7 Reasons to Hire an Elder Law Attorney

As a senior, you have many challenging issues to work through, from finding long-term care to sorting out finances. Do you have an expert who can help you?

All seniors should have an elder law attorney to help them navigate the legal system. What is elder law? Simply, it refers to an area of legal practice that specializes in issues that impact seniors and the elderly population.

Are you thinking about hiring an elder law attorney? If so, keep reading to find seven reasons why you or a loved one can benefit from specialized legal care.

1. An Elder Law Attorney Understands Estate Planning

One important reason to use the services of an elder care attorney is for help with estate planning.

Estate planning is a complex topic and involves the preparation of your finances, living arrangements, and your healthcare needs. An elder care lawyer can manage your wishes and can help distribute your assets in a way that avoids your dependents having to pay excessive fees.

An expert attorney can assist with both estate planning and wills, ensuring your wishes are respected.

2. Help with Medicare and Medicaid Claims

Making sense of Medicare and Medicaid can be confusing, and sometimes it’s almost impossible to figure out what services you do and don’t qualify for.

Getting answers from Medicare isn’t always easy either, so sometimes it helps to have a qualified elder law lawyer to look over your situation and advise.

This can help you receive the medical care you’re entitled to and you don’t pay unnecessarily for medical treatment.

3. Long-Term Care Financing

Assisted-care facilities and nursing home care can be extremely expensive, with the average cost for a private room in a nursing home reaching $7,698 per month.

Is this covered by your insurance? Do you need help sorting out your estate or financing to free up money to cover your expenses?

An elder care lawyer can assist with nursing home financing and managing your assets to ensure you get the care you need.

Or, if you have any legal issues resulting from the services provided by your nursing home team, you may want a lawyer to help you seek compensation.

For example, if you aren’t receiving access to the services or care that were offered when you moved in, this can be an issue of deceptive advertising, something sometimes seen in the nursing care industry. 

4. Probate

A key reason many people use elder law attorneys is for assistance with probate. Probate is the legal process of verifying and validating a will before it can be carried out.

Disputes when it comes to wills are not common. But, if there is reason to believe that the will is not accurate or was created when the person was not of sound mind, then the will may be called into question, which requires probate.

Dealing with probate for a loved one’s will can be emotional and stressful, so you’ll want to work with an elder law lawyer to manage the situation. With the help of a lawyer, you can ensure the last requests of your loved one are looked after and that the will is administered fairly.

5. Elder Abuse Cases

Shockingly, elder abuse is more common than you might think. It’s estimated that one in ten Americans over the age of 60 have experienced some sort of elder abuse.

This can be physical, but can also be emotional. Or, they may be financially exploited, neglected, or deprived of their basic necessities.

If you or someone who you love is experiencing elder abuse, this is a serious criminal matter that requires investigation. You’ll need to hire a lawyer who can represent you in court, potentially file charges, and represent your interests.

Should you suspect elder abuse, contact 911 in emergency cases or report it by calling Adult Protective Services.

6. Issues Specific to Veterans

Many of our honored American veterans are now aging, and are reaching the point where they may need additional medical care and support.

Veteran seniors qualify for a huge range of benefits through Veterans Affairs, but it can be confusing to understand how it all works and what you’re entitled to in terms of healthcare and benefits.

Veterans may also need to attend particular veterans’ hospitals, which may pose challenges in terms of access and transportation.

If you or your loved one is a veteran who needs help managing their benefits, an elder law attorney can assist.

7. Issues of Discrimination

Unfortunately, discrimination against seniors is common in our society, especially in the workplace.

Have you applied for a job or a promotion and feel like you were passed over, due to your age? Many older adults still love being part of the workforce, but employers often prefer to hire younger workers.

Age-related discrimination is a crime, so if you were discriminated against, an elder law lawyer can help you form a case and fight for the compensation you’re entitled to.

You may also see age-related discrimination in the housing market, such as when applying for an apartment. Discrimination is against the law, so don’t let it happen to you.

Contact Us Today for Elder Law Support

With so many complexities to navigate as we get older, an elder law attorney can be a great asset. They’re someone who you can depend on to assist with all your needs.

If you need an expert legal team for your legal care needs, get in touch today. Watertown Law is an expert legal team, servicing the Watertown and Lake Mills areas of Wisconsin.

Founded in 1939, we have a long history of serving the community. Our team has over 200 years of combined experience, ensuring you and your loved ones receive the highest quality of legal care.

For all of your elder law needs, contact us today. Our friendly team looks forward to hearing from you.

8 Common Estate Planning Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

Are you part of the 58% of Americans who don’t have a will? 

While thinking about and planning for what happens after you die can be uncomfortable, it’s important not to put off estate planning. 

However, you want to make sure you do it carefully, so you don’t make estate planning mistakes that could complicate matters for your loved ones after you pass away. 

So, how can you make sure you do all the right things when writing a will and planning what happens after you die?  

Keep reading for an overview of 8 common estate planning mistakes, and how to avoid making them. 

1. Putting It Off

The number one mistaking you can make in terms of estate planning is simply avoiding it.

If you pass away before you put together a plan for what happens to your assets, you’ll be leaving your family to deal with a significant amount of emotional strain. And that’s on top of the emotional toll of grief following a death. 

If you don’t think you need to bother with estate planning because you just assume that your assets will be left to your spouse or children, that’s not always the case.

Laws vary per state if you die without a will, so the best thing to do is to make it very clear what you want to happen after you die, and get it in writing. 

2. Not Setting Beneficiaries Correctly

As part of the estate planning process, you’ll need to set beneficiary designations on all relevant policies. This includes things like retirement plans, life insurance policies, military pensions, etc. 

However, choosing a beneficiary is just the first step. You’ll also need to set an alternate beneficiary, should your primary beneficiary die before you do.

And, you can’t forget to update your beneficiaries as your life circumstances change over the years. For example, if your spouse is your primary beneficiary, and you get divorced, you may want to set a new beneficiary. 

Or, if your parent is an alternate beneficiary and they pass away, you’ll need to adjust your estate plan accordingly. 

3. Not Signing a Health-Care Directive

An unfortunate part of the estate planning process is thinking in terms of worst-case scenarios. 

For example, what happens if you suffer a severe medical emergency and you cannot make decisions for yourself?

If you don’t have a signed health-care directive in your estate planning documents, your loved ones are left to make difficult decisions about life support, organ donation, and more. 

By making your wishes clear for what you want to happen in the event of a medical emergency, things will be much easier for your family. 

4. Ignoring Tax-Saving Opportunities

Some clients can take advantage of several tax-saving opportunities to help lessen the impact of any estate taxes that might be due after passing. 

In your estate plans, classify certain items as gifts, whether to groups, businesses, or individuals. Qualifying gifts, up to $15,000, can be excluded from estate taxes. 

Another way to save on estate taxes is to use the federal exemption option for each spouse. 

The surviving spouse can pass their deceased spouse’s unused federal exemption to themselves, essentially doubling the exemption amount for which they qualify. 

However, you must make sure you do everything regarding taxes in compliance with the law. Work with an estate planning attorney to ensure that you do everything correctly. 

5. Not Planning for the Unexpected

When creating estate plans, you must think about and plan for all unexpected situations. You’ll want to name powers of attorney, should something happen to you where you can no longer make decisions for yourself. 

If you have young children, the last thing you want to think about is missing out on a lifetime together. However, it’s better to be safe than sorry, by choosing a legal guardian should something happen to you and your spouse. 

You never know what might happen in your life, so it’s best to include plans for all scenarios when estate planning. 

6. Taking a Set It and Forget It Approach

If you’ve already done your estate planning, that’s great! However, the work doesn’t end there. 

Estate planning is not a one-time-only event. As your life changes, your estate plans should change along with it. 

For example, your plans will likely change as your family changes, whether in the form of marriage, divorce, remarriage, or having children. 

Similarly, if you move to a new state, there may be laws that impact your estate plans that weren’t in place in your old state. 

It’s a good idea to revisit your estate plans once a year or so, to verify everything is up to date. 

7. Picking the Wrong Person 

Choosing a personal representative for your estate is an important decision. You want to make sure you don’t select someone who could have ulterior motives. 

When making a decision on who should be your personal representative, try to think about someone who is good at making decisions emotionally and someone who is reliable. 

You should also choose someone who is in good financial standing and who can handle the responsibility that comes along with being a personal representative.

Once you’ve made a decision make sure to talk it over with the person you choose to make sure they are comfortable with your decision. 

8. Not Working With Professionals

You don’t want to take any chances when it comes to planning your estate and preparing your will. 

Hire an attorney who specializes in estate planning to make sure nothing is overlooked. This helps to ensure that your wishes are documented correctly and there will be a lower likelihood of complications when you pass away. 

Talking to a financial planner and tax professional can also help you when estate planning.

We Can Help You Avoid Estate Planning Mistakes

Our lawyers at Watertown Law are here to help you avoid all the estate planning mistakes listed above. 

You can’t afford to put off your plans any longer. Reach out to our team today to take the first step in making the right preparations. 

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.


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.

What Does an Elder Law Attorney Do? This is What You Need to Know

By 2030, one out of every five Americans will be 65 years of age or older. Never before has the country had such a large over-60 population. 

As the population ages, elder care and elder law are becoming more complex. Families are increasingly struggling with the documentation and processes associated with living well in old age.

Keep reading to learn how an elder law attorney can help you and your loved ones manage the changes and challenges of aging. 

What Is Elder Law?

What is elder law, exactly? At its simplest, it is the body of law that deals with the elderly, their needs, and their rights. 

Elder law covers a wide range of concerns, including:  

  • Estates, estate planning, and trusts
  • Guardianship or conservatorship issues
  • Disability and special needs planning 
  • Long-term care arrangements 
  • Elder abuse 

Within each of these categories are numerous sub-categories of laws, rights, and limitations.  

Estates, Estate Planning, and Trusts

Estate planning is the process of deciding what will happen to a person’s belongings, including their home and finances when he or she dies. Although estate planning is its own category of law, it is also considered elder law. 

Guardianship or Conservatorship Issues

Illness, dementia, disabilities, and other conditions can render elders incapable of making decisions for themselves. When this happens, another person must step in and make decisions for them. Determining who that person should be and completing the paperwork to make that decision legal is elder law. 

Disability and Special Needs Planning 

The disability planning portion of elder law includes protecting one’s assets and ensuring resources for care in the event of a disability. Disability planning is important for elders, but also for families in which a child or other disabled party is dependent on the elderly person in question. 

Long-Term Care Arrangements 

Long-term is consistently more expensive than Americans realize. To make matters worse, few Americans understand the complicated restrictions associated with Medicare, Medicaid and veterans’ benefits. Hiring an elder law attorney is often the only way to properly prepare to meet the demands of long-term care costs. 

Elder Abuse

Vulnerable elders may become victims of physical, emotional, or financial abuse. Elder law covers their rights and protections. 

What Is an Elder Law Attorney?

An elder law attorney is a lawyer who specializes in elder care issues. He or she: 

  • Understands the complexities of elder care law
  • Knows the laws and regulations specific to Wisconsin Medicaid planning
  • Is experienced in helping families walk through the legal processes necessary to protect themselves and their assets 
  • Can break down complicated legal topics into easy-to-understand language
  • Can protect your rights or your loved one’s rights in the event of abuse 

Elder care attorneys can assist you and your family in:

  • Making important decisions
  • Financial planning
  • Completing critical paperwork to ensure your decisions will be recognized and respected

Decision Making

Often, elders aren’t even aware of all the decisions they need to make. Many have incorrect assumptions about what they need or can expect. 

Elderl law attorneys can educate elders and their families on what questions they need to ask and answer. They can explain standard practices and options. Through this, they can help families reach the decisions that will serve them best. 

Financial Planning

As one gets older, financial planning becomes far more involved than simply having a 401k or other investments. Depending on one’s age, health, and assets, it can include:

The laws and restrictions regulating these activities vary by state, so it is important to get the help of a legal professional when drawing them up. 

Completing Paperwork

In the modern world, aging comes with an abundance of paperwork. Much of it is obscure or confusing. Worse, if it is not done absolutely correctly, it may be considered invalid. 

An elder care attorney can help families complete or draw up: 

  • Medicare or Medicaid applications
  • Veterans benefits applications 
  • Revocable living trusts
  • Estate planning documents
  • Living Will and airtight Power of Attorney documents

When to Get an Elder Law Attorney

Now that you know what elder law attorneys do, how do you know when you need one?  Realistically, if you or a loved one is 65 years of age or older, or is at or approaching retirement age, it is smart to consult an attorney. 

Finding an attorney is particularly important if the elder: 

  • Is disabled or has disabled dependents 
  • Owns a business or other substantial assets
  • Has acute or chronic health conditions
  • Has been married more than once or is recently divorced
  • Has no children or does not have good relationships with their children

When in doubt, best practice is to consult with an attorney to ensure that your plans and documents are adequate, legal, and complete. 

How to Find an Elder Law Attorney

When choosing an elder law attorney, there are few key factors to keep in mind.

First, make sure you are selecting an attorney experienced in elder law. Not just “any” attorney will do. You need to select an attorney or firm with experience in elder law

Second, choose an attorney located and licensed to practice in your state. Elder law varies widely from state to state, as do the requirements for essential documents such as living wills and trusts. Choosing a local attorney can ensure you get assistance customized to your state’s requirements. 

Finally, choose an attorney that you or your loved one is comfortable with. Elder law involves discussing and making decisions about deeply important and personal issues. Selecting an attorney that you trust can make those difficult conversations easier.  

Talk to an Attorney Today

If you or your loved one is aging, don’t wait to contact an elder law attorney and make sure your affairs are in order. There is no substitute for the peace of mind that comes with knowing your family will be protected even if the worst happens and no better gift you can give the ones you love. 

Contact Wisconsin elder law attorneys to get started today.

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.


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.

3 Wisconsin Probate Myths Explained

Wisconsin probate

Probate is the court-supervised process in Wisconsin through which the assets from an estate are distributed. There are both Formal and Informal Probates, the formality dictates how involved the Court is in the process. This process can be lengthy and complicated or it can be short and smooth; there are steps that can be set up to ensure the process is the latter.

Unfortunately, many Wisconsin families are not aware of those steps or are held back by misconceptions about probate. An experienced estate planning lawyer can assist with the steps needed to make the time after a death easier for the family. This post can help clear up the most common misconceptions about Wisconsin probate proceedings.

Myth 1: Every estate goes into probate

Most estates are subject to probate. During the probate process, creditors have three months to file claims against the estate. There are also income taxes to file; the exact details of income tax filings depend on the estate.

However, there are some estates that do not go through the probate process. If the amount of the estate is under the  Wisconsin threshold, the estate is not subject to the probate process. Some assets in an estate may not be subject to probate.

Myth 2: There is no way to avoid probate

As discussed above, not all estates are subject to probate. Even if an estate is going through the probate process, not all assets in the estate may be part of the process. These assets may include accounts with a beneficiary designation, assets included in a trust, or property that is jointly owned. In a joint ownership, property automatically passes to the second party named in the joint ownership.

It should be noted that accounts are only excluded from probate IF the owner has specifically named beneficiaries. This is one of several estate planning steps that can make the process easier for friends and family members after a death.

revocable living trust is another way to make the distribution of assets smoother during a difficult time. Certain items of the estate are placed into a revocable living trust; the “revocable” label means the trust can be revoked at any time. There are three parties named for management and distribution of the assets: a settlor, trustee, and beneficiary (or beneficiaries). The settlor is the individual who owns the assets. The trustee manages those assets when the guarantor is alive or becomes unable to do so. The beneficiaries are the parties designated to receive those assets. A trust can be established with the assistance of an experienced estate planning lawyer. Even with a trust, a will should still be drafted to detail the distribution of other assets not included in the trust.

Myth 3: During probate, the court is responsible for every part of estate distribution

This common estate planning myth is partially true. Probate is a court-supervised proceeding, but the distribution of assets is executed by a personal representative usually named in the will. If a personal representative is not named in the will, the court appoints an executor.

The will can designate any party as the personal representative. The personal representative can be a friend, family member, or organization. A personal representative can also consult a lawyer to assist with the process. The personal representative is charged with compiling a list of assets, managing creditor claims, and distributing assets. Because this is a multi-step process, the probate process may take a year or more.

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.

20 Reasons to Hire a Wisconsin Real Estate Lawyer

Real estate matters are a big deal with long-term implications, both financial and legal. The only party that can give legal advice in these significant matters are real estate lawyers. Because a real estate lawyer does not work on commission, real estate lawyers dispense unbiased advice because they have no interests in the matter.

With so many documents and steps in the real estate transaction, real estate lawyers can also be invaluable when navigating through a real estate matter. Real estate lawyers can break down documents and the process for clients, allowing them to make an informed decision. The lawyers can identify issues throughout the process and assist in resolving matters. Real estate lawyers can also advice clients of legal risks involved in the transaction, both short- and long-term. If the transaction results in legal conflict, a real estate lawyer can assist in the resolution.

With so many advantages of hiring a real estate lawyer, potential homeowners, business owners, farm managers, developers, landlords, and other parties can benefit from the services of a real estate lawyer. In Wisconsin, a real estate lawyer can assist with these matters. (This list is not all-inclusive. Contact a local real estate lawyer for a consultation pertaining to the specific matter.)

Real Estate Lawyer Services

  1. Purchasing rental properties
  2. Selling a home to a child or family member
  3. Buying a home from a parent
  4. Purchasing a home
  5. Title examinations
  6. Zoning issues
  7. Resolving Homeowner Association issues
  8. Construction contract review and issues
  9. Drafting land contracts
  10. Resolving conflicts with property titles
  11. Drafting development agreements
  12. Filing liens
  13. Resolution of boundary line disputes
  14. Purchasing land
  15. Drafting land rental agreements
  16. Reviewing offers to purchase a property
  17. Selling land
  18. Renting land to another party
  19. Drafting and negotiating brokerage agreements
  20. Dealing with restrictive covenants

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.


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.


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.


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.