Tuesday, June 20, 2017

10 Estate Planning Questions to Ask Yourself

We are all busy, right? We have things to do, places to visit, and people to see. So, it is understandable why people do not often think about what would happen in an emergency, where something happens and you can no longer do things you want, visit the places you plan, and see the people you want.

While a proper estate plan cannot avoid these issues, it can leave you better equipped to address these situations when they arise.

Here are 10 estate planning questions to get you started. How many of these questions can you answer, "Yes" to?

1.    Have you appointed a trusted financial decision-maker for financial decisions during your life?

2.    Have you appointed someone who knows your health care wishes if you cannot communicate them?

3.    Have you shared your health care desires with your health care decision-maker?

4.    Do your beneficiary designated-assets, reflect your current wishes?

5.    Would someone know how to access your online accounts if they need to access them?

6.    If you wish to avoid the probate process, does your current plan accomplish this?

7.    Have I planned for a potential stay in a nursing home?

8.    Have you shared your wishes with your family, so your desires will be followed upon your death?

9.    Will your medical records be accessible to your family if they need to view them?

10. Does your current plan reflect your current wishes?

Proper consideration of these factors now can avoid needless time, effort, and headaches, for your loved ones.

Take the first step now and talk with an estate planning attorney today about putting in place a plan, so you can answer "Yes" to all ten questions!

Monday, May 8, 2017

How can I preserve my assets for my kids and loved ones?

With tax time just behind us, you may be thinking you did well by minimizing what you paid to Uncle Sam and your state in taxes, so more can go to your family.  Every year around tax-time, we’re reminded of how complicated maximizing your money and minimizing tax liabilities can be - and for many people, this seems to be the singular focus for how to preserve assets for loved ones.

Unfortunately, we don’t get much in the way of real information about really preserving our assets through estate planning.  And, regrettably, many of us simply don't think about it, or maybe think we don't have enough to make a difference.

Simply put, this is Penny Wise and Pound Foolish - Your family will likely lose more in the costs of estate administration than you can ever overcome with annual tax tricks. 

Truth is, if you have people you love and any assets at all in your name, you do have an estate and it is worth preserving for the people you love. In some cases, that may mean keeping them out of court and out of conflict, if anything happens to you. (Did you know that the biggest family fights happen over the smallest sums of money or even the personal effects of a person who has passed on? Let’s keep that from happening to your family!)  

If you’re concerned about maximizing the amount your heirs receive and minimizing the amount received by governments, there are several steps you can take.

First and foremost, keep your family out of Court. It’s unnecessary, extremely expensive and almost always public. Consider using a Trust to make it easy to handle your assets if you become incapacitated or when you pass on. 

Second, ensure legal documents are in place for trusted family or loved ones to take care of financial, legal and health care issues in the event of any incapacity.  An incapacity without simple legal planning in place can be devastating to a family, both financially and emotionally. 

Third, while most Americans need not worry about the Federal estate and gift tax ($5.49 million in 2017), if you have an estate near or above that level ($10.9 million for married couples) you need to implement tax minimization strategies to avoid the extreme estate tax hit your heirs will experience. Some will need to think about State taxes, as well, if you live in one of the 20 states that impose them. (Wisconsin does not.) 

If you’d like to ensure that you maximize the resources available to your loved ones and keep your family out of Court and out of conflict, schedule a Family Life and Legacy Planning Session.™ We can review your existing plan and help you make adjustments that will help you achieve your goals. 

This article is a service of The Estate Planning Group and Davidson Law Office, LLP, your Life & Legacy Planning Lawyers, who believe in developing trusting relationships with families for life. We don’t just draft documents, we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

5 Common Misconceptions about Estate Planning

Whenever you work long enough in a selected profession, you often find that there are common questions that arise and many times common misconceptions as well. Estate planning is no different. Here are five of the common misconceptions about this area of law:


  1. "If I have a will, I will avoid the probate process, right?" Wrong! A Last Will and Testament will not help you avoid the probate process. A Last Will and Testament only informs the Probate Court how you wish to have your assets distributed upon your death.

  2. "I can handle a decedent's Estate because I am the Power of Attorney." False. A Power of Attorney is a document that applies only during a person's lifetime. As soon as that person passes away, your authority ceases to exist. If you continue taking actions after a person passes away, you could become legally liable for actions taken. 

  3. "I heard a revocable trust protects my assets from the nursing home. Is that true?" Unfortunately, no. A revocable trust will not give you protection from the costs of nursing home care. A slightly different trust, called an irrevocable trust, can offer such protections, but it comes with a number of factors worth considering to see if such a tool is right for you. There are certainly other reasons to consider a revocable trust, but nursing home care protection is not one of them.

  4. "Should I be worried about estate taxes?" While there may be taxes due at your passing, the estate tax (also called the death tax) is unlikely to be one of them. Under the 2017 Estate Tax rules, each individual can pass up to $5,490,000.00 at their death without having to pay any estate taxes. This high exemption level means that a very small percentage of the population will have to pay estate taxes.

  5. "I do not need to have a trust because I am not wealthy." Wealth oftentimes has little to do with whether you would like a trust or not. More important, is evaluating whether the efficiencies of avoiding the probate process and avoiding potential conflict and time for your heirs, justifies the creation of a trust.


Unfortunately, these misconceptions have been repeated and shared so often that they are now viewed as true. To get started on your own estate plan, contact our office today!  We offer an initial complimentary Life & Legacy Planning Session, where your goals and objectives determine what plan is right for you.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

How much does a will cost? How much does a trust cost?

By far, one, if not the, most common question asked, is "How much does this cost?" Rightly so, attorneys carry the dubious distinction of being attentive to the time (see this article for an example), oftentimes, going as far to bill in 6 minute increments (or in 1/10 of an hour allotments). So, how much can you expect to pay for a will, a trust, or powers of attorney documents for your family?


While each attorney varies how they bill for legal work, there are three general approaches:

Hourly Billing. Just as it sounds, you are billed for the amount of time an attorney works on your particular legal matter. At the end of the day, the legal bill will depend on how long and complex the legal matter is and the time the attorney spent on the legal issue(s).


Contingency Billing. Here, the billing amount is based on the total amount recovered from the other party. For example, if you agree to a 15% contingency fee arrangement, and the total recovery is $10,000, the attorney would be entitled to receive $1,500. This type of billing approach is often utilized in personal injury cases and how attorneys (oftentimes the ones you see in commercials) can claim that you will not owe them anything in legal fees unless you win your case.


Flat-fee Billing. Flat-fee billing is often used when the legal work is for a particular legal transaction and not necessarily for an unpredictable, personal injury-type situation. This type of approach can have the added benefit of being more transparent on the front end, as you will know the total cost for the particular matter, without incurring additional and unexpected costs.


At The Estate Planning Group, we do things a little differently – we prefer to develop trusting relationships with families for life, so we can ensure you and your family are protected no matter what happens, and we let you decide on the appropriate plan and costs.  All our estate planning services are billed on a flat fee basis, so you know the total costs before you make a decision.

The best way to determine exactly what planning will best suit you and your family’s needs and concerns is to meet with one of our attorneys for a Life & Legacy Planning Session, where we can help answer all of your questions, address your concerns, and meet your goals.

At your initial complimentary Life & Legacy Planning Sessions, we walk you through what would happen if something were to happen to you, how your family would handle things, and design a plan to make it easier for the people you love. By knowing what would happen, you can identify those things you want to address in your planning.


You, then get to choose the right planning tools from a point of understanding, not just have a lawyer whose motives may not be the same as yours tell you that you need this or that plan.  We can then assist in designing the plan that will take care of your family.  To get started, contact us today!

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

I was nominated as a Personal Representative in a Will, now what do I do?

A loved one has just passed away and someone tells you the decedent nominated you as the Personal Representative of their Estate in their Last Will and Testament. What does this job entail? What authority do you have? What should be your first steps?

In a nutshell, the role of a Personal Representative (also sometimes called an "Executor") is to oversee the gathering of a decedent’s probate assets, pay all necessary creditors, and make distributions in line with the terms of the Last Will and Testament. The Personal Representative is the "manager," overseeing the entire probate process.

A Last Will and Testament should list a particular person(s) to act as Personal Representative. If a will was never executed and no other estate planning documents were completed, an interested person, usually a close friend or family member, petitions the Probate Court to be appointed.

In either case, the Probate Court determines whether to approve the individual, and if a bond will be required to be paid by the nominated Personal Representative as collateral against the value of the probate assets.

If approved by the Probate Court, Domiciliary Letters will be issued to the Personal Representative. Domiciliary Letters serve as formal proof that the Personal Representative has the legal authority to act. Often banks, credit unions, and other financial institutions require this Letter prior to releasing any information.

Throughout the process of administering an Estate, the Personal Representative will also want to keep a close eye on the deadlines mandated by the Probate Court. Deadlines often include: filing a required Notice to Creditors, filing an Inventory of the decedent's probate assets, and filing a final Estate Account listing all the expenses and payouts to beneficiaries. Sample blank forms can be found on the Wisconsin Court System website: https://wicourts.gov/forms1/circuit/index.htm

The Personal Representative is also responsible for paying any outstanding bills, selling any estate assets, submitting final tax returns, and more. There are often specific time deadlines complicating each step of the process of administering an Estate.

It is not uncommon, given the steps involved, to have a probate proceeding open anywhere from 9-15 months, or longer.

If you have questions or concerns about the probate process or your job as Personal Representative, please click here. We are more than happy to guide you through the probate administration and what to expect as a personal representative.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Do I need a Will or a Trust?

What is a will? What is a trust? How does one differ from the other? Which one do I need? Rightly so, there is a fair amount of confusion concerning wills and trusts. While there is no standard one-size-fits-all approach, understanding each document can help determine the best fit for your family.

A will is designed to instruct the probate court of your wishes on how you want your assets distributed. You can name individuals, charities, or any legal entity to receive an amount or percentage of your assets. From a cost perspective, a will is relatively inexpensive to set up on the front-end.

One drawback of a will is that it must go through probate, prior to any distribution of assets to beneficiaries. Probate involves extra costs, delays and formalities required by the court. The process typically costs several thousands of dollars and takes months or years.

So, how does a trust differ? A trust avoids court intervention and allows your assets to be distributed outside of the probate court. This allows for direct distribution of assets, no court formalities and limited or no attorney fees. A trust, however, is often more costly to prepare than a simple will.

A trust can also offer unique protections for beneficiaries that a will cannot. A trust can specify when, how much and for what purpose a beneficiary can receive assets. For example, a trust may designate that a beneficiary can receive 1/3 of their share at age 25, 1/3 at age 30, and the remainder at 35. Under a simple will, a beneficiary will receive their entire share outright unless they are a minor. This is just one of many unique legal protections trusts offer.

As with any choice there are positives and negatives to consider. A will is not for everyone. A trust is not for everyone. Discuss your goals, your specific family situation, and your concerns with your attorney. Only after weighing these factors can you achieve the best choice for you and your family.

To find out what whether a will or a trust is right for you, considering signing up for a complimentary Life & Legacy Planning Session with one of our attorneys.  We will walk through your goals and objectives to find out what is right for you!  Click here to sign up for this complimentary appointment today!

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Will your loved ones know what to do when you are gone?

If you have named children, family, or friends as a successor trustee of your family trust, they likely do not know what the job entails.  Our office encourages talking with successor Trustees now to eliminate some of the unknowns about what it means to serve in this role.

In a standard revocable family trust, a husband and wife are listed as co-trustees during their lifetime.  Only when both spouses pass away, does a successor trustee step in to administer the family trust.

In a nutshell, a successor trustee's job is to secure all of a decedent's assets and distribute those assets according to the terms of the trust.  The trustee can be thought of as a "manager," who keeps an accurate account of all amounts received and any expenses paid out.

The first job of a successor trustee is to gather information about all of the assets the individual(s) owned prior to passing away.  The length and work required depends on the particular assets and how well records were kept.

To complete this job, the successor trustee will need to have a Certification or Affidavit of Trust proving that the Trust is in existence and a certified Death Certificate.

Once trust assets have been discovered, such assets will likely need to be sold or liquidated.  All proceeds should be deposited into a checking account in the name of the Family Trust.  Trust assets that cannot be sold right away should be maintained and updated.

The successor trustee should keep a running inventory of the assets coming in and any expenses paid out.  Taxes will still need to be filed, and known creditors may need to be paid.

Once all creditors and taxes have been paid and assets are liquidated, distributions according to the trust terms can begin.  The trustees should have the beneficiaries sign a form acknowledging receipt of their inheritance and releasing the trustee from any liability.

For more details on the role of successor Trustees, come to one of our future seminars.  We will be discussing these roles and more!!!  Take a look at our upcoming events by clicking the below link:  http://www.theestateplanninggroup.com/upcoming-events/