Harder's expertise tapped for commentary on act governing administration of trusts



by Cynthia Price
Legal News

The intricacies of the Michigan Uniform Principal and Income Act may be a mystery to some, but Warner Norcross and?Judd attorney Mark Harder is not one of them.
Harder has written a commentary on Michigan’s Uniform Principal and Income Act (UPIA), one of the statutes guiding those who administer trusts.

“Four or five years ago I had an opportunity to speak for ICLE?[Michigan’s Institute for Continuing Legal Education] on the Michigan act,” Harder says. “As I researched and thought about it, I realized that there are not a lot of resources out there, in fact there are very few cases where the courts have issued opinions across the country. And I’d been seeing a lot of questions about what its terms mean and how to use it and apply it. So about a year and a half ago I went to ICLE and said?I thought maybe it would be helpful to have some commentary.”

The UPIA, signed into law in 2004, concerns how to distribute revenues and expenses of a trust, whether to principal or income, which can be very important to the trust’s beneficiaries. In part because the provisions of a trust are primarily governed by the trust document itself, this can get very complicated.

The UPIA commentary is incorporated into ICLE’s Michigan Probate Sourcebook, a perusal of which offers further evidence of Harder’s expertise. along with fellow Warner Norcross attorney John?Martin, still Of Counsel at the firm, Harder also wrote the commentary on EPIC?(the Estates and Protected Individuals Code) and the Michigan Trust Code.

As reported in the April 13, 2012, issue of the Grand Rapids Legal News, Martin was an inspiration for and mentor to Harder, who has gone on to play a role in so much of what has taken place in trust law statewide.

Chair of Warner Norcross’s Family Office Industry Group, Harder practices in the areas of trusts and estates law, family business and succession planning, business and corporate services, and tax law, focusing on counseling and representing high net worth individuals, families, family businesses, and closely held businesses.

When he was chair of the Probate and Estate?Planning Section of the State Bar of Michigan (SBM), Harder led the SBM committee that wrote the Michigan Trust Code, based on the Uniform Trust Code, starting in 2003, and served as the reporter.

The committee included trust officers, elder law attorneys, professors of law, and estate planners from large and small firms across the state, but sought input from a broad range of bar members on specific issues. A parallel effort by the Michigan Bankers Association to study the Uniform Trust Code, as well as consultation with such organizations as the Michigan Probate Judges Association and the Attorney General’s Department, fed into the process.

The Michigan Trust Code was enacted in 2009 (effective 2010).

Harder says, “I also did the commentary on that – and it’s been well received and useful to practitioners.” (An overview Harder authored can be found on the Warner Norcross website at https://www.wnj.com/Publications/The-Michigan-Trust-Code-An-Overview)

He also had a hand in passing  amendments to the?Michigan UPIA suggested by the work of the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws, also known as the Uniform Law Commission.

That commission drafts non-partisan legislation and provides model statutes to states for their adoption through a process involving representatives, who must be attorneys, from each state and the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The proposed legislation, which pertains to areas where uniformity is deemed beneficial such as commerce, domestic relations, or estates and probate, is offered to states for adoption. As Harder points out, though uniformity is the goal, states generally tweak the acts before passage.

The Michigan UPIA and the Michigan Trust Code were derived from the work of the National Conference, which is best known for production of the Uniform Commercial Code. Congress has no role in the adoption of such state laws.

Harder explains,  “The Uniform Law Commission had adopted some amendments to the Uniform Principal and Interest Act in response to conflicts that had come up, and said to the states here’s some new language that will address these new concerns. I chaired a small committee [of the SBM Probate and Estate?Planning Section] to consider the amendments,  and we got the legislature to enact them. I myself went to Lansing and testified before the House and Judiciary Committees, and did advocacy on behalf of them.”

Even a brief glance at Harder’s biography makes clear that he is eminently qualified to lead such efforts.

After obtaining a BBA with high distinction and a JD with highest distinction from the University of Iowa, Harder spent a few years with a Milwaukee firm and then joined Warner Norcross, where has been ever since.

He is a Fellow of the American Bar Foundation and serves on the ABA Real Property, Trust and Estate Law Section; Business Law Section; Taxation Section; and Law Practice Management Section. In addition to the substantial body of work already mentioned with the SBM Probate and Estate Planning Section, his work for that committee has been extensive. He also maintains membership in SBM’s Business Law and Tax Sections and serves on the Michigan State Bar Foundation.

Harder has also been elected a Fellow of the American College of Trusts and Estates Counsel, and is a member of Attorneys for Family Held Enterprises (recently serving as an officer), and the Family firm Institute.

A Holland resident, Harder  has been involved with the Center for Women in Transition, the Children’s Talent Center and the Hospice of Holland Center, as well as the Holland Area Chamber of Commerce and Leadership Holland. He currently serves on the Community Foundation of the Holland/Zeeland Area board.

All of his work has resulted in much  recognition, including being in the Top 100 and Top 50 Consumer lists of Michigan Super Lawyers in 2014 and inclusion on the Super Lawyers list from 2006-present; designation as the 2010 Lawyer of the Year for Trusts and Estate in the Grand Rapids area, as well as other recognition by Best Lawyers; serving as a charter member of the Leading Lawyers Michigan advisory board; and inclusion as a 2010 Thought Leader in the Law by Business Review West Michigan.

With all that on his plate, Harder still finds the time to write articles, present for ICLE, lecture widely, and produce the UPIA and other commentaries.

He admits he wrote the UPIA commentary in the evenings and on weekends. “At the time, three of my kids were out of college and my youngest was a senior, so my commitments had changed. And my wife knows I enjoy it, so she’s wiling to indulge me in that.

“When people ask why I do as much speaking and writing as I do, the answer partly is I enjoy it and it’s fun. I find the writing process to be very rewarding, and maybe I’m sort of a frustrated law professor,” he says, smiling.

“But really, any time you write
or speak on a topic it makes you a more effective practitioner. I think writing the commentary has made me a better lawyer for my clients.”