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Without proactive planning, you are relying on the Wisconsin legislature to determine how your assets pass, to whom they pass, and when they pass. In addition to having potentially undesired results, this is perhaps the most costly and time consuming means of passing your assets to your loved ones.

Even assuming that there has been no family or financial changes since your plan was last reviewed, there have been major tax law changes. An out-of-date estate plan could be worse than no estate plan at all. Our experience is that people view estate planning as an event rather than a process. Keeping your plan current is vital to achieving the goals you set out to accomplish.

Many are under the mistaken impression that a spouse or loved one can automatically step in and make decisions on their behalf if they become unable to make decisions on their own, but Wisconsin law offers no such default for anyone over 18 years old. You must either create the documents necessary to give them that authority OR your loved ones will have to petition a court for guardianship over you after you become incapacitated.

It’s important that your beneficiary designations are coordinated with your estate plan because what you have written on these forms is how the asset will be distributed, whether or not it’s what you intended.

Proper planning is crucial to prevent an heir from squandering his or her inheritance, receiving it all too young, triggering any federal or state aid to stop, or worse, from causing harm to himself or herself.

Different states have different property laws and if you reside in a different state than where you had your estate plan drafted, then you should get it reviewed because it might be in your best interest to get it updated according to the law in the state you now reside in.

We encourage you to make a list of each asset you own and identify how each asset is going to avoid probate. Assets that will avoid probate are those owned as “joint tenants with rights of survivorship,” those owned in the name of a trust, and those that pass by beneficiary designation (such as IRAs, life insurance, etc.). Everything else is subject to probate. (Also, note that assets owned jointly are typically subject to probate upon the death of the last joint tenant.) Probates can be costly and typically require twelve (12) to eighteen (18) months from the date of death to conclude.

Holding assets jointly with someone other than a spouse is quite common, but has some potentially devastating consequences of which most people are unaware. Wisconsin law says that a creditor of a joint tenant may be able to take the entire asset to satisfy the creditor’s claim, depending on the type of asset. A creditor would include a divorcing spouse, judgment creditor, or business creditor. Additionally, problems can be created if joint tenants die in the wrong order.

The most common means of providing for heirs is with outright distributions. By doing so, however, the inheritance becomes subject to the creditors of your heirs. Without some trust planning, your beneficiaries will likely receive their inheritance in one lump sum.

Second or subsequent marriages present unique planning issues, particularly if both spouses have children from a prior marriage. Proper planning is critical to prevent undesired results.

It’s important that you know how you plan will work and that it meets all your goals.

Green Bay Press Gazette
Estate Planning Survey
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