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.

 

8 Questions to Ask Before Drafting a Will

will document that brings up estate planning questions wiDrafting a will is an important estate planning step, and one that does require some preparation. We’ve assisted many Wisconsin clients drafting a will; while hiring an experienced estate planning lawyer ensures that the document is legally sound, asking a few of the right questions at home can assure that the will is accurate and complete.

Who do I want to appoint as guardian of my children? What is that person’s personal information?

Selecting a guardian for your children and other minors when you pass away is not a decision to be made lightly. The right guardian should be an adult, incredibly trustworthy, and should fit all the criteria of a capable guardian. Once you have chosen the right party to be guardian, have their full name and personal information with you when you visit your attorney.

Who are the beneficiaries that I want to receive my assets? What is their personal information (i.e. social security numbers, address, etc.)?

A beneficiary is a party (i.e. individual, charity, etc.) that should receive the assets listed in a will. A will can include instructions to divide the assets equally between beneficiaries or provide specific instructions on individual assets. When scheduling an appointment for drafting a will, have an idea of any specific instructions before visiting an attorney.

Are there any assets that I want to pass on to a certain individual, such as an heirloom piece of jewelry?

One of the most common estate planning mistakes we see is people who give verbal instructions to a beneficiary without including any written instructions in a will. Depending on the situation, this can lead to hard feelings and improper execution of verbal instructions. Unfortunately, verbal instructions are not legally binding, meaning that there is no legal way to ensure that they are followed. Instead of simply telling a beneficiary they can have a prized item, include a written instruction in a will; it’s the best way to ensure that all wishes are followed.

What assets should be listed in the will? Do I have information about those assets (i.e. bank account numbers, lock box information, etc.)?

Not all assets need to be listed in a will. For those assets that should be included in the will, compile pertinent information about the asset, such as the holder and number of a life insurance policy. All information needs to be given to a lawyer during the will drafting process.

Who do I trust to carry out the instructions in my will?

One of the key parties listed in a will is an executor. The executor is charged with the task of distributing assets and carrying out wishes listed in the will. An executor should be extremely honest and organized. The executor does not need to be a family member; it can be anyone you trust with the responsibility. Choose the executor carefully and discuss the decision with all relevant parties to make the process easier when the will goes into effect.