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Heather Jones

No one likes to think about what happens when they are gone, but the bottom line is that you should have a plan in place if you get hurt, sick, or pass away. An estate plan is something every adult should have, even if it is a simple one. The main reason you need an estate plan in Wisconsin is to know what will happen to your loved ones if you pass away and to have a plan in place if you cannot communicate your wishes to your caretakers. Estate planning in Wisconsin should take place as early as possible, and the estate plan should be updated when there is a significant life event like marriage, divorce, and the birth of children. Taking a proactive approach to estate planning will take the burden off your family members and give you peace of mind knowing what will happen when you are no longer around or able to communicate your wishes.  


Why Do I Need an Estate Plan in Wisconsin?


So, an estate plan is a group of legal documents that can be tailored to address many issues. You can create a will, a trust, or trusts and documents called advance directives that are comprised of a living will and a healthcare power of attorney. Having an estate plan in place can grant you great peace of mind, knowing that there are clear instructions for what you want should the worst happen.  


What Is the First Step in The Estate Planning Process?


The first step is to find an experienced estate planning attorney in Wisconsin who can help you figure out what you need and what information you will have to provide to get the proper documents created and signed. Your attorney will listen to your goals after you leave and formulate a plan that fits your needs. It would help if you took some time to think about what you have and who you want it to go out to and, importantly, how you want to transfer any assets. It may be that a simple will suits your needs best, or you may benefit more from creating and funding a trust with your assets. Either way, you will have a plan for what happens once you’re gone, which can be a big relief once it is dealt with and you know what will happen.  


When is The Best Time to Start an Estate Plan in Wisconsin?


The short answer is, right now. In other words, the earlier, the better when it comes to creating an estate plan. Any last-minute wills or other documents created and signed when you are already sick or possibly suffering from a mental decline could work against you. You want to be confident that your estate goes unchallenged without accusations of incompetency or undue influence. The best way to avoid possible challenges after you are gone is to create an estate plan early before you are sick or suffering from old age. That is not to say that you cannot create an estate plan later in life, but the earlier, the better so that it is in place for a long time and everyone understands that it is legitimate.  


You will also want to update your estate plan when a major life event occurs. The main times are when you get married, have a child, and get divorced. For example, if you won’t want the ex-spouse to have anything passed to them via will or trust when you pass away, update your plan accordingly.  For updates on Wisconsin estate planning read our article, Wisconsin Estate Planning Law Changes.  


1-Have an Estate Plan to Make Sure your Family is Cared For


This one seems like a no-brainer, but you would be surprised at how many people still need an estate plan and what happens after they pass on. Sometimes people automatically assume everything will go to their current spouse and children, but that is not always the case. A lot depends on what your estate is composed of and what bills are owed; for example, did you use Medicare before passing away? Medicare will submit a bill to your estate if it goes through probate after your death. Having an estate plan in place before getting old or sick can do a lot to preserve assets, minimize debt and leave something behind to the people you want it to go to.

Furthermore, it will let your family know exactly what you want to be done after your passing, which will make things simpler for them. Even just a simple will is better than nothing. An experienced Wisconsin estate planning attorney can point you in the right direction for what you should have, depending on the size of your estate.  


2-Have Someone Call The Shots If You Can’t


If you get sick or hurt, you should have advance directives to ensure your wishes are honored if you cannot speak or communicate. These estate planning documents have nothing to do with how much money or property you have but with what you want to be done in case of an emergency. Advance directives are comprised of two primary documents, the living will and the healthcare power of attorney.  


Living Will: this is the document where you direct what you want to be done in the event that you are on life support. You can choose to instruct your healthcare provider not to resuscitate and what measures to provide (for example, comfort care, IV nourishment, or active intervention if your heart stops); it is your best bet when you have certain things you want to be done, or not done if you are in a medical crisis and cannot communicate with your medical team. This will also be beneficial to your family because they will not have to try and guess what healthcare decisions you want to be made in the event of an emergency.  Learn more about the Updates to Wisconsin Living Wills 2023.  


Healthcare Power of Attorney: The healthcare power of attorney is a document that grants a chosen person the ability to make healthcare decisions on your behalf if you are unable to communicate or are otherwise incapacitated. Be very careful who you choose as your healthcare power of attorney and have a carefully selected backup as well. This person could hold a tremendous amount of power over you, and you need to make sure it is someone you trust one hundred percent to make decisions you agree with. If you need help picking someone, try talking it through with your estate planning attorney. Chances are your estate planning attorney has seen what problems could crop up with a poorly chosen power of attorney and will be able to provide sound advice and suggestions.  


3-Make Sure The Right Person Gets Custody


If you have children who are minors, you will want to make sure there are provisions in your estate plan that clearly show what your wishes are in the event that both parents pass away before the children reach their majority. Who do you want to assume guardianship of the kids if you and your spouse die? If you don’t explain who you want in an estate plan, the state, via the court system, will have to choose for you. No one knows what is best for your children like you do, so have an estate plan that covers this issue and makes sure that your children go to the right people if the worst happens.  

Couple talking to estate plan attorney with paperwork and laptop


4-Minimize Depletion of The Estate


A good estate planning attorney can provide a plan that minimizes tax and other depletion of assets. Poorly planned or random distribution of assets after passing away could leave your estate subject to excessive taxes or challenges from alleged creditors. Take the initiative and make an estate plan that will minimize your risk and leave as much as possible for your loved ones. This could potentially be done by creating a trust to avoid probate, using transfer on death accounts, a pour-over will, or a series of trusts. A good estate planning attorney will be able to evaluate your assets and properly advise you.  


5-To Fulfill Any Charitable Goals You Have


If you don’t have an estate plan, the state will decide how your assets are distributed. If you want to leave money or property to a charitable program you believe in; then you will need to put it in writing in your estate plan.  


6-To Exclude Anyone You Don’t Want To Inherit


This is ugly but true. Many people have relatives that they no longer speak with for various personal reasons, and that is fine, but if the relative is a close relative and you do not have an estate plan, they might receive a portion of your estate if the property passes through intestacy. Simply stated, if you do not have an estate plan, the state will look at your closest surviving relatives and try to give your property to them. If you have someone you want to be expressly excluded, it must be in writing and enforceable.  



7-Eliminate Family Fights Over Your Assets and Personal Items


This is a big one. Suppose you do not leave behind explicit instructions on who gets what; there will inevitably be fighting among family members over what you left behind. Nip the family fighting in the bud and leave a clear plan of what you want. You can also include no contest clauses in your estate plan so that any heir or beneficiary who disputes the way you want assets distributed could potentially lose their inheritance from you. Fighting in and out of court between family members after a loved one passes is extremely common and can deplete the estate. Sometimes court battles can drag on for extended periods of time, and no one really comes out as the winner since litigation is stressful and expensive regardless of the outcome. Remove the temptation for the family to fight, and be clear and concise about what you want after you pass away.  



So, there you have it, the top seven reasons to have an estate plan in Wisconsin. If you have yet to begin to work on one, this is your sign to start the process. If you have one that has yet to be updated recently to reflect major life events or changes in the size of your estate, this is your sign to update your plan. Take some time now to avoid confusion and anger later; you will not regret planning for the future. If you are looking to create or update your estate plan, feel free to give O’Flaherty Law a call, our experienced Wisconsin estate planning attorneys would be happy to help you.

Disclaimer: The information provided on this blog is intended for general informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject matter. This information is not intended to create, and receipt or viewing does not constitute an attorney-client relationship. Each individual's legal needs are unique, and these materials may not be applicable to your legal situation. Always seek the advice of a competent attorney with any questions you may have regarding a legal issue. Do not disregard professional legal advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this blog.

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