First estate: Attorney helps guide clients along critical planning path


 By Sheila Pursglove 

Legal News
Young adults with little in the way of money or possessions may not feel the need for an estate plan. But having children is a game-changer. 
“All young parents need to be sure they have documents in place that name a guardian and conservator for their kids, in case something happens to them while their children are still minors,” says Melisa Mysliwiec, an attorney with Fraser Trebilcock. “Most young parents don’t think about that.”  

Choosing the right guardian is a huge decision, notes Mysliwiec, a member of the firm’s Trusts and Estates Department who works out of the Grand Rapids and Lansing offices. 

“You wouldn’t want a court to decide who gets your kids without having any say in the matter. It was a hard decision for me, picking that person, but I didn’t want a judge who didn’t know my family, or my morals, or my opinion in the matter, making that decision. So, I made the decision with my husband and we put it in writing, which is exactly what most parents would want. Now, we — and our designated guardian and conservator — are just praying they never have to accept that role; we’d both like to make it to our youngest child’s 18th birthday.” 

Life insurance is another crucial purchase for young parents, notes Mysliwiec, who enjoys the relationships she builds with clients and their families. 

“I have clients of all different ages, in all parts of life, with varying issues and, yet, typically common goals,” she says. “I truly love getting to know them, meeting their families, and helping them get things in order for the more difficult parts of life or making things easier for them at an already difficult part of life.” 

Although not everyone needs a will or a trust, most people do — and everyone should have durable powers of attorneys and designations of patient advocate, she notes.

“Some people die without a will or trust in place, and everything works out just fine, but for most people who die without these documents in place, things can be a mess for the loved ones they’ve left behind. Your family is left picking up the pieces, and at the most difficult time — while they are also trying to grieve your loss. I’ve worked with families who struggle with that issue and it’s sad. It’s important to think about who will be left to handle things when you’re gone — and make it as easy as possible for them.” 

Mysliwiec, who specializes in elder law, estate planning, and trust and estate administration, particularly enjoys the problem solving challenges involved in Medicaid planning. 

“I like sitting down with clients who are panicked at losing their savings and being able to say I can help. My Medicaid clients are my happiest clients — they are the ones I get good old-fashioned, hand-written thank-you letters from. Who doesn’t like that?” 

A member of several committees of the State Bar of Michigan’s Probate and Estate Planning Council, Mysliwiec also serves as assistant editor for the State Bar’s Probate and Estate Planning Journal, writes articles, and provides presentations educating the public. 

A native of Grand Rapids, where she now makes her home, Mysliwiec is a graduate of Grand Rapids Catholic Central High School and Grand Valley State University, and earned her J.D., cum laude, from Cooley Law School in Lansing. 

“I enjoyed its flexibility and that it was local, which kept me close to my family. Besides my law degree, the next best thing I gained from going to Cooley was meeting my best friend, who is an attorney in South Carolina.” 

Mysliwiec planned to go into law from a young age, but not as an attorney. With a father who was a police officer, she grew up in a household where the law was often discussed. As a child, she wanted to be a judge. 

“As a child, I didn’t realize that no one starts a career as a judge,” she says. “When I realized I wanted to be an attorney, it was originally to be a prosecutor — that’s what I went to law school for. Then I decided I didn’t like the courtroom very much. But I did like the law, so law school was a great choice.”  

Mysliwiec’s husband — and high school sweetheart — is also in law enforcement. The couple has two girls, ages 3 and 1. 

“I used to have a lot of hobbies, but now my hobby is my children — isn’t that what happens to all moms? We love reading, playing outside, and we especially love the lakeshore and spend most of the summer there,” she says. 

In her free time, she enjoys photography and crafts and confesses to being “addicted” to Pinterest. 

“I’ve made every single window covering in my house, all of my girls’ bedding, dozens of brides’ custom wedding invitations and other invitations — baby, bridal shower, birthday. I love the joy creativity brings me, and the feeling of accomplishment when I’ve finished something new.”

Previously a volunteer with Habitat for Humanity and the Special Olympics, and with the Capitol Area United Way Planned Gifting Committee, Mysliwiec currently serves on the school board for her alma mater, St. John Vianney Catholic School in Grand Rapids. 

Accredited by the Department of Veterans Affairs, she does pro bono legal work through the Service to Soldiers program, and also volunteers to help families of law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty. 

“Whether it’s estate planning, or handling the estate of someone who died in the line of duty or in service, it’s a way to give back, especially with my tie to the law enforcement community,” she says. “It’s a service that’s near and dear to my heart.”