Breaking News from Lichterman Law – Firm Announcement

The Greek philosopher Heraclitus once said, “[t]he only constant is change.” Maybe you’ve heard or experienced that before, or maybe you try to avoid Greek philosophers . . . whatever your situation may be, we are surrounded by change in our daily lives. For goodness sake, we live in Michigan. If anyone is familiar with change, it’s us Michiganders when it comes to weather.

And in my life I’ve experienced many changes, as I’m sure you have. Some great, some good, and some not quite as good. And as I look back, I’m thankful in a way for each one . . . I’ve certainly learned a lot. And that leads me to my next change . . .

. . . effective July 1, 2013, I will be joining the law firm of Bolhouse, Baar & Hofstee in Grandville. For some who read this, the change may come as a shock. Many of you know that I truly love what I do. As cliché as it may sound, I feel Estate Planning and Business Planning are my calling as an attorney. I mean, why else would I read and learn more about it on evenings and weekends, right? ☺ And anyone who knows me well, knows that I don’t jump to decisions quickly . . . if anything, I tend on the long side when making decisions (some would call it OCD . . . I like to call it “detail oriented”). The recent addition of Medicaid planning to my practice areas is a good example.

If I were reading this I would wonder, “so, Mike, why did you decide to join another firm.” The short answer is because I want to spend more time with clients and reaching out to families and businesses in West Michigan – I love sharing time and working with folks. But, as the “chief cook and bottle washer” (a phrase my dad uses), much, if not most, of my time over the past 4 years has been spent on administrative duties of owning/running a business. Turns out that a law practice is not unlike most other small businesses in that regard.

The other main reason is that it helps me address the single most common question clients have asked me about my practice – “what happens if something happens to you?” It’s not only a fair question; it’s a very good one. Being part of a caring firm will help my client families have added peace of mind, knowing that if something happens to me, I have caring colleagues familiar with my practice who can come along side you if something comes up.

And yes, there may be other possible solutions. After praying about it and talking with my family, pastor, and key mentors in my life, I determined that joining a firm provides my clients with the best solution.

I imagine the next question is, “why Bolhouse, Baar & Hofstee?” The short answer: their attorneys are excellent, well respected, and both attorneys and staff are truly caring people. You know, the kind of folks you just “hit it off with.” You see, over the past year I’ve been approached by several firms about joining their practice. But, after many meetings, discussions, and prayer, I just didn’t feel any were a good fit for the way I practice and the client families I serve. That is, none except Bolhouse, Baar & Hofstee.

So, with that as the background, the official switchover will be on July 1st. After the switchover, I will still be spending much of my time at my current office at 5252 Clyde Park, but I will also spend time and meet with client families at Bolhouse, Baar & Hofstee’s office in downtown Grandville (in the historic Grandville State Bank building). You’ll still be able to use the same phone number for a period of time (or you can use (616) 531-7711) and my new email address will be My fax number will be (616) 531-7757. All should be “up and running” on July 1st.

I’m looking forward to the future and to having you continue to be part of our wonderful client family. The privilege is mine, I assure you. If you have any questions about this change, or anything at all, please call or email me. I welcome the conversation!


Michael Lichterman is an estate planning and charitable planning attorney who helps families and business owners create a lasting legacy by planning for their Whole Family Wealth™This goes beyond merely planning for “stuff” – it’s about who your are and what’s important to you.  He focuses on estate, charitable, and asset protection planning for all generations (“young” and “experienced”), the “sandwich generation” (caring for parents and children), doctors/physicians, nurses, lawyers, dentists, professionals with minor children, family owned businesses, and pet planning.  He enjoys creating life long relationships with his clients centered on their family’s values, insights, stories and experiences.

Tips From Your Silent Michigan Millionaire Neighbor

Almost everything I post has something to do with estate planning or business planning, which shouldn’t be surprising given what I do for a living, right?!  Well, I received such an overwhelmingly positive response back from my e-newsletter this week that I decided to post most of it here.  Sure, it doesn’t have much to do with estate planning or business planning (except a little bit at the end), but I hope you find it valuable nonetheless like many of my e-newsletter readers did.  And if you want to receive my weekly e-newsletter, just contact me and let me know.

Although having a million bucks isn’t what it once was, it’s still a VERY sizable chunk of security that I’m sure any of us wouldn’t mind having. In fact, Reuters recently reported that in 2009, there were 7.8 million millionaires in the United States.  Surprising?  It was to me.

That’s a lot of people!  And the odds are one or two of them are living near you.  One of them might even be your neighbor.  In fact, the odds are very good that it is your neighbor.

“But, Mike, you don’t know my neighbor.  That family doesn’t look anything like a millionaire.”

Well, guess what?  The suburban millionaire neighbor called (yes, we go way back) and we had a nice little chat. And here are a few things they shared with me–but apparently don’t want to let out of the bag.  (No offense, I’m sure.)  I write that in jest . . . actually these are nuggets I’ve garnered from books and articles I’ve read. And let me tell you, I’ve made almost every single one of these mistakes so I’m writing to myself (yet again) and still haven’t put all of them into practice.  I hope you find this as helpful as I did.

1. They always spends less than they earn. In fact their financial approach is, over the long run, you’re better off if you strive to be anonymously rich rather than deceptively poor.

2. They know that patience is truth. The odds are you won’t become financially wealthy overnight.  If you’re like them, your financial wealth will be accumulated gradually by diligently saving your money over multiple decades. (Don’t forget about your “intangible” wealth either – who you are and what’s important to you!  We all have that in abundance!)

3.  When you go to their modest three-bed two-bath house, you’re going to be drinking Folgers instead of Starbucks.  And if you need a lift, well, you’re going to get a ride in his ten-year-old economy sedan.  And if you think that makes them cheap, ask them if they care. (They don’t.)

4. They pay off their credit cards in full every month.  They understand that if they can’t afford to pay cash for something, then they can’t afford it.

5. They realized early on that money does not buy happiness. Rather, you need to focus on attaining financial freedom.

6. They understands that money is like a toddler; it is incapable of managing itself.  After all, you can’t expect your money to grow and mature as it should without some form of credible money management.

7. They’re big believers in paying yourself first. It’s an essential tenet of personal finance and a great way to build your savings and instill financial discipline.

8. Although it’s possible to gain financial wealth if you spend your life making a living doing something you don’t enjoy, they wonder why you do.  Life is too short.

9. They also know that the few millionaires that reached that milestone without a plan got there only because of dumb luck.  It’s not enough to simply declare that you want to be financially free. This is not a “Secret.”

10. When it came time to set their savings goals, they weren’t afraid to think big. Financial independence demands that you have a vision that is significantly larger than you can currently deliver upon.

11. They realize that stuff happens, that’s why it’s a mistake if you don’t insure yourself against risk. Remember that the potential for bankruptcy is always just around the corner for all of us and can be triggered from multiple sources: the death of the family’s key bread winner, divorce, or disability that leads to a loss of work.

12. They understand that time is an ally of the young. They were fortunate enough to begin saving in their twenties so they could take maximum advantage of the power of compounding interest on their nest egg.

13. They’re not impressed that others drive an over-priced luxury car and live in a McMansion that’s two sizes too big for their family of four. Little about external “signals” of wealth actually matter to them.

14. After six months of asking, they finally quit waiting for the return of their pruning shears.  They broke down and bought a new pair last month.  There’s no hard feelings though; they can afford it.

15. They don’t pay taxes and fees which could have been avoided with a simple phone call. They plan ahead before trouble strikes. Oh, and here’s the number they call to keep their family taken care of: (616) 827-7596 (that’s us 🙂)

Michael Lichterman is an estate planning attorney who helps families and business owners create a lasting legacy by planning for their Whole Family Wealth™.  This goes beyond merely planning for finances – it’s about who your are and what’s important to you.  He focuses on planning for  the “experienced” generation, the “sandwich generation” (caring for parents and children), doctors/physicians, nurses, lawyers, dentists, professionals with minor children, and family owned business succession – and he is privileged to do so from a Christian perspective.  He takes the “counselor” part of attorney and counselor at law very seriously, and enjoys creating life long relationships with his clients – many of which have become great friends.

Things My Clients Taught Me

I recently read a great post by an estate planning colleague of mine in Oregon, Candice Aiston. Because Candice and I work with clients in much the same, relationship-based way, it was no surprise to me that I’ve learned from my clients many of the same things she has learned from hers.  Given the hustle and bustle right now and my belief that I couldn’t improve on her excellent post, I’m re-posting it here for you with her permission.  Let me know what you think!

Things My Clients Taught Me

Every time I get through a client’s estate planning process, I leave having learned something new. I learn what’s important to them and I learn about the characteristics they have that make them so successful in life. Most families that plan with me record a message to their children, and as they talk to their kids, I gain so much insight about what is important to these families. The families are all different when it comes to wealth, religion, political stance, occupations, and interests/hobbies. But they all have a few different things in common that I’ve noticed over the past few years. The characteristics are apparent throughout our entire planning process. Here are a few:

1. It’s all about priorities.

My clients are all very successful, especially in their family lives. I think this is largely due to the fact that they all have their priorities in the right order. At our first meeting, I hear my clients talk about their families. They tell me how they met their partners and they tell me about their kids. Sometimes the meeting is very emotionally charged, because we face worst-case scenarios and talk about their worst fears. They are there because taking care of their family is a priority, even if they were no longer here. Most of them feel that they’ve put off the planning for too long, and that it’s time to finally get it done. The best story I have heard about priorities came from a colleague of mine, whose clients (parents of young children) decided to use their vacation savings to pay for their estate plan. They decided that the planning was so important that a vacation could wait a little longer. (I have to admit, that would be a tough one for me. Luckily, many attorneys out there have various payment plans available.) All of my clients have made it a priority that you take care of your family first. Everything else comes after that.

2. Plan for the worst, expect the best.

Many people put off important things like estate planning, retirement planning, financial planning, and family budgeting because it’s really tough to face these issues. It’s difficult to face worst-case scenarios in your own mind, let alone discuss them openly with your family. It’s even more of a task to find a professional and set up that first appointment. Sure, everyone is busy, but there’s an additional psychological barrier that makes parents want to fly by the seat of their pants when it comes to this stuff. We seem to think that if we don’t think about death and money that the bad things won’t happen. It is very common for people to be superstitious about estate planning in particular. The idea is that if we acknowledge death and make plans for it, then we’ve admitted that the worst is possible. As long as we ignore it, it won’t happen. The truth is that death weighs heavily on all of our minds and actually holds us back from truly being able to expect the best. Once we have gotten through the process of planning for the worst, that weight is lifted and we can focus on the other important things in our lives.

3. Do the best you can for the ones you love.

The clients I have don’t take information for granted. We all have heard people say, “I need a will,” or, “I need to get something in place.” One thing all of my clients have in common is that they came to the first meeting to learn. They didn’t come to the meeting to tell me what they needed; they came to learn what their situation looks like, and to learn about how they can do the best planning to care for their families. They had questions. They wanted all the facts on the table so that they could make decisions that would work best for their families. It’s not about checking something off of your “to do” list or doing something that everyone says you should do; it’s about doing the best you can for the ones you love.

4. Just do it.

No, I didn’t just throw this one in there because so many of my clients work for/with Nike. All of my clients are pretty good at just doing it. They are all able to weigh pros and cons quickly and get things done. Most of my clients are extremely busy people. If they’re anything like me, they’ve probably had to learn to quickly weigh the facts and make important decisions, because they need to get on with their lives! If they know they need the planning, and they feel that they like me and trust me, the decision is a quick one. (Without those factors in place, no one should make a decision to move forward. If your meeting with a professional leaves you feeling more confused than ever, or if you get a gut feeling that you should leave, then do it! You should only work with someone who makes you feel comfortable and confident. No professional is suited to work with everyone.)

5. Find a way to make it work.

You may be surprised to know that many of my clients weren’t able to just write me a check for the full cost of their planning services. Once they learned how badly they needed the planning, they did what they needed to do to make it work, including asking me if there were payment plans available. Like most things in life, once you’ve decided to make something work, there’s little that can deter you. If you feel that you can’t afford the full cost of services up front, ask your attorney about a payment plan.

It’s hard to know how to conclude this post. I’m sure I have a lot more to learn from my clients over time. Maybe they should charge me a fee for all of this wisdom that they bestow upon me. 🙂

Fond Farewell and Moving the Cheese

If you follow me on Facebook or Twitter or receive my weekly e-newsletter (opt-in here) you’ve likely noticed that I’ve been hinting at some big changes at the firm.  So what’s the big news?  I have a new Client Services Director!

I have been blessed to have Paula as my Client Service Director since last September.  If you’ve called or email the office you most likely talked with Paula.  She is the kind voice that conveys our unique approach to estate planning (we call it “whole family wealth planning”) and lets each person know they are truly appreciated.  Everyone enjoys talking with her.  How do I know this?  Because that’s what everyone tells me.

So why a new Client Services Director if I have such a great one already?  Paula lives in Kalamazoo and worked “virtually” from her home.  She had an opportunity come up that was better for her family and her own business.  Although I’m sad to see her go, it is the right move to help fulfill her hopes and aspirations.  I wish her the very best and have no doubt she will be incredibly successful.  I am glad that I can call her a friend (and will stay in touch).

And I’m very pleased to welcome our new Client Services Director, Kristi Lallo!  Although I was reticent about the change at the beginning, it turns out my initial “fear” of the change was nothing more than a fear of “having my cheese moved.” Kristi is already becoming an invaluable member of the team.  She brings a wealth of experience, knowledge and customer service excellence.  I’m excited about the firm’s future with her directing Client Services.

If you had the pleasure of working with Paula, please let her know how much she is appreciated.  And please give a call or send an email to give Kristi a warm welcome.  We always enjoy hearing from our clients, friends and business associates!

Who Moved My Office? Things I Learned In My Office Move

As I’m sure all my regular readers know, I recently moved to a new office.  I believe that all things happen for a reason – the timing and the office are perfect.  What I realized during the moving process is that I did some things right and I did some things wrong.  So, I thought I would pass along the key things I learned.  I’m sure I will think of more as I get fully settled in.  I hope this proves useful to many of you.

  • Plan, plan, plan . . . I can’t emphasize that enough.  I’m a chronic planner/organizer and I fell short on this one.  I thought I had everything planned out in the perfect way . . . turns out, not so much.  Planning includes not just finding the location and setting a general time frame for the move.  It also includes planning your moving announcement card, coordinating change of address, notifying all the vendors, customers, memberships, insurance companies, service professionals, referral sources, etc., of your move, and that is just the tip of the iceberg.  It even includes planning on how best to pack up your old office to make the unpacking in the new office as efficient as possible.
  • Start earlier than you think is necessary.  I started my office search and planning process almost 4 months ahead of the scheduled move.  Guess what?  That was too late.  I still found myself rushing at the end.  Give yourself the time.  Particularly in the current commercial real estate market you have the benefit of being able to view many different locations and negotiate with many different property owners/landlords to make sure you are getting the best office.
  • Pick the office that is the best “fit” for your business and your personality.  It seems to go without saying, but at lot of people don’t think about the second one.  By checking out several different locations I was able to find a great location, great office layout, AND a building owner/landlord that is kind and great to work with.
  • Utilize a tenant representative if there is one in your area.  I had the benefit of working with Chris Atwater from Waters Tenant Representation LLC.  If you are moving your business in the West Michigan area, you owe it to yourself to talk with  Chris.  He is a man of integrity and truly represents the tenant throughout the process.  And he is fair to the building owner/landlord as well, which only helps the tenant in the negotiation process.  On a grander scale, I recommend a tenant representative as a way to know that the person you’re dealing with is truly working on your behalf and not conflicted between dual roles.
  • Make a realistic budget and add 20% to it.  This is what I did and it served me VERY well.  I actually came in under budget – partly by getting some great deals and partly by deferring some purchases.  There’s no sense in making an unrealistic budget.  In today’s environment you can get a good feel for pricing on every item you’ll need by searching the internet.  I’m a big fan of supporting local businesses, so I researched the items online to help build my budget and then I purchased locally.
  • Talk to other business owners who have gone through office moves.  Been there, done that is a big help.  You may not use every suggestion they give, but I assure you that listening will be beneficial.

Please feel free to share your suggestions via comment on this post.  I’m curious to hear what others have learned.

A Christmas Message from Lichterman Law

As I sit here in the office in beautiful downtown Grand Rapids on Christmas eve listening to Bing Crosby sing “White Christmas,” I wanted to take the opportunity to wish everyone a Merry Christmas.  Whether you are a business client, estate planning client, a trusted referral source, mentor, trusted advisor, friend, or family, I wish you and your family the most joyous Christmas.  I especially want to thank all our servicemen and servicewomen around the globe who, because of their sacrifice for our freedom, will not be with their family this Christmas.  Thank you!

Christmas is a time of year that is almost “magical.”  As we (hopefully) turn our minds toward the true reason for the season (our Savior’s birth!), all the worries and frustrations of life and the economy seem to melt away, much like the candy we will no doubt be consuming.  We take this time to spend with family and friends, to revel in the spirit of giving and appreciation.  And for businesses, it is an opportunity to show your employees and customers that you truly care.  Hopefully you’ve already sent your Christmas cards out and have let your employees, vendors, and business associates know how much you appreciate them, through gift, time off, or just a hearty “Merry Christmas!”

As you spend time with your family this Christmas, think of all the lasting memories you will make.  The funny faces when opening a gift you don’t quite know what to do with (we’ve all been there), the child tossing aside the toy and playing with the box and wrapping paper instead, and the pure joy of family.  And consider making it a top priority in 2010 to make sure those memories are preserved and that provision is made for many more.  Sure enough, I’m talking about estate planning.  And make sure that your estate planning attorney passes along your “whole family wealth,” those intangibles that are lost when you pass away – the Christmas memories, your values, insights, stories, and experiences.  And seriously consider using a  living trust to make sure that your financial assets will be around as long as your family will, to provide for a lifetime of cherished memories.

And if you have ever thought of starting a business . . . what are you waiting for?!  The general consensus is that we are starting to work our way out of the nasty recession.  Much like the investing adage of “buy low, sell high,” you want to start your business before or (at the latest) as the economy is starting to pick up steam again.  Whether the growth will be slow and gradual or fast and immediate doesn’t matter – the fact is, you want to take advantage of the increased demand while competition is still low.

And if you have a business, congratulations for making it through one of the worst recessions on record.  You did it!  I encourage you to take some time over the next week or two and spend it on developing your plan to increase your business and market share as the economy begins to pick up steam.  What an opportunity you have – decreased competition and a growing economy . . . the perfect recipe for your growth and success!

As I plan to leave a little bit early myself today, I will leave you with those thoughts.  And MERRY CHRISTMAS to you all!

Lichterman Law is Growing!

At Lichterman Law we have been truly blessed with the best clients and wonderful relationships with trusted professionals.  We have experienced incredible growth as they spread the word of our unparalleled personal service and responsiveness to our clients.  As a result, I’m very pleased to announce an addition to our team, Paula Woolley.  Paula is now the firm’s Client Services Director.  In addition to putting a smile on your face whenever you talk to her, Paula will make sure that all your needs are met, and your questions are answered.  She will be your first point of contact with our firm, and will remain in constant contact with you when you become a client – the key to nurturing lifetime relationships.  Additionally, she will be in charge of our firm’s scheduling and for ensuring the responsive service we are known for.

Paula’s experience includes extensive experience and expertise in building and maintaining strong Client relationships, which is something we are committed to at Lichterman Law. She’s a bright and compassionate professional, whom you can always call or write with any questions about our firm – or your matter.  You can reach her by calling our office at (616) 827-7596 or by emailing her (click here).  Please join me in welcoming her to the team!