Frequently Asked Questions: Estate Planning

After working on estate plans for a wide range of individuals; from couples with small children to couples with retirement just around the corner there are a number of questions that seem to always come up. Today I am going do a first installment of Frequently Asked Questions: Estate Planning.

1) How much will an estate plan cost?

I will start off with the first question I always receive from potential clients: “How much will it cost?” The answer to this question is “it depends”; it depends on your family situation, your concerns, and your goals regarding your estate plan. However, I would be happy to set up a time to discuss these things further such that would be able to give you a more accurate quote after learning mroe about you. I strongly believe that everyone should have an estate plan in place and I don’t want costs to be the factor preventing that from happening.

2) What is the process for creating an estate plan?

We will begin by scheduling a time to meet to discuss what you would like to achieve through your estate plan. Once we have a meeting scheduled I will send you a Welcome Packet containing information on the estate planning process, some of your estate planning tools, considerations regarding who you would like to designate to serve in certain roles in your estate plan, and a questionnaire that will guide you through the information you will want to gather prior to our meeting. At our initial meeting we will discuss your goals and the strategies available for achieving your goals. Together we will try to create an estate plan that will achieve your objectives. Thereafter, I will prepare and send you drafts of the necessary documents that you can review in the convenience of your home. Once you have reviewed the documents and all requested changes have been made we will schedule a final meeting to formally execute your estate plan.

3) What will happen if I don’t have a will?

If you don’t have a will there are essentially three ways in which your assets will pass to beneficiaries. First, probate assets, which are those assets that you are the sole owner of, will pass to beneficiaries in accordance with Wisconsin’s law of intestate succession, which is discussed in more detail in my prior post: “Do You Need a Will? The Laws of Intestate Succession.” Second, assets that you own jointly with another individual will pass directly to that individual. Lastly, assets that bypass probate, which include your retirement plans and life insurance, will pass according to the beneficiaries named in the contracts.

4) What do I need?

The structure of your estate plan will depend on what your goals are. If you are comfortable with an outright distribution of your assets to your selected beneficiaries then a simple will may meet your needs. If you are concerned about your beneficiary’s ability to manage the assets then a trust may be appropriate. If you are concerned about management of your property during your life, you may want to create  a revocable living trust. In the end your estate plan must meet YOUR individual needs and I can guide you through the options you have to achieve your desired result.

5) I hear a lot of people talking about trusts, do I need one?

Trusts are very flexible planning tools that can be used to achieve many different objectives; however, they are not right for everyone. One type of trust, a testamentary trust, is a great tool for parents of minor children, which is discussed in more detail in my prior post: “Estate Planning: Planning for Minor Children.” Another type of trust, a revocable living trust, is a great tool for those who want to avoid probate; however, there are additional administrative burdens that may outweigh their usefulness for some individuals. In the end, whether you need a trust will depend on your individual situation and goals.

6) Who should I name as a personal representative of my estate?

A personal representative is a person who manages your legal affairs when you pass away. The personal representative must, among other things: (1) “collect, inventory and possess” your estate; (2) “manage the estate”; (3) “pay and discharge out of the estate all expenses of administration, taxes, charges, claims”; and (4) “make distribution[s].” Wis. Stat. § 857.03(1). Since this individual serves an important role in the administration of your estate the selection of a personal representative is an important decision to make when creating your estate plan. Your personal representative may be a family member, close friend, attorney, professional fiduciary, or combination of those. Some factors to consider in this decision include the individual(s) knowledge of you, your wishes, and assets; organization; and prior time commitments.

7) Who should I name as guardian of my minor children?

A guardian is the individual responsible for the care of children who are unable to care for themselves due to their age, incapacity, or disability. The selection of who should care for your children in the event you are unable to do so can be a very difficult decision. There are many factors you may find particularly important in who you would like to raise your children some of these factors may include the individual(s) parenting style, marital status, location, values, financial and practical resources, and health.

8) Do I need a power of attorney for health care or living will?

A living will is a document through which you may “authorize the withholding or withdrawal of life-sustaining procedures or of feeding tubes when [you have] a terminal condition or are . . . in a persistent vegetative state.” Wis. Stat. § 154.03(1). Wisconsin has a broad power of attorney for health care statute that has reduced the need for a living will. See Wis. Stat. § 155. Through a power of attorney for health care you can authorize an agent to make health care decisions on your behalf in the event of your incapacity. If you execute a power of attorney for health care and have an agent willing and able to make decisions for you a living will may not be needed. However, if you do not have an agent whom you would want to make health care decisions for you, or your agent is unable to act, then a living will can provide physicians with your wish’s regarding your desired care.

These are just some of the questions I typically discuss with my clients, I would be happy to answer any other questions you may have. If you have a question that I have not answered here, or would like to set up a time to meet to discuss a potential estate plan, I can be reached at: or 920-725-2601.

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