Estate planning is more than just making your will. A document that outlines who gets your property when you die is just one part of your estate plan. A good plan provides more direction for your loved ones and serves several purposes.
Directs how and when your property is used during your life and after your death.
Names someone to make decisions for you if you're alive but incapacitated.
Instructs your agents and health care providers about your wishes.
Names someone to take care of your minor children if you're not around.
Helps avoid family disputes.
Saves time and money for your loved ones.
Planning for your goals may involve several different documents, including wills, trusts, marital property agreements, powers of attorney and living wills.
Probate is the court-supervised process of transferring property from a person who has died to his or her heirs, beneficiaries or other entities. The goal of probate is to protect the rights of heirs, beneficiaries and others who have an interest in the estate. The process can include verifying the will, paying debts, taxes and expenses, identifying and collecting assets, settling disputes over who is to inherit, and distributing property. Probate usually takes 6-12 months after someone's death, but complicated cases can take more than a year.
A personal representative named in the will is in charge of completing the probate process. If the will doesn't name a personal representative or someone dies without a will, the court will appoint one. A personal representative can hire an attorney to help handle the probate process. Hiring an attorney is helpful if your loved one had a complex estate, you're unsure how to fill out probate forms, or you won't be able to attend hearings.
Probate expenses and attorney fees come out of the estate. Once we have basic information about the estate, we can estimate how much probate will cost.
Probate is unnecessary in Wisconsin if the value of the estate is less than $50,000. You can file a form with the court to transfer assets if your loved one had a small estate. Some assets are exempt from probate, including marital property, jointly-owned property and property with beneficiary designations. If you are unsure if your loved one's property meets these criteria, please contact us.
A guardian is a person or agency appointed by the court to act for an adult who has been found incompetent because of a functional impairment in decision making or communication. Anyone older than age 18 in Wisconsin is presumed able to make his or her own decisions and exercise his or her legal rights as an adult. This doesn't change if the person has a disability.
When a guardian is appointed, the court specifies what kinds of decisions the guardian is authorized to make. Guardianships are meant to be as unrestrictive on the person's rights as possible. There are two types of guardians. Guardians of the estate make some or all decisions about a person's money and property. Guardians of the person make some or all personal decisions, such as health care decisions and where to live. Guardians have a duty to act in the person's best interests. A guardian's decisions are subject to court review and supervision.
Powers of attorney for health care, finances and property are intended to help adults avoid guardianship when they are unable to make decisions or communicate. If someone doesn't have these documents, or the documents don't allow the agent to take certain actions required for the person's benefit, the court may need to appoint a guardian. Please contact us if you believe you need to be appointed as a guardian for your loved one, or if you are unsure.