Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Timing is Everything in Legal Life Planning!

With Christmas fast approaching and the New Year practically upon us, discussions of goals and resolutions for the upcoming year frequently come up.  Invariably, when legal life planning is discussed, many times a "We'll do that next year" approach is adopted.
The legal life planning process, though, can only fully use all available tools if sufficient time exists.  Adequate preparation can mean the difference between having options and protecting your assets versus facing additional expenses and headaches down the road.

One of the best ways to plan ahead is to formally nominate someone to make health care and financial decisions for you when you are unable to communicate those desires.  Failing to execute Health Care and Financial Power of Attorney documents can result in your loved ones being forced to go to court, spending time and oftentimes thousands of dollars, to gain such authority.
Planning ahead about how best to pass your assets can also help ensure a smooth process for your chosen beneficiaries, while minimizing administrative costs.  Wills and other non-probate tools, like a payable-on-death (POD) designation or a life estate deed are often used, but other legal options, like a revocable trust, may deserve consideration too.

When attempting to protect assets from a future need for a nursing home stay and qualify for the government program that pays for such care ("Medicaid"), planning ahead is especially critical.
If you have gifted or sold any assets for less than fair market value within 5 years of trying to qualify, the Medicaid system requires the difference to be repaid before you qualify (the "5-year look back period").  Putting in place legal tools now to safeguard those assets before a need for nursing home care arises can avoid this issue.

Timing is everything in legal life planning!  Protections to put in place now to protect yourself and your loved ones will be discussed at our first seminar of the new year on Saturday, January 14th at 10:30 a.m.  This seminar will be held at the Weyers-Hilliard Library in Green Bay.  More details can be found here:
From all of us at Davidson Law Office and The Estate Planning Group, we wish you a Merry Christmas and a safe and happy New Year!

Friday, December 16, 2016

Estate Planning through the Ages

When you hear the words “estate planning” what is your first thought? Oftentimes, images of the very wealthy along with complex trust and tax planning spring to mind. In actuality, estate planning includes important documents that should be considered by people of all ages, regardless of one’s current stage in life. Whether a person just turned 18 or is enjoying retirement, estate planning includes different legal documents that deserve discussion. Below are some of the important periods and ages where estate planning should be thought about:
  • Turning 18: Every person should have, at the very least, a valid Health Care Power of Attorney and Financial Power of Attorney in place upon turning 18. Wisconsin Statutes do not provide for any “default” person to make decisions for an individual after they turn 18, even if they are a parent or spouse. In the absence of a valid Health Care Power of Attorney, a guardianship proceeding may be required, which can become very expensive.
  • Parents of young children: Estate Planning is also critical for parents of young children. By executing a will, young parents can nominate a guardian to provide personal security for their minor children. From the financial side, a testamentary trust can be incorporated into the will to ensure minor children do not receive all assets left to them by their parents at age 18 in one lump sum distribution. Instead, parents can nominate a trustee to manage any assets for the benefit of minor children and make distributions to the children upon reaching a pre-determined age, set by the parents.
  • People looking to avoid Probate: Estate Planning also includes more detailed plans for individuals or couples who desire to bypass the probate process. With a revocable trust, the probate process can likely be largely avoided, which in turn, leads to a quicker estate administration and a faster distribution of assets to beneficiaries. The revocable trust is also a private document that is not publically available and can give added protections for beneficiaries from creditors.
  • Individuals concerned with protecting assets from Nursing Home Care: For individuals who are worried about the possible costs of nursing home or long-term care, estate planning can provide asset protection. An irrevocable trust, unlike a revocable trust, can be used to shelter certain assets from being liquidated to satisfy nursing home expenses. However, assets are only safe if they are in the irrevocable trust for the 5 years prior to applying for a needs-based program, such as Medicaid. Additionally, control of any assets in an irrevocable trust must be ceded from the initial owners. Even with these trade-offs, for some clients the benefit of protecting certain assets from any nursing home care is well worth the protections an irrevocable trust provides.
The Estate Planning process addresses a wide range of issues for individuals of all different ages. From the young couple who just had their first child to the couple who has been together for over 60 years who are concerned about the impeding cost of nursing home care, estate planning can provide ease of mind ensuring the maximum protections are in place to preserve and protect each person’s assets.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Who do we give the Packer Season Tickets to?

Green Bay Packers Season Tickets. As of the writing of this article, the current wait list is around 120,000 people. So, it is easily understandable why families with tickets want to pass them on to loved ones.

But for some, the answer to who to give the tickets to is a challenging decision. We recently had someone come to see us who was really struggling over who to give his tickets to because he did not want to appear to favor any of his children. Thankfully though, he is making this difficult decision now.

All too often, inadequate instructions can cause conflict among family members and yes, sometimes even lawsuits (See Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Article, "Brother sues brother over Packer Tickets.").
While these are hard decisions, understanding the rules can streamline the process.

Green Bay Packer Ticket Policy requires that the owner of every season ticket be either an individual or a business (no co-ownership allowed). This bears noting because if you have multiple beneficiaries, they may not agree on a single individual owner and in the absence of agreement, no transfer occurs.

Without any direction from a season ticket holder, upon their passing, season tickets will likely first go to a surviving spouse, and if no spouse, then to surviving children. Remember, if the surviving children, cannot agree on a single child owning the tickets, no transfer takes place.

If you have put in place a will or a trust, you can specify who you desire to take ownership of the Packer tickets. Importantly, your will or trust can also list alternate beneficiaries, if your first choice, passes away before you.

In endeavoring to assist individuals, the Packers organization has also put together a Season Ticket Transfer Form to memorialize your desires and pass your tickets to your chosen beneficiary.

For more tips and suggestions on ensuring all of your assets, including your Packer tickets, pass smoothly to your chosen beneficiaries, come to our final seminar of 2016 at the Heart of the Valley Chamber of Commerce Building in downtown Kaukauna on Saturday, December 3rd at 10:00 am. Refreshments will be provided. For information on how to sign-up, click here!

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Including Digital Assets In Your Wisconsin Estate Planning

Making a Plan for Your Digital Assets

According to an old 2011 McAfee study, on average, Americans value the digital assets they own across multiple digital devices at approximately $55,000.  As technology races forward, I'm sure that number has grown exponentially.  Unfortunately, a vast majority of us have not planned for what happens to these assets after we’re gone. 

Estate planning for digital assets is growing as fast as technology, and involves issues of security, privacy and legacy planning.  Wisconsin finally passed a new law in 2016 to provide access to limited digital assets by a personal representative, but it doesn't cover everything. For planning purposes, digital assets can include:

•    Email accounts
•    Photos
•    Documents and files
•    Websites and blogs
•    Social networking accounts
•    Music and books
•    Online shopping accounts
•    Banking and bill pay accounts

Practical issues that should be considered when planning for the disposition of digital assets include:

•    Who will access and control the accounts following your death
•    How your executor or agent will get access 
•    How your digital assets can be transferred to beneficiaries if desired
•    How fiduciaries will know where to find all the information on your digital assets

There are two steps you should take to protect your digital assets, with the guidance of a Personal Family Lawyer®:

Inventory digital assets.  Make a list of all your accounts and assets, including user names and passwords, answers to security questions and any other necessary information that will allow your executor or fiduciary to access the information. 

Include digital assets in your Wisconsin estate plan.  Include specific enabling provisions in your estate plan that covers the management and disposition of all of your digital assets if you become incapacitated or die.  

If you would like to discover the difference a comprehensive plan can make in protecting your family and your wealth, give us call.  Click on The Estate Planning Group logo on the right to visit our website and learn more, or to submit a contact request if you're ready to get started.  

We're your Appleton, Kaukauna and Green Bay estate planning attorneys who make a difference with our client family.  We are proud to be home to Wisconsin's only licensed Personal Family Lawyer® and Family Business Lawyer®.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Asset Protection May Not Be A Good D-I-Y Project

I like to point out how Do-It-Yourself lawyering can be very costly - when it comes to protecting your family and your assets, it is really an area where people can be penny-wise and pound foolish. Unfortunately, when you or your family need the protection of a well constructed plan is when the shortcomings will be sorely felt. 

Individuals and businesses will sometimes take steps in order to protect some of their assets from potential liabilities and/or creditors. Asset protection planning is nothing new, and, if done right by an experienced professional can be legal, ethical and provide the desired security.

The Courts, however, are none too pleased to see people playing shell games solely for the sake of hiding an asset. There is a whole set of Federal and State statutes which deal specifically with the concept of a "fraudulent conveyance" or fraudulent transfer of assets. In bankruptcy proceedings, for example, any transfer of assets occurring within a specified time of the bankruptcy filing will be scrutinized and will often be voided, bringing the asset back into the pool available to the bankruptcy creditors.

The Do-It-Yourself brand of asset protection can sometimes take amusing turns. As this December 23 decision of the Wisconsin Court of Appeals illustrates, you can't give away your asset and have it, too! Although Jezeski v. Jezeski involves a transfer to protect assets from an ex-spouse in a divorce proceeding, the decision bears import with regard to evading creditors of any kind.

Stanley Jezeski was about to divorce his wife, Rosalie, so he "gave" a parcel of land to his brother, Thomas, under a contract that called for Thomas to "sell" the land back after the divorce was finalized. The idea was that Stanley would go through the divorce, lose whatever he had to lose, but get to keep his prized parcel of land.

Once the divorce was final, Stanley wanted his land back (can you see where this is going?), but Tom said "no can do, mon frere." As it turns out, Thomas refused to honor the contract and decided to keep the land for himself. So Stanley sued his brother Tom to enforce the contract.

Ultimately, Rosalie did not get the land, but then, neither did Stanley. The Court held that Stanley could not enforce the contract because it was a fraudulent contract in the first place, created for the sole purpose of defrauding the Family Court.

So, lucky Tom. He got the land. He might have let Stanley continue to hunt it, too, if it weren't for that d*#d lawsuit.

Attorney Kevin W. Davidson is a Wisconsin probate, wills, trusts and estate planning attorney with The Estate Planning Group, LLC / Davidson Law Office,  LLP – Wisconsin estate planning attorneys who provide Life & Legacy planning helping Wisconsin’s families plan for an uncertain future so they can stop worrying and start living, with offices in Appleton, Kaukauna and Green Bay (coming soon to Kimberly!).  Call us if you’d like our family of professionals to help you ensure your family and your legacy are protected no matter what happens.

Friday, September 16, 2016

What Is Probate? Will My Family Need To Go Through Probate Court?

     There is a lot of misunderstanding on just what probate is, and when an estate goes through the Probate court.  Many believe that if they have a Will, their family will not have to go through the Probate process - not true.  If you have no Will, your estate goes through Probate and if you have a Will, your estate goes through Probate ...  unless you have done specific probate avoidance planning, such as put in place a fully funded family revocable trust.

     So, let's look at what probate is: Probate is the formal process of transferring your estate assets to your creditors, and the beneficiaries as designated by law, or within provisions set forth in your will, if you had prepared one. It is court-supervised, requiring validation and accounting of all claims by creditors against your assets at your death, as well as requiring an accounting of all remaining assets, and approval of the distribution of such assets. At the beginning of a probate administration, a petition is filed with the court, usually by the personal representative named in your will. After notice is given, and a hearing is held, your will is admitted to probate and a personal representative is appointed. If you die without a will (“intestate”), your estate is subject to the same probate court administration, only the personal representative, or administrator of the estate, is appointed by the court, and the distribution is carried out strictly as the law prescribes.

     If your total estate assets at the time of death do not exceed $50,000, the beneficiaries of your estate may file for an “informal probate,” which is a simplified procedure to settle the estate without all of the formalities required in the standard probate administration.

     The probate process has some advantages. In highly contentious situations, though the costs to the estate will be relatively high, the probate court strictly applies the rules set forth in the law to resolve disputes regarding asset distribution, with oversight and final accounting approved by the court to ensure proper application of the law.

    Disadvantages of probate include its public nature; your estate plan and the value of your assets become a public record. Additionally the time to settle the estate, the formalities imposed upon the family, and the expenses to complete the process, can be significant. The average probate in Wisconsin takes approximately 18 months to complete and consumes approximately 6% to 10% of the estate value - for example in a $200,000.00 estate, one can expect $12,000 - $20,000.00 in costs that won't go to the heirs or beneficiaries.  The advantages and disadvantages of a probate proceeding should be discussed thoroughly with your estate planning lawyer.

   The Estate Planning Group / Davidson Law Office – Wisconsin estate planning attorneys provide Life & Legacy planning helping Wisconsin’s families plan for an uncertain future so they can stop worrying and start living.  Call us if you’d like our family of professionals to help you ensure your family and your legacy are protected no matter what happens.