Estate Planning Checklist: 7 Items Every Estate Plan Should Have

Did you know that 58 percent of Americans don’t have a will?

Many people don’t have wills because they haven’t gotten around it or don’t believe they have enough assets to list in a will. Although many people haven’t gotten around to execute an estate plan, they can all agree on the value en peace of mind it can bring them.

If you’re ready to begin the estate planning process, you came to the right place. Read on for this simple estate planning checklist.

1. Determine Your Estate Planning Goals 

The first step in estate planning is to determine what your goals are. There are many different goals to consider when thinking about estate planning. 

For example, if you have minor children, you’ll want them to be taken care of in case something happens to you. You can even designate a caretaker if you have pets.

People also decide to do estate planning because they want to ensure their spouse and children have a financial plan in case of their passing. If they have a family business, they’ll want to make sure they control the business’s structure after their passing.

Those suffering from illness also want to put everything in order in case they become medically incapacitated. Whatever your reasons are, ensure you determine them before you start the process. 

2. Make a List of Your Assets and Possesions

Sometimes we underestimate how much stuff we accumulate over the course of our lifetime. When you’re in the process of making an estate plan, you need to make a list of all of your possessions and financial assets. 

If you want to facilitate the process, you can divide your assets between tangible and intangible assets. 

Your tangible assets include:

  • Real estate
  • Vehicles with deeds such as cars, boats, and motorcycles
  • Jewelry 
  • Antiques, coins, art, and more

Intangible assets include:

  • Savings and checking accounts
  • Mutual funds, bonds, and stocks
  • Life insurance policies
  • Retirement plans such as IRAs and 401K
  • Business owner deeds

Keep in mind if you will have to get an appraisal of your tangible assets to determine the value of your home, for example. 

3. How Will You Protect Your Family?

Once you have made a list of your tangible and your intangible assets, you have to decide how you will divide them or use them to protect your family. 

For starters, do you have enough life insurance to protect your spouse or children? You need to make sure you leave them with enough life insurance to help them cover everyday bills. For example, if you need two incomes to support your household, your life insurance should cover the other half. 

Some people also want to leave enough life insurance to cover their children’s tuition. 

Those individuals with children also want to designate a guardian for their children during their estate planning process. To get peace of mind, some people even like to name a backup guardian.

Also, you should leave in writing how you would like the guardian to raise your children. Because people have different beliefs and ideas, you should leave them with your wishes for the upbringing of your children.

4. You Will Need Several Directives

Depending on the goals for your estate planning, you will need to leave several directives. The most common directives include medical care, financial power of attorney, a limited power of attorney, and trust.

Health Care Power of Attorney

A health care power of attorney designates an agent to make decisions regarding your medical care. 

Financial Power of Attorney

With a financial power of attorney, you a designated agent to manage your financial affairs — your power of attorney will have the responsibility of paying bills, taxes, and having access to your assets on your behalf.

Limited Power of Attorney

As the name suggests, with a limited power of attorney, you designate an agent to act on your behalf when it comes to certain issues. For example, you might be able to grant them limited power to sell your home. 

The agent won’t have any other responsibilities aside from selling the home.

Trust

You can designate a living trust to divide or designates portions of your estate while you’re alive. For example, you can designate a certain portion of your assets to go towards your medical care should you become sick.

5. Keep Track of Your Beneficiaries

Once you’ve done an inventory of your assets and selected your directives, the next step is to review your beneficiaries. 

Start by going through your insurance and retirement plan policies and making sure you have the correct beneficiaries. For example, with life insurance, you can designate what percent each of your beneficiaries will receive. 

When it comes to your other material possessions such as jewelry, motorcycles, and more, you should name who will receive each of those items. 

It’s also a good idea for you to name backup beneficiaries for each of the items.

6. Get the Opinion of a Professional

Because creating an estate plan is a complex process, you should enlist the help of an expert. Estate planning attorneys will help you walk through the process and even include items you never thought about.

When you have a large estate or children, it’s advised you work with an estate planning attorney. They will be able to answer all of your questions. 

Follow This Estate Planning Checklist

Now that you know about this estate planning checklist, you’re ready to get the process started. Remember to do an inventory of your assets, designate beneficiaries, determine your goals, and get the expert’s opinion.

Do you need the help of an estate planning expert? Contact us today for a consultation.

Estate Planning 101: All You Need to Know About Estate Planning

estate planning 101

No matter how old you are, it’s never to early to start some estate planning.  Some simple measures can make a world of difference for you and your family, even if that eventuality is way in the future.

You also do not have to be a multimillionaire to take advantage of the laws surrounding trusts and estates. Some careful planning with the assistance of a qualified attorney can help you make preparations now while you are creating your legacy.

Here is a broad overview of Estate Planning 101 to help you get started. These questions will help guide you as you begin to plan for the future.

1. Where Do You Live? 

When you begin to plan your estate, you first need to consider where you live.

If you live in Wisconsin, you will not have a state estate or inheritance tax. However, if you own property in a state that does have this kind of tax, like New Jersey or Pennsylvania, that state may levy taxes on your beneficiary or your estate.

If you are very wealthy now or in the future, your estate may be subject to federal taxes.

However, there are other financial benefits to estate planning, even if you do not expect a large tax bill. If you place certain accounts in trust for your children, they may derive tax advantages while the money grows over time.

2. What Do You Have? 

Owning property, a business, life insurance, or other items of value means you should plan for their distribution after your death. 

The more money you have, the more you need an estate plan. However, even people who consider themselves middle class can benefit from having a will and even trusts to determine who gets what. 

If you have a large family, you may want to specify who gets how much of your estate. You may wish to include only those who will need it. You may wish your money to go to your children, but to be managed by another family member until they are aged 25 or 30.

Passing your assets to beneficiaries through a trust can also be more expedient than going through probate. Probate can be a long and contentious process. If you plan your estate carefully, the people you leave behind will have access to your property and money through a trust more quickly.

3. Who Do You Take Care Of?

If you have small children, you should have a will and estate plan. No one in their twenties or thirties likes to think they may die one day, but unfortunately, terrible things do happen. You want to take care of your family, just in case the worst happens.

In addition to making financial arrangements for your children, you may also want to designate who will take care of them. Some wills will name a guardian for minor children if both parents die.

You may also name someone to administer the estate, (control the money) after you pass away. They might be given the responsibility of deciding on what the money in the estate can be spent for the benefit of the children. For example, they might be able to approve college tuition but not the purchase of a motorcycle.

If you have someone with disabilities in your family who is unable to work for a living, you may want to make special provisions. There are trusts that can be set up for the benefit of disabled people which provide special protection. These special needs trusts may be funded by an inheritance from you.

These trusts aim to ensure that your family member is taken care of throughout their life.

5. Who Do You Trust to Take Care of Your Affairs? 

When you plan your estate, you must choose someone to pay your debts, distribute your assets, and make sure that all of your wishes are followed. This will be your Personal Representative. 

You can give your Personal Representative a wide range of power, including the ability to file taxes on trusts, distribute monies to beneficiaries, and even arrange your funeral.

Your Personal Representative can be your spouse, a trusted child or friend, or a lawyer or accountant. You should also name alternative Personal Representatives in case they predecease you.

You can also assign someone the responsibility to make end-of-life medical decisions on your behalf.

6. What Does Your Family Structure Look Like? 

Did you remarry late in life? You may want to make specific provisions to leave your estate to the children of your first marriage.

Do your children fight over money frequently? Is there a member of your family who is unworthy of inheriting from you? 

Are your family members well off, or do you want to teach them the true value of hard work? You may wish to give a portion or all of your estate to a charitable organization.

Estate planning will solidify your wishes to reduce infighting in your family and make sure your assets go to whom you want them to go. 

7. How Do You Want to Enjoy Your Retirement? 

Estate planning specialists and lawyers can help you get the full value of your money before you die.

Estate planning should start well before you retire.

Estate Planning 101: Not As Hard as You May Think! 

Estate planning 101 does not have to be difficult or morose. In fact, it is a great feeling to understand you can make the most of your income and provide for yourself and your family in the future. 

By exploring your options and setting up your affairs now, you will reap the rewards for a long time to come.

For more information on planning your estate, contact us

Wisconsin Estate Planning Documents You Need

estate planning documents

Estate planning is a necessary part of preparing for the future. However, in the here and now, the necessity of estate planning documents may not be incredibly apparent. Unfortunately, it often takes the worst-case scenarios to bring the importance of estate planning to light.

This post outlines estate planning documents every Wisconsin resident should draft before they are needed and why it is so important to make  estate planning a top priority.

Will

This estate planning document is one of the most well-known and well-misunderstood. There are several  misconceptions surrounding wills, but its also one of the most-needed estate planning tools.

A will is a legal tool for a person to express their wishes when they cannot. Unfortunately, verbal expressions are not enough to spur action in the State of Wisconsin. For example, telling a relative they can have an heirloom does not make the item exempt from a battle among family members.

People can use a will to detail these wishes:

  • Which persons or organizations should receive assets from the estate
  • Which person is responsible for the care of minors in the household (if the other parent should also be incapacitated)
  • The person or organization that serves as the executor of the estate and is responsible for settling the estate (including distributing assets)
  • If a trust is established for asset distribution


If there is no will drafted for an estate, the distribution of assets and settling of debts is handled by other parties who may not follow the wishes of the decedent. In Wisconsin, a legal will must be drafted (ideally by an  estate planning professional) and signed by the individual as well as two witnesses. The witnesses should not be beneficiaries who receive assets as spelled out in the will or lawful heirs of the estate. It is also recommended that the will is stored in a safe location in the full knowledge of a trusted person.

Durable Power of Attorney

A Durable Power of Attorney designates a party who can make financial decisions when an estate owner is unable to do so. This is essential for situations when a person is sick or hurt, and financial matters need to be handled during this time. The lack of a Durable Power Attorney can leave family and friends struggling during what can be a very difficult time.

A Durable Power of Attorney is only applicable when a person is alive; this power ends when the person dies. The person can express in the document what financial matters can be handled. A Durable Power of Attorney can give an agent the right to purchase and sell real estate, pay for expenses, and sign legal documents on the individual’s behalf.

Healthcare Power of Attorney

A Healthcare Power of Attorney is a separate estate planning document from the Durable Power of Attorney. This estate planning document designates an agent to make healthcare decisions for another. This agent can be the same as the will executor, party named in the Durable Power of Attorney, or can be another party.

This estate planning document can be incredibly important when a person cannot make the decisions or express their wishes because of a health issue. In these cases, a agent can make decisions and carry out any wishes previously stated.

The materials on this website are provided for informational purposes only and do not constitute legal advice. These materials are intended, but not promised or guaranteed to be current, complete, or up-to-date and should in no way be taken as an indication of future results. Transmission of the information is not intended to create, and the receipt does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship between sender and receiver. You should not act or rely on any information contained in this website without first seeking the advice of an attorney.

Guide to Creating an Estate Plan in Wisconsin

family walking on beach after estate planning in wisconsinMost Wisconsin residents associate estate planning with drafting a will—and nothing more. In reality, there is more to the process, such as drafting directives that guide family and friends during difficult times. As a whole, an estate plan is a package of legal documents that lead to an optimal financial outcome and expedient process for all parties involved and detail the wishes of the incapacitated or deceased.

Because everyone’s situation varies, the exact estate planning documents and arrangements needed are different for every household (and sometimes for individual household members). The details of an estate plan can also vary from state to state. In general, however, the initial steps for creating an estate plan are similar, including where to start the estate planning process.

Gather information about assets and liabilities.

Estate planning is not entirely about financial matters; however, finances are an integral part of every estate plan. To give professionals a comprehensive view of the financial situation, compile a list of assets and liabilities. This information should include financial accounts, life insurance policies, any financial debts, and other liabilities that needs to be factored into the estate. This information can also be used to calculate the net worth of the estate; this step needs to be done to determine if and what taxes the estate is subject to.

Have important discussions.

Beyond the owner of the estate, there are other parties that are named in estate planning documents. These parties need to be chosen, including:

  • Beneficiary or beneficiaries. These parties receive assets from the estate. Beneficiaries, commonly called heirs, can be individuals (i.e. family members, friends, associates) or organizations (i.e. charities).
  • Executor. This party should be a responsible individual that ensures all the terms of the estate planning documents are executed. An executor can be a friend, family member, or associate, such as a lawyer or other firm.
  • Guardian. This party is named as the caregiver for minors when the owner of the estate is incapacitated or deceased. (Read more about choosing and naming a guardian for children.)

A discussion with these parties is not required for estate planning; however, discussions can be invaluable with all parties involved (including friends or family members that are not named in the estate plan) so the execution of the estate plan is seamless and efficient. When executors, beneficiaries, and guardians are named, information about the parties should be collected (contact an estate planning lawyer to find out what information is needed). If the choice of beneficiaries, executors, or guardian changes, these parties can (and should) be changed and updated.

Contact an experienced local estate planning lawyer.

There are several different estate planning options, such as a will, advanced directives, irrevocable and revocable living trust. An experienced, local estate planning lawyer can recommend the best documentation and arrangements suited to the specific situation. Bring all information to the meeting, including the list of assets and liabilities and information about parties that should be included.

The materials on this website are provided for informational purposes only and do not constitute legal advice. These materials are intended, but not promised or guaranteed to be current, complete, or up-to-date and should in no way be taken as an indication of future results. Transmission of the information is not intended to create, and the receipt does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship between sender and receiver. You should not act or rely on any information contained in this website without first seeking the advice of an attorney.

 

Living Trust versus Will: What’s the difference?

Estate planning worksheet for writing a willIn the past few years we’ve had more clients in our Wisconsin offices asking about revocable living trusts and whether or not a living trust is right for their estate planning. While we can’t answer the latter question here (make an appointment to find out if a living trust is right for your situation), we can give you a basic overview of revocable living trusts and wills.

Will

The will is the most common estate planning document. A will is a legal document (find tips for drafting a legal will here) that details your wishes, such as guardianship of minor children, distribution of assets, and who the executor is that carries out your wishes. Other than drafting a will and other important estate planning documents, no other actions may be necessary during the estate owner’s lifetime.

Revocable Living Trust

A revocable living trust is a legal document that outlines your assets and distribution. The living trust is revocable at any time. In a living trust, all assets are placed in a living trust and a trustee is appointed to manage the assets. Typically, the trustee is the estate owner during their lifetime and is transferred to another party or parties when necessary.

Similarities

A revocable living trust shares similarities to a will. Both legal documents dictate the distribution of your assets and should be established during estate planning prior to one’s death. Also, estate taxes are the same for estates with a will and living trust.

Differences

There are some key differences between these estate planning documents, however. A revocable living trust is not a public document, making all matters private. When an estate is in a living trust, the estate does not have to go through probate. All wills have to go through probate, which can take longer (in some cases months or years) and incur more expenses to the estate. Overall, it is easier to create and make changes to a will than it is to a living trust. A living trust has more initial costs during set-up than a traditional will.

What is right for you

Your lawyer can discuss whether a will or revocable living trust, or a combination of both (a “pour over will”), is right for your situation. Make an appointment to get the process started and determine which legal option is right for your estate and your family.

The materials on this website are provided for informational purposes only and do not constitute legal advice. These materials are intended, but not promised or guaranteed to be current, complete, or up-to-date and should in no way be taken as an indication of future results. Transmission of the information is not intended to create, and the receipt does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship between sender and receiver. You should not act or rely on any information contained in this website without first seeking the advice of an attorney.

What is an advance directive? What advance directives should I have?

Estate planning worksheet for writing a willThe term “estate planning” conjures up images of wills and inheritances. Often some of the most important estate planning documents, advance directives, is overlooked—and all too often that oversight can have negative consequences when you need them the most.

What is an advance directive?

When an incident happens that incapacitates you—an accident, illness, mental affliction, etc.—-your family is not automatically authorized to make legal decisions in Wisconsin.  Advance directives are forms that give legal authorization and instructions on your financial and health care decisions.

Why should I include advance directives as part of my estate planning?

Wisconsin is not a “next of kin” or “family consent” state.  If an emergency happens and you cannot express your wishes for your assets or care, advance directives do that legally for you.  For that reason, advance directives are a very important component of any estate plan; they are also helpful to a person’s family because guardianship proceedings can be more lengthy, costly, stressful and public then advance directives.  Because of these documents are legally binding, it makes sense to consult an attorney as part of your efforts to complete a legally-binding estate plan.

What advance directives do I need?

Power of Attorney for Finance and Property

This document is one of four directives authorized by statute in Wisconsin. The Power of Attorney for Finance and Property designates another person to make legal and financial decisions when you can’t.  As your document with your expressed wishes, you can limit those powers or grant a broad breadth to the “agent” (that person) you choose.  Some examples of matters your agent can deal with on your behalf include finances, insurance policies, government benefits, taxes, bank and retirement accounts.

Power of Attorney for Health Care & Declaration to Physicians

These directives both deal with health care decisions when you can’t; the Declaration to Physicians is much more limited in scope.  The Declaration to Physicians document states any preferences you may have regarding treatment or any life-saving measures you would like taken (or not taken) in the event of a medical emergency.  Examples of situations where a Declaration to Physician document would be used is if you are in a permanent vegetative state, unconscious, or in a coma.  In your Power of Attorney for Health Care, you designate an agent (this can be a different party than the agent in your Power of Attorney for Finance and Property) to make decisions about your health care when you are incapacitated.

Authorization for Final Disposition

This document designates a person to make funeral arrangements when you die.  This advance directive is also the appropriate document where you can explain your preferences for your disposition and funeral service.  Put simply, this is your chance to detail what you want (and don’t want) after you pass on, and who you trust to carry out those wishes.

Advance directives are relatively inexpensive to create, especially when compared to the alternative proceedings that need to take place if those documents are not on record.  Contact a local experienced attorney to get your estate planning started and finished just in case you ever need it.

The materials on this website are provided for informational purposes only and do not constitute legal advice. These materials are intended, but not promised or guaranteed to be current, complete, or up-to-date and should in no way be taken as an indication of future results. Transmission of the information is not intended to create, and the receipt does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship between sender and receiver. You should not act or rely on any information contained in this website without first seeking the advice of an attorney.

Estate Planning Tips for the New Year

Estate planning worksheet for writing a willThe New Year is the logical time for financial planning and estate planning.  After all, the start of the New Year is an ideal time to look forward and plan for the future.  Estate planning is the essence of planning for the future, both for you and your heirs.  You can make a very difficult time easier for them now—if you follow these tips.

Don’t wait.

This is one of the most common mistakes people wait: they wait too long to plan for the future.  Unfortunately, procrastination adds stress to their family and friends during an already tough time.  If your New Year’s resolution is to establish an estate plan for the future, don’t wait to consult a lawyer.

Make sure it’s legal.

As tempting as it is to jot down a few wishes on a piece of paper, a worthless document can cause more problems for your heirs during an already stressful time—and cost them more money.  To create a legally-binding estate planning document that eliminates any questions when you’re not there to answer them, contact an experienced lawyer who is knowledgeable in your state and local regulations.

Don’t just file your will away.

A will is not a static document; instead review and update your will when you add more members to your family, your marriage circumstances change, there is a death of a beneficiary, or significant changes in assets.  Ask your attorney for any other circumstances that would dictate a change in your legal estate planning documents.   

When your will is updated, avoid filing your estate planning documents in a safe deposit box.  If you put your will in a safe deposit box, you can make the process more costly and complicated for your family.  Your family may have to get a court order to gain access to the safe deposit box.  Instead, choose a fireproof, protected container for your document or ask your attorney for other recommendations for document storage.

Think beyond just drafting a will.

Many think of a will as a catch-all document with stipulations for almost any situation; actually, a will’s only purpose is to dictate the distribution of your assets when you die.  A complete estate plan also names a Power of Attorney, Healthcare Power of Attorney, and includes other legal documents specific to your situation. To find out what should all be included in your estate plan, ask your attorney.

The materials on this website are provided for informational purposes only and do not constitute legal advice. These materials are intended, but not promised or guaranteed to be current, complete, or up-to-date and should in no way be taken as an indication of future results. Transmission of the information is not intended to create, and the receipt does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship between sender and receiver. You should not act or rely on any information contained in this website without first seeking the advice of an attorney.

3 Vital Estate Planning Documents You Should Put in Place

Last will and testament estate planning documentIn the movies, estate planning consisted of the stereotypical reading of one document, with a feeling of foreboding and a heavy voice reading the will.  In reality, however, estate planning is about more than spelling out who gets your good china; an estate plan consists of a collection of documents that can speak for you when you physically can’t.  Everyone’s estate plan is different based on their circumstances, but there are a few essential documents that should be included—but not limited to.  Ask your attorney for the specific legal documents necessary to your situation.

Will 

Many think of a will as a catch-all document with stipulations for almost any situation; actually, a will’s only purpose is to dictate the distribution of your assets when you die.  This is done by an executor who is named in your will.  Your executor carries out all your stipulations and settle your affairs, so choose this party carefully (and follow these other tips for a solid will).

A will contains a list all your assets, a guardian for any minors in your care (if applicable), and list of beneficiaries of your assets (people or organizations that receive items or funds).  After your death, your will is subject to probate, which is the legal proving of the will.  Probate can take anywhere from a few months to a year.

Power of Attorney

Your Power of Attorney document spells out the party (any friend, relative, spouse, etc.) who is responsible for all your legal and financial matters if you can’t.  Choose this person carefully; he or she can invest and use your funds for (almost) whatever purpose they deem necessary.  Even if you have a living trust, a Power of Attorney is still needed for anything not included in your trust.  Your Power of Attorney is in effect until your death.

If you do not have a Power of Attorney in place, a court-appointed guardian or conservator is appointed.  This option can be expensive and complex.

Healthcare Power of Attorney

A Healthcare Power of Attorney document serves the same purpose as the Power of Attorney, only in a more limited scope.  Your Healthcare Power of Attorney acts on your behalf while you are incapacitated, but only on healthcare decisions. An advanced medical directive, a companion document, is also helpful to fill out detailing your wishes, such as whether you want to be placed on a ventilator.

Other documents…

Depending on your situation, your attorney may also suggest other legal estate planning documents, such as a living trust.  In addition to legal estate planning documents, consider filling out funeral planning documents so your wishes are known to your family and friends.

The materials on this website are provided for informational purposes only and do not constitute legal advice. These materials are intended, but not promised or guaranteed to be current, complete, or up-to-date and should in no way be taken as an indication of future results. Transmission of the information is not intended to create, and the receipt does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship between sender and receiver. You should not act or rely on any information contained in this website without first seeking the advice of an attorney.