• With spring break a few weeks away, West Michigan families are fine-tuning their travel and vacation plans – and so are thieves.

    Whether families are heading to a warm, sunny spot or hitting the ski slopes for spring break – April 3-10 at most West Michigan schools – they need to take precautions to ensure their home stays safe while they’re away. I can offer an interview with Mark Herald, director of public safety for East Grand Rapids, which is consistently rated one of the top 10 safest midsized cities in Michigan.

    Mark can provide tips on how to make your home less attractive to thieves while you’re traveling, including:
    Lock all windows and doors in your house and garage
    Keep valuables away from windows and lower blinds and close curtains so passers-by can’t view these items
    Set up timed lights around your house and have them turn on in the morning and evening – and put a timer on your TV so it’s on when you’d normally be watching
    Have a neighbor watch your house and bring in newspapers, mail and any packages on your porch – or cancel your newspaper and mail delivery while you’re gone
    Don’t announce your upcoming vacation on social media – you never know who is reading your Facebook post or tweet
    Turn your home phone ringer off or down because a loud, unanswered phone can tip someone off that you’re not home

    Mark is incredibly knowledgeable and conversational. I would be happy to connect you for an interview.

  • Before you’re buried under a mountain of W2s, 1099s and interest statements, members of Michigan Association of Certified Public Accountants can offer a few tips that should make tax season seem more like a walk in the park than an uphill battle.

    1. Start organizing now. Have a folder handy when sorting mail to make it easy to keep track of important tax documents as you receive them. Start gathering important receipts from earlier in the year, such as those from donations or business expenses, and put them in the same folder.
    2. Double check names, numbers and signatures. Before sending in your return, double check that names and Social Security numbers for you, your spouse and children match what is on your Social Security cards. It is especially important to correctly list dependents’ Social Security numbers. Without them, the child tax credit will be denied.
    3. Get your return in on time. For 2015 tax returns, this year’s filing deadline is April 18 because of a federal holiday. If you find you need more time to file, you can submit an IRS Form 4868 on that date. Keep in mind, though, that an extension only gives you more time to file – it does not give you more time to pay any taxes that are due that day. Penalties and interest will also start to accumulate immediately.
    4. E-file your taxes. The IRS e-filing system is a fast and accurate way to complete your taxes. For those with income below $62,000, the IRS offers Free File software to make filing easy. Those with higher income can chose to e-file with free fillable forms, via a third-party software or with an authorized e-file provider.
    5. Call a CPA. If 2015 included a life-changing event, such as a marriage or start of a new business, you may be best off finding professional tax preparation assistance. A new job, a home purchase, welcoming a child or receiving an inheritance can all have a major impact on the process of filing taxes and the required documentation. A CPA can help navigate tough tax situations.

    If you’re interested in speaking with a representative about these tips or any other questions you have about tax season, I would be happy to help arrange a conversation.

  • Undivorce: The Next Trend?

    You can unfollow someone or unfriend them — but undivorce them?

     

    Even though a New Hampshire couple is making headlines for trying — and failing — to undivorce, family law attorney Richard A. Roane says it’s unlikely for Michigan courts to vacate a divorce.

     

    “Changing your mind isn’t enough reason to undo a divorce,” said Roane, a partner at Warner Norcross & Judd LLP who has been practicing family law for 28+ years.  “There’s not a provision in the Michigan Rules of Court that would allow a divorce judgment to be undone.  The New Hampshire case was probably the result of poor tax planning and deficient legal advice.  The couple realized too late that if they were still married, they would have a lower tax bill.”

     

    Trying to undo a divorce in Michigan would result in a tangle of tax, health and other benefit complications, including the question of paternity.  Only a handful of states will vacate divorces at the couple’s request, but even then for specific reasons and within a specific time limit.  Roane said that in Michigan, there are extremely limited reasons for a judge to set aside a judgment of divorce, including:

    • In the case of fraud
    • In light of newly discovered evidence
    • If the court didn’t have jurisdiction
    • If a clerical mistake was made

    “Remarrying would be the easiest remedy, although it sounds as if it would not have worked in the New Hampshire case,” Roane said.  “It’s refreshing the court didn’t let them undo the divorce because of all the tax complications.  This couple sounds like they were penny wise but pound foolish.”

     

    Roane is in the midst of his annual “January rush,” when unhappy couples who have held it together through the holidays finally reach out to divorce attorneys to end their misery.  He is available to talk about “undivorce” as well any other topic related to family law.

  • As many predicted, this year’s flu season has been particularly awful and widespread. Worse than ever, millions of Americans are expected to catch the flu this winter and hundreds of thousands will be hospitalized. What makes the influenza virus so contagious is its ability to change and mutate. As a result, the CDC recommends getting an annual flu shot to protect against the latest strains.

    However, studies show that only half of the eligible population will get the vaccine. I would like to offer Dr. Dave J. Miller, Keystone Pharmacy owner and chief formulation scientist, as a resource to speak on this winter’s particular type of flu, the impact it’s had on West Michigan and the benefits of a flu vaccination.

  • Decorative? Functional? Copyrightable?
    Warner Norcross Asks 6th Circuit to Review Decision on Cheerleader Uniforms
    What makes a cheerleading uniform a cheerleading uniform? The appellate attorneys at Warner Norcross & Judd LLP are asking the 6th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals to take a closer look at the issue.
    John J. Bursch and Matthew T. Nelson, partners with Warner Norcross filed a request for an en banc hearing yesterday in the copyright case of Varsity Brands et al v. Star Athletica over the colorblocks, stripes and zigzags that set cheer uniforms apart. In August, three judges of the 6th Circuit overturned a district court ruling granting summary judgment to Star, which defended a copyright infringement suit by arguing that Varsity couldn’t copyright the designs for its uniforms. The decision was split 2-1.
    In representing Star Athletica, Bursch and Nelson are asking for all 15 judges of the 6th Circuit to hear the case and issue a verdict that would “give this area the Court’s stamp of authenticity,” according to Bursch.
    Key issues to be considered in the case include:
    • The level of deference due to the U.S. Copyright Office, which initially afforded protections to
    the Varsity designs.
    • Whether the designs can be protected under current copyright law, which looks at the definition
    of “useful” articles to determine if the elements in question were decorative, identifying or functional
    “As Judge McKeague mentioned in his dissent, this area of the law is jumbled,” Nelson said. “We are asking the full panel of judges at the 6th Circuit to clarify the issue of copyright at stake here and issue a definitive decision.”
    Bursch and Nelson are available for interviews.

  • Winning Black Friday | Woodland Mall Black Friday Pitch

    Waking up before sun rises on Black Friday to score a deal only to be met by throngs of other determined shoppers can be a daunting task. It leaves many of us wondering: is it worth it?

    According to Woodland Mall’s marketing director, Lyndsey Hicks, the answer is yes – all you need to do is have a plan.

    “Where people go wrong is approaching Black Friday without a strategy for their shopping goals,” Hicks says. “Taking time to plan ahead and determine which stores you are going to visit will save a lot of heartache.”

    Other tips for a successful shopping experience include:
    ” Focus Thanksgiving day shopping on the department stores. JCPenney opens at 2 p.m. and Macy’s opens at 5 p.m. The rest of Woodland will be closed on Thanksgiving
    ” The early bird gets the worm on Black Friday: get to Woodland as early as 6 a.m. for the best selection of merchandise
    ” The directory is your friend: mapping out your destination route will save you precious time. Check out shopwoodlandmall.com/holiday for all our Black Friday deals
    ” Get social: follow your favorite retailers on social media for exclusive deals and information
    ” Be loyal: join a loyalty program for member-only information on insider sales and promotions (And if you haven’t signed up for Woodland’s rewards program, PREIT Perks, do so – you’ll get $10 back for every $250 spent plus tons of holiday perks)

    According to the National Retail Federation’s annual survey conducted by Prosper Insights & Analytics, spending during this holiday season is expected to increase 3.4 percent, with families planning to spend nearly $970.

    “Our retailers have fantastic deals for our guests this year,” Hicks said. “It’s an exciting time at Woodland Mall as we expand our retail and services offering. We’re also thrilled to launch a new holiday set that will usher children visiting Santa into a magical wonderland.”

    Woodland Mall is in the midst of a major expansion, including the addition of high-end department store Von Maur.

    The mall kicks off its holiday season at 6 a.m. on Friday, Nov. 24. This year, it will not open on Thanksgiving, bucking the nation trend of retailers opening Thursday evening. For those wishing to get time with the man in red, Santa’s hours are from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. in the new holiday set, featuring Ursa, the giant 12-foot polar bear.

    If I can connect you for a conversation with Hicks for Black Friday tips and featured deals, please let me know. She is available Wednesday, Nov. 22 and Friday, Nov. 24.

    # # #

  • Imagine a childhood with no play dates or spring break trips.

    Imagine spending more time in a hospital room than in a classroom.

    Imagine seeing your home as a cage rather than a sanctuary.

    Morning, <Name>. That was reality for the kids Amanda Winn shared the 9th floor of the Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital with for 10 months. The Grand Rapids native had just graduated and launched her architecture career when she was diagnosed the stage 4 Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, a life-threatening blood cancer that upended her plans.

    A slip-of-a-woman, the petite Amanda found herself in the children’s hospital, down the corridor from Marisa, an 5-year-old pixie fighting Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia and across the hall from Clayton, an 3-year-old superhero-ninja-dynamo battling Nueroblastoma. She found herself falling in love with these pint-size warriors who were battling major scary stuff, just like she was – but without the benefit of understanding, which comes with age.

    Amanda mourned for what she was missing – dancing and dinner parties and holiday shopping with friends, all the normal things that were suddenly out of reach. The chemotherapy that was saving her life was also destroying her immune system, which meant that even a tiny germ could bring a major setback.

    Isolation was the price of health – but that isolation took a toll on Amanda, her parents, her sister and her close friends. And she watched the toll it took on Marisa and Clayton and all the other boys and girls up and down the hall fighting for their lives, yearning for normal.

    Just wanting to be a kid again. Not knowing if that was in the cards.

    Fueled by those cherub faces, Amanda vowed she was going to do something about that loneliness. And unlike most of us who make promises amid chaos, Amanda kept her word.

    And in 2015, the Children’s Healing Center was born. The CHC, as it is affectionately known to its legions of fans, is the nation’s first year-round recreation center for kids with compromised immune systems. Yes, kids coping with cancer, but also with organ transplants, prune belly, congenital heart conditions and a host of alphabet-soup diagnoses that numb parents’ brains as they threaten little lives.

    Amanda’s architect training helped her to design a 7,000 square-foot fun palace that meets hospital-grade standards for cleanliness – yet without the pokes and prods and doctors and nurses. All visitors are screened before they enter to make sure there are no signs of illness, no inklings of germs. Special air filters and other HVAC equipment keep the Center super clean. There’s no carpeting or fabric where germs can hide, and everything is cleaned thoroughly after each and every use.

    Amanda (center, in blue) playing with members during a superhero day camp.

    After that, the skies the limit. Kids can choose from one of four program areas: exploratory play, active fitness space, a tech zone and the art and learning play. There’s a make-believe store, built by Amanda’s dad, where kids can fill their grocery baskets with wooden bananas and pizzas. There are piles and piles of blue foam blocks, just perfect for building castles. There’s a rainbow of construction paper and markers waiting to be transformed into daisies or dinosaurs. There are scooters and balls and baskets and hoops – and no end of smiling, laughing, loving volunteers and staff who make it their mission for all who enter to have fun.

    It took Amanda five years to translate her dream of a place that would break down the walls of isolation and build bridges that would allow sick kids and their families to connect, to have fun – to experience normal again, even if just for a few hours every week. With not a fundraising bone in her body, she was able to raise $2.3 million so that Marisa and Clayton and all those other kids who came after them would have a safe, clean and immensely fun place to play – for free.

    Some of West Michigan’s leading philanthropists have signed on to Amanda’s vision. They write checks, but more than that, they join her for tea parties and play dates. Their children volunteer, forming bonds with teens and tweens and little ones eager to make friends.

    In the 2+ years that the CHC has been open, Amanda and her team have gone through 34,912 wipes for the more than 600 kids, siblings and parents who have walked through the front door, tucked a thermometer between their lips and taken off their shoes. The Center has seen 1,373 family visits, totaling 163,861 minutes of play.

    But they’ve lost count of the smiles, all those beautiful smiles, from the kids who are enjoying being just kids for a while – and the brothers and sisters and parents who cherish them.

    The CHC’s website, with more information about the Center, can be found at: http://www.childrenshealingcenter.org/.

    Wouldn’t you like to talk with Amanda, to hear more of her story firsthand?

     

  • A change in legislation – initiated by Cascade Township – comes full circle.

    Cascade Charter Township approached and worked alongside Senator Dave Hildenbrand in 2014 to request that the on-premise liquor licenses for redevelopment purposes could be expanded for use by Townships and villages. Previously, this type of license was available only in cities, creating a hole for Townships and villages when all escrowed and quota licenses had been used. The expansion has allowed new businesses to move into areas identified as townships or villages, and obtain a redevelopment liquor license, despite escrowed and quota license availability.

    Since this bill was enacted, Cascade Charter Township has had two businesses in the community who have successfully received a redevelopment liquor license: X-Golf and the Fowling Warehouse, both of which have opened within the last year.

    To showcase how this opportunity came to be, what the redevelopment liquor license means for new businesses and how Cascade Township played a role in this legislature change according to Sen. Hildenbrand, check out the video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zD-MVqtTCII

    If you have questions or would like to speak with someone regarding this economic development tool, please let me know.

  • When it comes to money, some of us would just rather not think about it. Lucky for us, there’s an app for that. Or dozens of apps for that.

    Adam Garvey of Rehmann says personal finance apps and online budgeting tools are a great way to help consumers get their arms around their finances – especially if they don’t know where to start.

    Garvey, a financial planner and member of the Michigan Association of CPAs, has some great tips for selecting personal finance apps.

    “Everyone has different goals when it comes to finances. Some want to be better at budgeting while others want to improve their investments,” Garvey says. “Whatever your goals, there’s probably an app for that.

    Garvey recommends examining your financial goals with a trusted financial advisor and the find apps that align with your objectives. Some to check out include:

    • Mint, which provides an all-in-one way to track and pay bills, create a budget, keep an eye on your credit score – even track your investments.
    • YNAB (You Need a Budget), which helps with money management so consumers can get out of debt by prioritizing spending and then sticking to a plan
    • Good Budget allows you to create virtual envelopes (thank you, Dave Ramsey), set goals and be accountable
    • Bloomberg draws on the power if its parent company to provide access to financial news, global business and market data coupled with powerful portfolio tracking apps
    • Credit Karma goes beyond giving you access to free credit scores – it lets you see what’s affecting them.

    I would be happy to coordinate a conversation with Garvey, who can discuss the advantages of personal finance apps more in depth, as well as provide some insights on the best ones. Contact me to learn more. You can reach me by emailing or calling 517.802.8156.

    Have a great day!