dollar-security-150x150One of the more complicated aspects of estate planning is that while probate, or the process of transferring property upon a person’s death, is normally controlled by Wisconsin state law, most retirement plans are governed by federal law, specifically the Employee Retirement Security Act (ERISA). The ERISA “preempts” or overrides state law to the extent that there is a conflict between the two. Continue reading

reviewing-document-300x300Most people only think about estate planning in terms of their personal assets, but what if you own or co-own a business? How does death affect the business? More importantly, what kind of business succession planning do you have in place to deal with your sudden or unexpected death?

Perhaps not surprisingly, most Wisconsin business owners have not done any succession planning. Some people assume the business simply dies with them. Depending on how you structured your business, however, that is not necessarily true. Even if the business is simply you, and you never created any separate legal entity, there will inevitably be certain matters that need to be wound down upon your death.

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trustee-300x160When you are creating a will or revocable trust as part of your estate plan, you need to think carefully before selecting someone to act as a personal representative or trustee. Many people just go with their nearest relative, such as a spouse or eldest child, but a fiduciary’s role is not ceremonial. An executor or trustee must be financially responsible and demonstrate the willingness to comply with legal deadlines and court orders. Failure to do so can lead to a substantial delay in administering your estate or trust.

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Probate administration in Wisconsin requires the personal representative (executor) of an estate to complete several steps before winding up the final affairs of the deceased. One critical step is filing an inventory with the probate court. The inventory, as the name suggests, is a listing of all property owned by the probate estate. Continue reading

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For many Wisconsin residents, administering a parent or relative’s estate may be their first extended interaction with the legal system. If you find yourself in the position of a first-time personal representative or executor, you may wonder if it is even necessary to hire an experienced probate and trust administration lawyer. After all, if your relative’s estate only has a few assets–maybe nothing more than a house and a checking account–you can surely handle everything on your own and spare the expense of a lawyer, right?

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1222896_coins-sxchu-username-iproleOne reason many Wisconsin residents create a trust is to reduce their estate’s potential estate tax liability. For example, with a qualified terminable interest property (QTIP) trust, married couples can maximize the potential estate tax deduction for their combined property. Basically, the way a QTIP trust works is that the first spouse to die leaves a “life estate” in his or her property to the surviving spouse. This means the surviving spouse may continue to use and receive income from the deceased spouse’s property. The property itself remains in trust until the second spouse’s death, at which time the trust assets are distributed to a final beneficiary, such as the couple’s children.

Wisconsin Court Holds Father’s Will Did Not Create QTIP

Creating a QTIP trust is not necessarily difficult, but it is something that must be done carefully to ensure there is no confusion as to your intentions. If you did not clearly intend to create a trust, do not expect a judge to make one for you after you die just to help your estate save money on its estate tax bill. The law is not that generous.

Here is a recent case in point. Four adult children attempted to sue the law firm that handled their father’s estate more than 30 years ago for malpractice. The children maintained that their father had intended to create a QTIP trust and the attorneys failed to do so after his death, eventually leaving the children with an estate tax bill of over $260,000. Continue reading

Living trusts are a flexible estate planning device that you can amend, modify, or revoke at any point during your lifetime. Of course, once you pass away, the terms of the trust become irrevocable. In other words, your successor trustee is Trustbound by its terms and must administer the trust assets as you direct.

This also means that your choice of a successor trustee is critical in ensuring the successful administration of the trust. Many people create a trust because they fear certain family members gaining control of their estate. Having a strong trustee in place, which in some scenarios may even mean appointing a non-relative or corporate trustee, can help ensure that the trust ultimately fulfills your wishes. Continue reading

Court-HammerProbate administration is the legal process of distributing a deceased Wisconsin resident’s property in accordance with the terms of his or her will, or if there is no will, under the state’s intestacy laws. Probate is also when anyone to whom the deceased owed money can present claims for payment. This includes health care providers, credit card companies, and even family members of the deceased.

Court Dismisses Son’s “Frivolous” Lawsuits Against Mother’s Estat

Under Wisconsin law, a creditor may demand “formal proceedings” in probate court to resolve any disputed claim against the estate. Probate court is the proper place to resolve such issues. In other words, a family member or other creditor should not initiate civil litigation outside of the probate administration process.

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Accuracy is important when making a will. You want to be as clear as possible when identifying your property and the people to whom you wish to leave it. For instance, if your will says, “I leave my son my car,” and you have two sons and three cars, you have not clearly expressed your wishes. Such ambiguity can ultimately lead to costly, unnecessary litigation between your family members as they struggle to understand what you meant.

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Legal Description Helps Court Divide Property Between Niece, Nephew

Even when a court determines that your will was sufficiently clear, dissatisfied family members may still try contend otherwise. Recently, a Wisconsin state appeals court addressed just such a case. This lawsuit revolved around a will that contained a technically inaccurate, though legally sufficient, description of the deceased woman’s real estate. Continue reading

When someone passes away with property titled out of state, transferring those assets to their rightful owner can become more complicated than what should be expected from a traditional probate process. If you have property titled out of state or are set to inherit property from another state, you may need to go through what is called ancillary probate and potentially require help from an out-of-state lawyer to complete the process.

If an out-of-state resident passes away and his or her last will and testament expresses intent to pass real estate in Wisconsin along to someone, it will be necessary for the administrator of the estate, as named in the will, to file probate in the Wisconsin county where the land is located. The executor will need to furnish the probate court with a copy of the decedent’s last will and testament as well as documents showing that the estate has been entered into the probate court of the testator’s state.

There are two ways that real estate owned by an out of state resident can be transferred without going through probate. The first is in the event that six years have elapsed since the deceased’s passing when a copy of the will and out state probate are used to secure a certificate of assignment to transfer the title without probate. The second, “no personal representative has been appointed in this (Wisconsin) state for the estate of any decedent who was not a resident of this state at the time of his or her death,” the county Circuit Court may appoint an executor to take control of the real estate.