Sunday Thinking: Moments of Perfection

At this time of year, looking out at the lush Michigan vegetation, I am often reminded of one of Shakespeare’s sonnets – No 15, in which he observes that all things, humans included, experience a moment of perfection.  A moment we build toward and from which we decline.   He reflects on physical perfection, but it makes me think also of the various types of perfection that humans achieve.

Physical perfection is reached very early in life – that age when our bodies are magnificent and require no upkeep. Mental perfection, the accuracy and speed of our minds, comes later, probably in our 30’s or maybe 40’s. And then there is an emotional perfection that can come even later in life when our minds are still sharp but also informed by experience; when we can see the landscape and understand more deeply the decisions we make and our relationship to people and things.

And so Olympic athletes are often just children. Great scientists make their mark in mid-life.  But it is the aged grandparent who can best provide judgment-free and  unconditional love. (And, dare I say, the later-in-life lawyer who can give the best counsel.)

In practice, we see clients and their families, and we recognize the different stages of life that they are in. It’s all part of the planning process.  We often think ahead for them about decline, and try to help them anticipate the challenges they will face.  But sometimes I like to remember how they will evolve from where they are now to other moments of perfection.

Read More

Best of 2017

We’ve hit a slow stretch.  Although there have been a slew of cases released by the Court of Appeals since Thanksgiving, none of them seemed blogworthy.  Or maybe it’s just me.  In any event, the year is closing out and accordingly I give you the most popular posts of 2017:

Number one was called “Bloody Thursday.”  This post summarized a three COA opinions all released simultaneously, all addressing Medicaid planning issues, and all holding in favor of the Department of Health and Human Services.

Number two was “MSC Takes Its Shot at Estate Recovery” which reviewed the Michigan Supreme Court’s holding in three combined cases dealing with Medicaid estate recovery, and also holding on the side of the Department of Health and Human Services.

Number three went to “Credit Union Joint Account Cases Messier Yet.”  A COA opinion explaining the burdens and presumptions in play with respect to surviving owners when joint accounts are created at credit unions.

Number four and five were a tie:  “Playing the Sanctions Game in Probate Court” and “Peter’s Principles and Our Evolving Understanding of Exploitation.”  The first is self-explanatory.  The second discusses the work of Dr. Peter Lichtenberg and his research on financial exploitation of vulnerable adults.

Finally, the winner in the touchy feely category for 2017 was “Resisting the Bucket List Mirage (aka More Naps Would be Good)“.

Thanks for reading.  Happy New Year.

Read More

Writing is not about perfect

I write a lot and enjoy it. I have thoughts about the topic of writing, which, for what they’re worth, I offer here:

Writing is a habit.

I started writing at an early age, and spent a decade as a journalist before becoming a lawyer. I often think that if there was one thing I was given that I would love to have given to my daughters, it would be those ten years of sitting at a typewriter (yes, this was before desktop computers took over).  It was work then, but as I moved into the practice of law, I found that I missed that regular time at the keyboard.  So now writing is a habit for me and, like many habits, it is comforting to do it.

Writing is lonely

I have this idea about all undertakings, that the more you talk about it, the less likely it is to come to fruition. It’s like spoken words are the steam that once escaped from the engine, leave inadequate energy to make the grade.  In writing, more than anything else, I find that to be true.  If I talk about a topic I have on my mind, it becomes harder to write about it.  The ideas become fuzzy and my motivation to get it out dissipates. So, for me at least, I keep my ideas to myself until I can organize them and capture them on paper.  I don’t think I’m unique in that – but maybe.

With repetition comes your voice

I believe writing is difficult for people who have not done much of it because they haven’t developed their written voice. It took me many years of writing to get to the point where I could write quickly and clearly; and years more before I felt that I could write quickly, clearly and that the words could convey nuance and suggestion. Now writing is not effortless, but it is not difficult.  It is more like speaking.

Writing has weight

Growing up my Dad would say that people who write have more influence. He was not a writer.  I think he said it out of frustration.  Someone else’s ideas may not be any better than his, but because they had published their ideas somewhere, they just seemed smarter and more insightful.  For a long time I never thought much about his observation.  Now I get what he meant.  For whatever reason, people give more weight to written words than they do to spoken words.  Permanence perhaps.  Things said vanish.  Things written remain.

Writing is not about perfect

Every time I write something I rework it many times before I feel it is ready to go. But I know that if I looked at it again, I would change it again.  Yet there comes a point when the project needs to be done – and I need to be done with it.  It is never perfect, but maybe good enough.  I think people who are inhibited to write feel that what they write has to be perfect. Writing is not about perfect, it’s about done.

Read More

Back from the UP, Reading Ford

I guess this post is about Michigan. It should be a Sunday post – but I’m on vacation so:

Like most native Michiganders, I love the U.P. and thanks to Susan Wideman and Paul Sturgul for allowing me to present to the Elder Law for Yoopers Program this past weekend.   There’s just something about crossing the bridge – maybe it is too much to compare it to Mecca, but certainly for Michiganders, it is good for the spirit to get up there once every few years.

My wife, Susan (pictured above on the Lake Superior shore), is reading to me – a fine biography of Henry Ford, which we continued while in Marquette. We’re almost done.

In my nearly sixty years, I have experienced much good and bad in our great State. I remember the riots.  I remember the invasion of Japanese cars.  I have witnessed the decline of the high quality of life that working class people once enjoyed here.  But what remains, what endures about our State, is no small thing.  How can you stand on the shores of Lake Superior and not feel a sense of pride and awe?

I accept that Michigan is a place of decline, at least as defined by political prominence and financial strength. I appreciate the Detroit comeback mantra – but have heard that mantra all my life – yet as I drive downtown I see that the houses along the Lodge remain burned out and abandoned. Perhaps that will change some day.  I hope so.

I think of the process in terms of Henry Ford. He was born here.  And because of that simple fact, Michigan became the center of the greatest industry of that age.  The age of transportation and consumerism were both triggered by his ingenuity – and he knew exactly what he was doing.  Amazing.  We have lived on his vision for 100 years, and now we survive on the last few trickles of his blood.  We are winding down.  I think that when Henry Ford was the most well-known person in America, and Detroit was the center of the new age, there were people in far flung places who looked on with envy – and people in far flung places who looked on with “meh – let them have it.”

We have had as a speaker at several probate institutes, Michael Giflix, a founding member of the NAELA (the National Association of Elder Law Attorneys) who remains a leading light in probate and elder law. He practices in Palo Alto, but he is a native Michigander.  It is always nice to see Michael enjoy Michigan when he comes to visit.  He talks about his office, down the street from the Google headquarters, and around the corner from Apple’s.  That is the center of the new age industry.  Steve Jobs and Bill Gates were born there.  A small part of me thinks it would be fun to be there in this time, but standing on the shores of Lake Superior my first instinct is reinforced: “meh – let them have it.”

Read More

Resisting the Bucket List Mirage (aka More Naps Would be Good )

I talk to a lot of my clients, as well as professional colleagues, who are roughly in my age range (58). While some of them know exactly when they plan to retire (if they haven’t already), and what they plan to do; many of them are like me – unsure about whether retirement is a good idea.

We are living longer. And even if we can afford not to work for the next 30+ years, the real question is whether we will be happy if we walk away from the challenges that have engaged us for so long.  Will we be happy on the beach, on the golf course, traveling, watching television, watching the grandchildren, or volunteering in our communities?

Many feel pushed to make a decision; encouraged to “let it go.” The whole process can become stressful, filled with anxiety.  We hesitate.  And some of us simply resist.

We are confronted with the seemingly unimpeachable proposition that we must “do it now” before we’re too old and decrepit to enjoy the things “we really want to do.” Like what?  I ask.  Spend more time travelling and staying in hotels? Eating out more? Or is the plan simply to “be more involved” with your grandchildren?

I’ve had grandchildren (one of whom is pictured above) for 5+ years. Love ‘em to death – but here’s what I’ve learned:  They ain’t my kids, and raising them ain’t my business.  And I don’t want it to be.  I had my shot at parenting – gave myself a C or C-.  Maybe I could do better with a second chance – but no one is asking me to try – and in truth, I don’t have the energy or inclination.  Sure, there’s a role for grandparents – but it’s small one.

Retirement.  Bucket List.  It’s all a soul-sucking mirage.

OK.  I recognize my perspective on retirement isn’t shared by everyone – and the soul-sucking part may be overselling it.  But I’ve also come to realize that I am not alone.  Seems to me that there are a lot of people struggling with these same issues.  It’s a hard decision with big implications.  In any event, retired or not, I’ll tell you what would be good: more naps.

Read More

Pins and Pictures

map w pins 3

I struck up a conversation with a woman sitting next to me on a bench in a courtroom in Mio Michigan this week. I asked her if she had any photographs of the stories she was telling me.

“Yes” she said “in my mind.”

Ah. The best kind.

From 1940 – 1954 her father was the sheriff of Oscoda County. In those few minutes while we waited for a hearing to start she shared some of those photographs with me.  A picture of her as a child pushing meals through a slot in the jail cell to the prisoners – meals that her mother, the cook and undersheriff, had prepared.  A picture of the hearse picking up people injured in car accidents because the county didn’t have an ambulance.  A picture of a boy weeping uncontrollably after shooting someone in a hunting accident.

I have often felt like photographs are both good and bad. They capture something of an event, but there is more that they don’t capture.  Photos are fixed.  Life is much richer and more dynamic. And often, when you are left with photographs from events, there is a corrupting inclination for the real memory to be absorbed by the fixed image.  I think that, for most things, it is better to have a memory than a photograph.  I suspect I am not alone in this belief. I think the woman I met in Mio shared my bias.

So I have pins, instead of photographs.

It was my first visit to the court in Mio – a big deal to me – it meant I got to put a new pin on my map for Oscoda County. The photo above is of my map. Yellow pins are the counties where I have been in court.  Blue pins are for our offices.  I have been in two counties in the UP, but the map doesn’t show those.

I have been a lawyer for 20+ years. I have managed a firm for most of those years.  I have driven more than 300,000 miles in two Buicks and a Ford, crisscrossing this spectacular State of ours. Michigan.  My home.  I’ve been in court in most of the counties in Michigan.  Not all of them.  Still some new courts to go to.  I’m not done yet – I hope.

But I think that when I am done – when all the cases and conflicts are washed away, when a thousand briefs and business decisions are forgotten, this is what I will hold onto – the pictures in my mind of the things I saw, and the pictures I saw and feelings I felt because they were shared with me from the memories of the people I met. Pins  – and photographs – the very best kind.

Read More

Top Post Countdown for 2016

goodbye 2016

Because I knew you were curious, following are the plantobe100 posts that got the most views in 2016. To re-read these posts, just click on the name.

Honorable mention (sixth place) goes to the only touchy feely post to break the top ten. We Do Grow Young Again

Fifth Place was about the Court of Appeals case that looked at what happens when a person deemed incapable of making their own medical decisions revokes their patient advocate designation. Roush II: The Plot Thickens

Fourth place was about Michigan’s Medicaid Estate Recovery program. Estate Recovery Timing Clarified

Second place went to the recent post about Michigan’s domestic asset protection trust legislation. Lame Duck Legislature Lays Golden Egg – Big Time

The most frequently viewed post of the year, as well as the third most viewed post, both involved the new law allowing Michiganders to select a funeral representative. They were:  Long Sought Funeral Fix Awaits Signing, and MFDA Chimes in on Funeral Rep Law.

There were over 12,000 views on plantobe100 in 2016.

And Hey. If I don’t post anything more this year- happy holidays and THANKS for reading.

Read More

Sunday Morning Story: The Office in Abilene

Amys chairs cropped

Last week we had an open house for our Southfield Office. Please stop by sometime.  We’re at 26211 Central Park Blvd., Suite 200.

And while you’re there, you might notice that Amy Tripp’s office has some unusual decorations, including the cowhide chairs pictured above, as well as a poster of the John Wayne movie Red River.  If you have nothing better to do with the next ten minutes, here’s the story on that:

For those of you who don’t know, in Red River, Tom Dunson (played by John Wayne) sets out to start a cattle ranch in Texas. He heads west with a wagon train, but when he senses that the time is right, he leaves the wagon train and goes out on his own (with one old farmhand and one bull).  He soon runs across a child who has one cow with him (Matthew Garth).  Dunson takes on Garth and his cow.

Fast forward twenty years and the herd is huge, but they are a thousand miles away from any market (railroad station) at which the cattle could be sold. Hence, a cattle drive that no one has ever attempted, across territories fraught with danger.

They start out toward Sedalia (Missouri) where they know they can sell the cattle, but along the way they hear of a train into Abilene (Kansas), which, if true, would mean that they could significantly reduce the drive and avoid many of the most dangerous territories. The question is whether they continue on to Sedalia or redirect the herd to Abilene.

The two strong-willed cattlemen, old Dunson and young Garth, disagree on the direction of the herd. Dunson says they continue to Sedalia.  Garth is persuaded that they should take a chance on Abilene.  Until now, Garth has deferred to Dunson to make all the decisions, but he holds his ground, and, supported by the other cattle hands, drives off Dunson and takes command of the herd.  They continue to Abilene where there is a train, and the herd is sold – but Dunson returns with a posse and engages in a brutal fight with Garth.  Before one of them gets killed, Dunson realizes the error of his ways, acknowledges his love for Garth and the wise decision Garth made in redirecting the herd. Everyone makes up – and it’s all good.

For Amy and me, the movie captures much of what we have gone through in building this firm – the brutal disagreements, the difficult challenges we’ve faced, but also the unwavering trust we have had in each other that has always pulled us through. When things have been especially rough, we have re-watched our favorite movie, to remind ourselves that, in the end, our relationship and all that we’ve worked so hard to accomplish are more important than any disagreements – which at that moment seemed so crucial.

Unlike the prior offices we’ve opened, in which I have been intimately involved, opening the Southfield office was primarily Amy (and Chris Smith). I was happy to remain outside the metro Detroit area – Amy realized the time had come to go there. So, now we have an office in Southfield – or as Amy and I like to say: an office in Abilene

Read More

Estate Recovery Percolates in COA

In yet another unpublished Court of Appeals decision on the topic of estate recovery, the COA upholds a result previously announced in the Keyes case (discussed in prior posts). This case is one in a string of cases dealing with the timing that a Medicaid beneficiary received notice of the State’s estate recovery program, and the argument that the program as implemented violates constitutional due process rights – an argument that has been rejected by the appellate court.  To read the case, click here.

All is not lost for estate recovery zealots; the Michigan Supreme Court has signaled that it is willing to look at some issues related to the implementation of the estate recovery program. More on that later.

Read More