FAQ: Estate Planning

Q:  I only have a few assets do I need an estate plan?
A:  Everyone that owns assets “needs” an estate plan.  The real question is whether the state provided plan is right for you. The state statutes specify who is entitled to your assets if you do not leave a Will.  If you’ve been married before, have children from a prior relationship, want to make gifts to charity, or want gifts for children to be held in trust then the statutes do not adequately provide for your wishes and you will want to have a Will or revocable trust drafted.

Q:  What does a Personal Representative (PR) do?
A: The PR will administer your estate and distribute your assets to your beneficiaries, as you’ve directed in your Will.  You can choose almost anyone who is an adult and is legally competent to serve.  Frequently, people choose their spouse, a sibling, a friend, or a business associate.  You can also name a corporate PR, such as a bank trust department.

Q:  What does a trustee do?
A: If you plan to include a trust as part of your estate plan, you will need to name one or more trustees.  A trustee is the person or entity entrusted with the management of property placed in trust.  The trustee must invest, distribute, and manage the trust property until the trust terminates.  Often a trust will continue for several years until the ultimate distribution of the trust assets.  You can select a person with financial management strengths or a financial institution as the trustee.  However, there is no legal requirement that the trustee possess these skills.  A trustee may always seek professional expertise if he or she desires.

Q:  If I have a Will is there anything else I need?
A: In addition to Wills and trusts, people should consider additional documents as part of their estate plans.

Durable Power of Attorney for Financial Matters. A durable power of attorney for financial matters designates someone else to handle your financial affairs if you are unable to tend to these matters yourself. Generally, the person designated has all the authority that you would have to handle your financial affairs. Wisconsin’s power of attorney statute for financial matters was recently updated to provide for more clarity in the powers granted to the agent and greater acceptance of powers of attorney by financial institutions, insurance companies and others.

Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care. A durable power of attorney for health care designates someone else to make decisions for you if you are unable to make those decisions yourself. The scope of a durable power of attorney generally goes beyond that of a living will. While a living will usually is concerned with the withdrawal or withholding of life support treatment in the event you become terminally ill, a durable power of attorney for health care can address nearly any healthcare decision and can give your agent the authority to make decisions regarding withdrawal or withholding of health care for you.

Marital Property Agreement. Because Wisconsin is a marital property state, there may be a need to classify or reclassify assets both to aid in estate planning generally and to incorporate tax planning benefits into the estate plan.