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Estate Planning Overview

One of the most important tasks that you can perform for your family is Estate Planning.

If you live in Walworth County, you should consult with an estate planning lawyer to help with your estate plan. The inheritance planning attorney can help you create an inheritance planning checklist to make sure you cover all of the important forms you will need. 


You may ask: What is inheritance planning? It is the process of looking at all of your assets and then deciding how you want those assets distributed to your family through gifting now or through inheritance after you die.


As part of this process, you should always consult with an attorney or inheritance planning law firm who is familiar with inheritance planning law. 


Resident in Walworth County should have at least three documents essential to good estate planning:


1.  a Will

2.  a Power of Attorney for Health Care, and

3.  a Power of Attorney for Property and Finance


Preparing a will is not a complicated process. You can find sample wills on the internet or in the Wisconsin state statutes. However, when creating a will, you must be careful that the will addresses your particular financial and family situation. Most basic wills found on the internet are "one size fits all" and therefore will not address all of your personal distribution requirements.


You should have a personal will prepared for you by a competent estate planning lawyer. Your last will and testament is an important document. Drafting a Will should always be done with the help of an estate planning attorney.  The will you create will allow you to direct who your heirs are and how your heirs will inherit your estate after your death.  Having a lawyer draft a simple will is not expensive. What is expensive is dying intestate (which means dying without creating a will). There can be significant increase in inheritance expenses if you die without a will.  In addition, drafting a legal will with the help of an lawyer will lessen the possibility that the will can be contested. Contesting a will can be expensive for the family and the heirs. You will also be able to select a personal representative who you direct to carry out your wishes in the probate process after you die per your will's instructions.


When you become involved in the process of writing a will, it may become evident that establishing a trust or several trusts will benefit your estate plan. Depending upon the size of your estate in Walworth County, a trust may help you avoid or reduce inheritance tax also known as death taxes. There are several types of trusts that can be established including a family trust, revocable trust, irrevocable trust and a special needs trust to name a few. The trust can serve the goal of asset protection in some instances. Most inheritance planning lawyers are trust lawyers as well and can provide advice to you as to whether a living trust is a desirable option for you. Once the trust is established, you can transfer assets to the trust and also create a trust account. Your estate trust will be based upon a trust agreement drafted by your lawyer.

You may have heard of the term, living will. What is a living will? It is not a will since it does not convey assets. A living will is a document which gives an agent of your choosing the right to make health care decisions on your behalf when you are incapacitated. The living will contains your advance directives related to what you desire regarding life prolonging measures to be taken by your doctor such as the use of feeding tubes, breathing apparatus and medications to keep you alive even if there is no hope of recovery. There is no need for a living will if you have a durable Power of Attorney for Health Care. The Healthcare POA can also contain specific instructions to an agent of your choosing regarding what life prolonging methods you want your agent to take in the event you are unable to speak for yourself. However, this medical POA does not allow an agent to make financial decisions on your behalf.  You will also need a POA for Property and Finance to appoint an agent who has the authority to make financial decisions on your behalf in the event you are incapacitated.


A Financial Power of Attorney allows your named agent to sell property (whether it is in Walworth County or not), pay bills, pay your mortgage, etc. Basically all of the financial transactions you are unable to perform due to your incapacity. An estate planning lawyer can create the forms for power of attorney for both the financial power of attorney and medical power of attorney. You must pick someone you trust as your agent in your health care power of attorney and your financial power of attorney. That person or persons will be making all of your health care and/or financial decisions for you and you must have confidence that the agent you get to choose will follow your instructions. You should definitely meet with the person and discuss all of your wishes and preferences.


After you are deceased, your Will must be put through probate. You may ask: What is probate? The probate process involves a probate court with a judge who makes sure that your wishes for the distribution of your assets after your death as set forth in your Will are followed by your personal representative applying probate law. A probate attorney, who can be the same attorney who created your estate plan, can help the personal representative probate a will. This probate process includes the distribution of the assets, filing of any required tax returns, transfer of probate real estate in Walworth County, transfer of personal property such as automobiles, boats, etc., payment of your creditor bills and distribution of specific bequests set out in your last will. This probate process is the reason you should create a will. Making a will prevents the situation where the distribution of your assets will be through the succession standards set out in the state statutes in the event you die without a will.


Those statutes may not provide for the distribution of your assets in the names that you desire. Therefore, preparing a will is essential to having your assets inherited by the family members, persons or charities you prefer. Will writing may be simple or complicated depending upon your own family and personal situation. You should engage an estate planning lawyer and when the time comes your family should engage a probate attorney to help with the entire process for your own piece of mind. 


In short, if you live in Walworth County, WI you should think about having a will.

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