors, including investment and insurance professionals, tax advisors, and bank trustees. Our ability to work with your family advisors objectively, efficiently and effectively is one of our core strengths.

Included among our family office services are the following:

  • Service as trustee (see Personal Trust Services)
  • Wealth planning
  • Estate planning
  • Philanthropic planning
  • Coordination of implementation of major initiatives such as sale of a major asset or a major estate plan revision
  • Assistance with selection and periodic review of insurance services
  • Income, gift and estate tax services
  • Bill payment and concierge services (for client or parent of client)
  • Family financial matters

Our family office fees are customized for each client based on the number and depth of services desired by the client and a variety of other factors. Fees are generally a fixed periodic amount. Our commitment is to be fair and to always strive to provide our clients with value commensurate with or greater than the fees for our services.

Estate planning and other personal legal services may be included with family office services in one fixed fee if so desired.

Personal Trust Services

Our lawyers and professional trustees serve personally as trustees (or co-trustees) for our clients. The trusts we serve hold marketable securities, shares of closely held businesses, commercial and residential real estate, insurance, and other illiquid and tangible assets.

Our trustee services include:

  • Serving as trustee of a complete array of trusts, which our clients create
  • Trust administration
  • Safekeeping of assets (using the custodian and investment advisor of the client’s choice for marketable securities)
  • Investment performance review and analysis
  • Record-keeping and reporting
  • Assisting with the coordination of the client’s other professional services, such as investment, tax, legal and insurance

We are also able to act as personal representative or co-personal representative for an estate.

What distinguishes Varnum’s trust services from other trustee options?

Objectivity: We work with clients to select and review the performance of investment advisors and managers. We do not provide investment management services ourselves. Further, we do not sell financial products, accept referral fees or otherwise participate in the fees our clients’ trusts pay investment advisors.

Contacts: We are familiar with a variety of strong local, regional and national options for financial advisory services.

Team Approach: At a minimum, two experienced professionals, plus appropriate support staff, are assigned to each relationship to enhance ongoing service commitments and accountability. Our goal is to establish and maintain a close personal and professional relationship with the client and the client’s family. This relationship enables us to understand and help clients identify their goals and needs and then work with our clients to meet those goals and needs.

Experience: Varnum trustees are senior, experienced professionals – full-time professional trustees or partners in the firm’s estate planning group. The trustees take personal responsibility for the delivery of our services. We provide trust services this way to make our services both personal and confidential, which is how we operate as attorneys.

Continuity: When a successor trustee is needed, the client is consulted to ensure that any new Varnum trustee is someone with whom the client will be comfortable. The client is never assigned to someone without prior consultation.

Flexible and Customized Service: We provide services tailored to meet each client family’s unique needs, not a prescribed menu of products and services we hope to sell because we happen to offer them. We have technology to help track investment performance within each trust and to prepare clients with consolidated reports, but these are only tools. We strive to provide each client with the information he or she wants in a format the client prefers for his or her trusts.

Fees and Value: Our trustee fees are customized for each client, based on the depth of service desired by the client and other factors. Fees are generally a fixed periodic amount. Our commitment is to be fair and to always strive to provide our clients with value commensurate with or greater than the fees for our services.

Pet Trusts

Ever increasingly recognized as members of the family, our pets provide us with laughter, joy and unconditional love. While many animals have shorter life spans than humans, we undertake estate planning because we do not know what life will bring. Assuming that our pet will outlive us puts them in a very vulnerable position.

Thinking about what could happen to your pet if you die or become incapacitated is difficult, but appropriate planning can ensure that your pet’s future is secure.

Issues to consider include:

  • Caretakers: Who will care for the pet if you are unable?
  • Funds: How much will it cost for your pet to enjoy the same care that you provide for the remainder of the pet’s life, and which assets or vehicles will finance this care?
  • Trustees: Who will be in charge of managing and distributing funds for your pet’s care?
  • Other beneficiaries: Who will receive any assets remaining when your pet has passed away?

At Varnum, we can guide you through the steps of planning for your pet’s future, providing you with peace of mind in knowing that your pet is protected.

Probate Litigation

Varnum offers experienced assistance in a diverse range of probate and estate matters, including:

  • Will contests
  • Trust litigation
  • Guardianships
  • Mental health proceedings

Death and disability are never easy. They are made more difficult when family members or beneficiaries find themselves at odds. When disagreements result in disputes over a will, a family’s estate or trust, or concerns about the mental or physical well-being of a family member, an already difficult situation becomes even more complicated for the people involved. Sometimes, these disputes can be resolved with thoughtful, comprehensive negotiation. Other times, such disputes find their way into the probate court system. In either case, the course of such matters can bring added stress at a time of personal loss.

The Probate Litigation Practice Team provides skilled lawyers, who are both experienced negotiators and personal advocates, to guide each client through all phases of these difficult matters. Varnum’s service does not stop when a case is decided, however. With more than 100 additional lawyers skilled in estate planning, tax law, real estate and other business issues, Varnum can also help each client take steps designed to prevent such disputes from happening to his or her family in the future.

Varnum’s estate planning team advises on matters for high-net-worth clients including trusts, succession planning and charitable planning. Sources say: “Varnum is an excellent firm” with “a strong team.”

Chambers High Net Worth

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