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I’ve got a feeling

The big news at our firm is that James P. Spica is joining Chalgian and Tripp as of September 1.

The big news in my personal life is that I turned 60 years-old a few weeks back.

Looking for Adventure

Jim is leaving the silk stocking firm of Dickinson Wright, a firm that is well over 100 years-old, and which has more than 400 lawyers; to join what is little more than a startup – albeit a rather successful one, if I do say so myself.

Why would he make such a move? You ask.

I asked.

He said: adventure.


I’ve been feeling my age lately, and wondering if the days of tilting at windmills were behind me. Then suddenly a colleague and contemporary shows me the light.  Having Jim join the firm is awesome in so many ways, but on a personal note, his sense of adventure is reinvigorating.


Jim is a creative lawyer of the scholarly variety. His love is writing, analyzing, and making new law.  He’s had a hand in every major development in Michigan trust law for more than decade:  our modified rule against perpetuities, decanting statutes, and divided and directed trustees – to name a few.

We are good (very good I think) at mining the unexplored and cutting edge regions of probate law, estate planning, elder law, and special needs.

The idea of combining these two energies, of bringing Jim’s creativity into these new arenas – down to the people, as it were – is beyond exciting.

Of All the Gin Joints in All the World

I’ve known Jim for years. Through our professional activities we’ve shared dinner and conversation more than once. But I didn’t really know or understand Jim until recently.  And now that I do, I’m feeling a bit like Humphrey Bogart at the end of Casablanca; a feeling that this may be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Let’s Talk About Medicaid Changes

Chalgian and Tripp will be putting on a series of conversations about recent changes to Medicaid planning rules, including the impact of the Hegadorn decision, the status of SBO Trusts, and the latest considerations regarding homestead treatment and protective orders.

There will be a program in Saginaw (August 20), with the discussion led by David Shaltz and Joe Weiler; and a program in Southfield (August 29), with the discussion led by David Shaltz and Sara Schimke.  A third program is being planned for Jackson, although the date has not been confirmed.  The plan is for David Shaltz and Amy Tripp to lead the conversation in Jackson.

To sign up for the Saginaw program: click here.

To sign up for the Southfield program: click here.

To get on the waiting list for the Jackson program, send an email with your contact information to

These programs are for lawyers and other professionals involved in Medicaid planning. Seating will be limited. There is no charge. Registration is required.

I hope you will join us.

My Million Marbles Memories

This occurred some years ago, when I had more time, the firm was so much smaller, and the types of cases I handled and clients I saw were more diverse. I miss those days, but life goes on and we can’t have everything.  What I have now is good too.

I don’t remember her name, or where she lived, but I do recall visiting her in her home in a trailer park.

She was old and she was dying.

She said she needed a will. So we talked.

I don’t like the word passion. I think it’s overused. To my way of thinking, the popular notion that everyone has a passion and they just need to find it, is unhelpful.  Rather, I’ve come to believe that there are passionate people, and there are people who lack that quality; and then there are people who have a lot of issues or insecurities that prompts behavior which can be mistaken for passion.  Not a judgment, just an observation.

So, this woman had a thing, call it a passion if you must, but her thing was collecting marbles.

She said she had a million marbles. Her home was full of them, stored in any variety of containers, and incredibly, she explained, if we pulled up the floor boards to her trailer, we would find marbles stashed underneath.  She said that they had to reinforce the foundation of her trailer to support the weight of all the marbles.

We talked about her family, her estate planning objectives, and she educated me about marbles, almost all of which knowledge I have since forgotten.

I don’t recall if I went to her home a second time for the signing. But I know that at some subsequent time, an assortment of marbles arranged in a mushroom shaped jar (pictured above) was delivered to me.  I was told that these marbles had been especially selected for me by the woman.  Perhaps she liked my company, or perhaps I didn’t charge her for the will and she considered this my payment.  That fact, I also do not recall.

I’ve kept this jar in my private work area, and have noted it many times over the years. I don’t take the marbles out and I don’t play with them, but at times just seeing the jar causes me to remember the woman in her trailer surrounded by all her marbles,  and also to remember how my practice used to be, what I’ve lost and what I’ve gained.

So, Dear Ms. Marble Lady: Thanks for the marbles – and the memories that I’ve stored with them in your mushroom shaped jar.

Wrapping up 2018 on

Another year and another bevy of interesting developments in Michigan probate law.

An update: In lame duck session, both houses of the Michigan legislature passed the Michigan version of the Uniform Directed Trustee Act, and the law was signed by the Governor.  I discussed this important new law in the recent post: The Next Big Thing in Michigan Trust Law (click on the name to read the post), which also appears as #5 in the list below.

For the record, the five posts (click on the name to go to the post) with the most traffic in 2018 were:

  1. Medicaid Planners Get Rare Win from COA.
  2. Practice Alert: Homeowners’ Coverage Doesn’t Extend to Trust
  3. Storm Clouds in Elder Law Land
  4. Phone App “document” is Valid Will in Michigan
  5. The Next Big Thing in Michigan Trust Law

I realize the trend has been for me to write more frequently about appellate cases as they come out, maybe less ramblings about the law and practice generally. I hope that’s ok.  In any event, that seems to be where my interest lies. It could change.

Thanks for reading. Happy New Year.

The Year I Lost My Innocence – Again

I will remember 2018 as the year we celebrated my mentor’s 80th birthday, and I was able to share publicly the love and appreciation I have for him.

I will remember 2018 as the year I sponsored two incredible young people to be admitted to the legal profession.

I will remember 2018 as the year I met an elderly client who sounded like Gomer Pyle and who was proud of the fact that he had only kissed one woman in his life, the woman he married and had recently nursed through a long final illness. And when I told the young lawyers in my office that the client sounded like Gomer Pyle, they told me they didn’t know who Gomer Pyle was, and upon further inquiry, they didn’t know who Don Knox was either.

I will remember 2018 as the year a client tried to explain to me that in losing her life partner, she had the inexplicable sense that she had lost 80% of what was her life, and yet was left with 80%.

Judge Brennan’s Passing

I read about Judge Tom Brennan’s passing with sadness. I met him once under very unusual circumstances. He was more than gracious.

I am a Cooley grad. I know many fine lawyers who are as well.

Yes, Michael Cohen, is a Cooley grad; but so is Judge Aqualina.

Read more here:




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.

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.

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.