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Estate Planning

What to consider before an estate planning meeting with your attorney

There are probably few subjects in law which are surrounded by more myths and misinformation than the subject of Wills and the distribution of estates. Many people believe that not having a Will allows the State to take part of the estate, that having a Will automatically reduces taxes, and that having a Will keeps an estate out of Probate Court. None of these are true. All of these misconceptions can be cleared up by visiting with an attorney to discuss your estate planning options.

The purpose of this section of our web site is to provide a brief explanation of what a Will can do, and some practical advice on why a Will is needed. We hope you find this information helpful.

What Happens Without a Will?

Older CoupleIn Wisconsin, if you die with assets in your name, and without a Will:

A Will Can Protect Your Husband or Wife

Most people assume that, if a husband or wife dies without a Will, everything goes to the survivor of them. That is certainly true in a first marriage and of jointly owned property; however, if the property is not jointly held or the marriage is a 2nd or 3rd marriage, the surviving husband or wife is entitled to only about one half the individually owned assets of a deceased spouse, the rest of the assets passing to the children. Your husband or wife could therefore be very surprised to find, after your death, that half of your property has passed to your children.

If you want to control who receives your property after your death, it is usually a good idea to have a Will to avoid any possible confusion or surprise.

A Will Can Appoint Guardians for Your Children

If you have minor children, you have the right to appoint the Guardian who will take care of your children upon the deaths of you and your spouse.

For many people this is the most important function of a Will. Most people find that their estate distribution plan doesn't vary greatly from the laws of intestacy; however they justifiably have strong feelings as to who is selected to raise their children. Without a Will, the court will make that determination.

A Will Can Appoint Trustees for Children

If you have minor children, you also have the right to appoint a Trustee to handle the funds that you are leaving for your children. When you appoint the Trustee you can also put specific directions in the Will for applying the child's inheritance for purposes such as support and education, and specific directions for the age at which the child may receive the balance of the inheritance outright, free of trust.

If you fail to write a Will and your minor children inherit from you, a court will appoint a Guardian for them (and the Guardian perhaps will not be the person you would have chosen), and your children will receive their inheritances in full at the age of eighteen.

A Will Can Appoint A Personal Representative

The job of a Personal Representative of an estate is usually not as complicated as many people think, especially if an attorney is working with the Personal Representative to settle the estate. It is really just a matter of finding the assets, paying the debts, paying the taxes, and distributing whatever is left. However, there are sometimes disputes about who should be the Personal Representative when there is no Will. Having a Will that names a Personal Representative can eliminate these kinds of problems.

A Will Makes Your Final Wishes Known To Your Family

We typically give clients another document to fill out with their Will that states what their last wishes are. If there is somewhere in particular that you would like to be buried, or something in particular you would like at a memorial service, this is the time and place to write those things down so that your loved ones may carry out your last wishes. This document, along with your Last Will and Testament, should be kept in a safe place that you make your family aware of, should they need to find it.

Click here for helpful links to web sites about the estate planning process.

Any information presented on this web site is not legal advice nor does its viewing constitute the formation of an attorney-client relationship.