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.