What is estate planning? Simply put, it is the procedure of managing your personal finances and putting forth a well-designed plan in the event of your death. It works to protect your assets and money as well as manage the way they are transferred to the individuals you choose with the least amount of tax burdens. The Last Will and Testament is a basic legal document that describes the way that you want your estate to be allocated to those individuals you intend to receive it. Without a legal plan in place, your estate can be transferred to those who you do not want to have it and it can be heavily taxed by the government.
When you have worked your entire life and accrued any wealth, you want to ensure that your wealth is managed and distributed the way you intend. Every state has its own process for determining who will inherit the property of a deceased person. Failure to put a plan in place before death will put the government in the driver’s seat. The government then will determine the distribution of your estate through its intestacy laws.
In general, this means that in the absence of a will, spouses and children are first up for the inheritance. Without these individuals, the parents of the deceased come next. Should your parents also be deceased at the time of your death, any siblings you have are next in line. What if there are no siblings available? Nieces and nephews are on deck.
What are Wisconsin’s Intestacy Laws?
In the state of Wisconsin, under Statute 852.01(1)(a)(1), if there are no children, the surviving spouse inherits the estate of the deceased. If there are children, Statute (1)(a)(2) states that the spouse will have rights to the marital property which includes all that was acquired while the pair was married. The spouse also has rights to half of any other property that exists. Children will have the balance of the estate divided equally among them.
Section (1)(b) dictates that when a spouse is not involved, and there are children, the children will inherit the entire estate and it will be divided equally among them. When children or a spouse is not present, the parents of the deceased inherit the estate, followed by siblings if parents are not around. Should the deceased not have any close relatives and if there are no distant relatives such as a nephew or cousin, the state takes the entire estate and puts it in the Wisconsin school fund.
What are the Requirements for Making a Will in Wisconsin?
Any individual that is interested in making a will, must be at least 18 years of age and be of “sound mind.” Sound mind means that the individual is capable of making his or her own decisions and is not under the influence of anyone else. A will in Wisconsin must be typed, it cannot be oral or handwritten. If a will is given orally or is handwritten it is not considered valid and will not be a part of the probate process. That means that your wishes for your estate will likely not be honored the way you wanted.
After a will is formed, to make it official, a signature is required. If there are provisions that occur after the will has been signed, they are not considered valid. Additionally, two witnesses must be present at the time of signing and both of these witnesses must also sign the will.
The state of Wisconsin does not require that a will be notarized, although one can choose to have a will notarized. When a notary is used, the will becomes “self-proving.” There are benefits to having a will notarized. When a will is not notarized, in order for it to be used in probate court, the witnesses who were present at its signing and who also signed it must be contacted in order to confirm the legitimacy of the document. Sometimes, this poses a challenge and it can add time to the probate process. When a will is self-proving, it will be accepted immediately in court because there are no witnesses that have to be verified.
Are There Drawbacks to Having a Will?
A will is an important component of an estate plan, but it may not be wise to have everything in your estate be dictated in your will. Everything that is in a will must first go through the probate process before any heirs receive their share of the estate. Probate is not a quick process and can take months to even years until it is fully carried out. Is there any way to avoid this?
A revocable trust is an avenue that you can explore. This legal agreement is done while you are alive. It dictates the way that you want your property to be managed during your life as well as after your passing. There will be a section for a mental disability plan that will explain the way your property will be handled while you are living. The way that you want your property to be administered after your death will be detailed exactly as you would have had written it in your Last Will and Testament.
Revocable trusts avoid probate by having your assets put into the trust while you are still living. This way, there is no need to go through the probate process like you would have to with a will. Probate is for determining that your will is valid. After a trust is fully funded, the trust is the owner of your assets. This way, after you pass on, your estate can promptly go directly to the heirs you chose.
Do You Need to Talk to an Experienced Estate Planning Attorney in Wisconsin?
Estate planning is complex, and choosing the right plan for how your wealth will be managed after you pass is not something to be taken lightly. If you want to make sure that your property goes where you want it to go in the smoothest manner possible, speaking to a Wisconsin estate planning attorney at the Walney Legal Group is a good place to start.
The Walney Legal Group’s team of Milwaukee asset protection attorneys will help you safeguard your asset by developing a comprehensive and customized plan. Call us today and speak with one of our talented Milwaukee estate planning attorneys at (414) 775-3780.