No matter your age or life stage, you have an estate. Your estate comprises of everything you own - your home, checking & savings accounts, investments, life insurance, retirements, personal possessions(car, family heirlooms, jewelry, etc.). No matter how large or how modest one's estate is, there is one common factor—you can’t take it with you when you die.
Estate planning is an excellent way to protect your loved ones and make sure your hard-earned property goes where you want it to. By planning ahead you will be able to designate an executor who you trust to ensure that your will is properly respected, can provide for the care, custody and protection of your minor children, can limit tax implications so that as much of what you can pass to your family and charitable organizations get to them, and can limit any further hardship to your family caused by your passing.
As an attorney, I know every estate plan is different and should be individually tailored. I will walk you through the estate planning process; explain available options and answering questions until we determine the right path forward together.
Some common tools used in estate planning include; Wills, Testamentary Trusts, Guardianships, Durable Power of Attorney, and Power of Attorney for Health Care.
Everyone needs a Will.
A Will is a legal document that describes your intentions for your estate when you pass away.
For parents with young children, a Will also serves as an important document to assign legal guardians for your children. Maybe you have a friend who you trust and consider a “godfather” or “godmother” to your children. Without a formal declaration in a Will, appointing that person as the guardian, your friend may not be the person a Court chooses to look after your children.
What could be more important than appointing the people you want to rear your children if you are not around?
A living will is a document in which a person sets out his or her health-care preferences.
With a power of attorney for health care, a principal may delegate to an agent the power to make health-care decisions if the principal becomes incapacitated. Unlike a living will, which leaves directions to health-care providers, the power of attorney for health care appoints an agent to stand in the principal’s place.
A power of attorney is an instrument whereby one person, the principal, delegates property management powers or certain health-care decisions to another person to act as the principal’s agent or attorney-in-fact. Powers of attorney may be limited to the competency of the principal, or it may be durable, e.g., will survive the principal’s incompetence. A durable power of attorney may be used in place of or in addition to trust to ensure that a property owner retains maximum property control as long as he or she so desires, without a need for the appointment of a guardian when management by the owner is no longer possible.
The essential feature of a trust is that property is held by an individual or a corporate entity (the trustee) for the benefit of another person or persons. The trustee has a legal obligation to hold and manage the property for the beneficiaries, and the beneficiaries have enforceable legal rights against the trustee.
Trusts may be tailored to achieve a variety of objectives. They can provide property management for minors, the elderly, or other potential property recipients for whom outright property ownership is inappropriate, burdensome, or impossible. There are many different types of trusts to choose from. The factors involved in choosing the right trust almost inevitably combine tax consequences, level of control while still alive, level of control after death, and complexity or simplicity of administering the trust, to name a few.
The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act was signed into law in December 2017 and has greatly increased estate, gift, and generation-skipping exemptions for 2018 through 2025. The basic exclusion amount is $11.4 million in 2019. If the exemption amount is not used by a deceased spouse, it may be used by the surviving spouse, subject to some timing and filing requirements. In addition, individuals may make annual gifts, which do not count toward the lifetime exemption. The annual gift tax exclusion is $15,000 in 2019.
All 50 states have specific probate laws used to legally transfer assets to recipients or heirs when a decedent passes away.
The process is supervised by a court of law and designed to protect anyone with a legal interest in the deceased person’s estate. Probate is used to distribute a decedent’s assets not only to beneficiaries, but also to creditors and taxing authorities.
Any Wisconsin estate that exceeds $50,000 in value must go through the probate process unless the property is subject to certain exemptions.