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A Better Partnership

James J. Steffel

Executive Partner | Email

  • Muskegon

    t. +1.231.727.2621

    f. +1.231.722.7116

    m. +


Jim Steffel practices in the areas of family offices, estate planning and administration, closely held business entities, strategic legacy and succession planning and related taxation, transactions and litigation. His practice serves clients in both Michigan and Florida. Jim is also Executive Partner at our Muskegon office.


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  • University of Miami LL.M. 1999
  • University of Toledo J.D. 1985
  • Ferris State University B.S.B. 1981


  • 1986, Florida
  • 1985, Michigan

Bar Associations

  • American Bar Association
    Real Property, Trust and Estate Law Section
  • State Bar of Michigan
    Probate and Estate Planning Section; Business Law Section
  • Florida Bar Association
    Real Property, Probate and Trust Law Section

Teaching and Lecturing

  • Lecturer and seminar presenter on estate planning and administration and business planning and succession related topics for several organizations including: The Institute of Continuing Legal Education (ICLE); The Michigan Association of Certified Public Accountants (MACPA); The Family Office Exchange (largest international family office association); The Lake Michigan Estate Planning Council; The Northern Michigan Estate Planning Council; The Grand Rapids Bar Association; The Young Presidents' Organization (YPO); and Davenport University’s MBA Program


Family Office and Estate Planning and Administration

  • Served as founding chair, and played key role in establishing, the Private Client and Family Office Group. His role included taking the lead in establishing the initial strategic plan, identifying and further developing best practices and creating an innovative platform for the delivery of family office legal services.
  • Led a Professional Wealth Advisory Team dedicated to proactively and efficiently providing a full line of multi-family office services to families with extraordinary wealth. The services ranged from helping families define and administer their missions, visions, policies and practices, to modeling and implementing multi-generational family tax, asset protection and philanthropic strategies.
  • Prepared numerous estate plans including:  multigenerational plans maximizing generation skipping tax (GST) exemption with generation protection and generation skipping trusts; charitable plans using custom beneficiary designations, various charitable remainder trusts (CRTs), charitable lead trusts (CLTs), community foundations and private foundations; various gifting plans; sophisticated insurance plans involving irrevocable life insurance trusts (ILITs) and private split dollar arrangements; multinational plans involving qualified domestic trusts (QDOTs); plans involving family business organizations with asset protection attributes and entity based valuation discounts; and value freezing plans using outright gifting, grantor retained annuity trusts (GRATs), fractional interests, sales, intentionally defective irrevocable trusts (IDITs), split interests and qualified personal residence trusts (QPRTs).
  • Handled lead roles, from strategy through negotiations and ultimate settlement, of multiple high net worth estate tax audits involving family limited partnerships, operating entities, fractional interest appraisal disputes, Graegin loan expense disputes and other related valuation and deduction issues.
  • Administered numerous trusts and estates from simple small estates (4 digits) to large trusts (9 digits) with significant issues and disputes regarding liquidity, taxation, single share concentrations, the rights of beneficiaries, the duties of fiduciaries and IRS practices and procedures.
  • Litigated several probate matters involving: claims for and against estates; will disputes and claims of undue influence, incapacity and fraud; fiduciary misconduct matters; and fee disputes.

Business Formation, Strategy, Transactions and Succession

  • Established numerous entities including C corporations, S corporations, professional corporations, limited liability companies, professional limited liability companies, general partnerships, limited partnerships, nonprofit associations and joint ventures.
  • Served on, and prepared modeling and documentation for, the Strategic Planning Committee (or like group) of several business entities.
  • Negotiated, documented and closed numerous real estate and closely held business transactions including transactions involving shopping malls, strip malls, professional practices, bowling and recreational centers, grocery store chains and other commercial businesses.
  • Negotiated, planned and documented several acquisitive business reorganizations (including mergers or acquisitions regarding ophthalmology practices, orthopedic practices, otolaryngology practices, urology practices, family and internal medicine practices, orthodontic practices, and surveying/engineering practices) and divisive business reorganizations.
  • Developed and implemented various business succession plans involving a wide range of business enterprises and transfers to third parties, related parties and key employees, including the use of Employee Stock Option Plans (ESOPs).
  • Organized, negotiated and documented multi-tiered developments including a medical office campus anchored by an ambulatory surgery center formed, licensed and operated by numerous surgeons from different practice disciplines and organizations.

Honors & Awards

  • Best Lawyers in America, Trusts and Estates, 2013-Present
  • Michigan Super Lawyers, 2008-18
  • Top Lawyer in Trusts and Estates, Grand Rapids Magazine, 2019-21
  • Leadership West Michigan, Graduate, 2006
  • AV Preeminent Peer Review Rated, Martindale-Hubbell since 2001
  • Member, The University of Toledo Law Review


Professional Affiliations

  • Lake Michigan Estate Planning Council:
    Board Member (2003–07); President (2005 and 2006)
  • West Michigan Estate Planning Council:
    Member (2010-Present)
  • Family Office Exchange:
    Member, Thought Leaders' Council (2013-Present)

Community Affiliations

  • Mercy Hospital Muskegon
    Board of Directors (2015-Present); Chair, Community Development Council and Executive Committee (2010-Present); Chair, Planned Giving Committee (2002-10)
  • Big Brothers and Big Sisters of South Central Michigan
    Honorary Board Member; Former Executive Board Member
  • Leadership West Michigan
    Alumni Association Member; Former At Large Executive Committee Member
  • Muskegon Area Chamber of Commerce
    Member (2000-Present); Host, Facilitator and Moderator for The Business for Breakfast Programs (2006-10)
  • DECA Judge, Financial Services Industry Competition
    Ferris State University (2012)
  • Head Basketball Coach - 20 teams from elementary challenge leagues through High School AAU champions

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