Common (and Costly) Estate Planning Mistakes to Avoid

grandparents with children after granted third-party visitation in WisconsinEstate planning is a process; one that can be fraught with costly and inefficient mistakes. These are some of the most common and expensive estate planning mistakes that Wisconsin residents make as they plan (or don’t plan) for the unexpected.

Avoiding estate planning all together

Not wanting to think about death may be human nature, but that avoidance can also be a major mistake. Estate planning makes a very difficult time easier for friends and family. The planning process also allows a person to take steps to ensure that family is provided for after death; in Wisconsin, if an estate plan is not present, Wisconsin’s intestacy succession laws go into effect. All organization of assets are done according to the law, without regard for the deceased’s wishes. Estate planning can also become a vehicle for organizing assets in preparation for the next phase of life (i.e. establishing a living trust, etc.) and for an expedient process after death.

Assuming a will is the only estate planning document

A comprehensive estate plan is a collection of documents appropriate for the client’s situation (contact an attorney to get recommendations and advice on the right estate planning documents). Since every situation is different, the right estate planning documents are custom and drafted to the benefit of the client. A complete estate plan can expedite the probate process, organize assets and liabilities, and provide clear guidance during very difficult times (i.e. when a loved one is very ill or has passed away).

Not drafting advance directives

When an incident happens that incapacitates a person—an accident, illness, mental affliction, etc.—-the person’s family is not automatically authorized to make legal decisions in Wisconsin.  For that reason, advanced directives, also termed the Power of Attorney forms, are an essential part of an estate plan. Advance directives give legal authorization and instructions for vital financial and health care decisions that need to be made when a party is not able to.

Not Updating Beneficiaries

Naming beneficiaries is an important function of estate planning, but one that often is neglected or incomplete. Many people do not give this important estate planning task the attention it deserves. The beneficiaries listed in all estate planning documents should match the designation on all assets, such as life insurance policies. Designations should also be updated as circumstances change. For example, if a couple divorces, all estate planning forms (and asset documents) should be updated to reflect the change in relationship. Beneficiaries should also be named in case the primary beneficiaries are not available.

Not considering document storage

A well-prepared estate plan is useless if it’s not accessible during difficult times. In the past it was common to store legal documents in a lock box; today that strategy can make a very difficult time more challenging. If the lock box is in the deceased’s name (even if the executor is given access), the family needs to go through a legal process to get to the documents. Make the process easier for friends and family by considering accessible options for storage, such as a lawyer’s office or fire-proof safe. It can also be helpful to give copies of the will to significant parties, such as the executor and guardian named in the will.

Forgetting to update estate planning documents

All documents and insurance policies should be reviewed and updated periodically as circumstances change. Specifically, contact an experienced estate planning attorney to update documents when additional children are born, when additional beneficiaries need to be added, the executor name needs to be changed, family relationships have been changed, or there is a significant increase or decrease in assets.

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.

 

Lake Mills Wine Walk


Neuberger, Griggs, Sweet & Schrier is one of the stops along the 2nd Annual Lake Mills Wine Walk. Dr. Jennifer Jeschke of Optimal Physical Therapy will be co-hosting the event along with us. Hopefully you will be joining us for a fun night out in Lake Mills organized by the Lake Mills Main Street Program. We will have samples of a Mosketto Bianco and an Argento Malbec. Appetizer pairings will be provided.

Do wills need to be notarized in Wisconsin?

Last will and testament estate planning documentEstate planning comes with a fair number of questions; some of them are questions specific to the client’s situation, such as about guardianship of children or assets. (Get answers specific to a Wisconsin will from an experienced and local lawyer.) Other frequently asked estate planning questions are general questions that can apply to wills drafted in Wisconsin; we’ve addressed those general questions about wills in this post.

Why is a will needed?

A will is an important legal document that provides direction for the distribution of assets (such as naming beneficiaries), instructions for the care of minors, can become a vehicle for organizing assets, and a place to include any other wishes that should be carried out after death. There is never a “right time” for drafting a will; this legal document should be drafted in case of any unforeseen circumstances. When deciding to draft a will, ensure that the document is legally sound; contact a local lawyer knowledgeable in Wisconsin wills.

What happens if there is no will when someone dies in Wisconsin?

Wisconsin has laws, called the intestacy succession laws, in place when a will is not drafted at the time of death. These laws apply to the probate estate. If the person who has passed has no family, the entire estate goes to the state of Wisconsin. Otherwise, the probate estate of the estate is passed to the surviving spouse and any children of the deceased (this does not apply to the spouse’s children). When the deceased is not married, the probate estate passes to the parents or siblings (the exact circumstances dictate the exact distribution).

Should my spouse and I have a joint will?

Many spouses draft a joint will; however, there are circumstances where each spouse should have their own will. In these cases, a mirror will, revocable trust, or irrevocable trust may be appropriate for the situation; an experienced estate planning attorney can determine the correct legal document specific to the circumstances.

Should a will in Wisconsin be notarized?

A will in Wisconsin does need to be signed by witnesses but does not need to be notarized. However, there are specific advantages of a notarized will, such as expediting the process of probate. If contacting a lawyer, the lawyer can make sure that the will is in order and notarized for the benefit of all parties involved.

Do Wisconsin wills need to be updated?

A will is not a static legal document and should be reviewed periodically as life changes affect the situation. Contact a lawyer when there are additional children (or grandchildren) that should be addressed in the will, a new beneficiary should be added (i.e. charity), a new executor should be named, family relationships have changed, or there is a significant change in assets (either a decrease or increase).

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.