The time it can take for an estate to pass through probate court in Wisconsin depends on many factors including the size of the estate, debts to be paid, and whether or not any interested parties contest the language of the deceased’s last will and testament. While there are any number of issues that may come up during probate, planning ahead and taking a few simple steps can help expedite the process as quickly as possible and ensure your heirs and beneficiaries receive their share of the estate.

Wisconsin probate laws require estates be closed within 18 months but some counties have even adopted ordinances aimed at reducing the amount of time to 12 months. If, for whatever reason, the executor cannot pass the estate through probate in time, he or she may ask the court for an extension for more time to perform the necessary duties to account for assets, liquidated holdings, and pay creditors if necessary.

For small estates with few assets and creditors, the process may take as little as six months if the executor in charge of the estate does his or her due diligence in cataloging assets and informing creditors about the deceased’s passing. Furthermore, the personal representative of the estate must file income tax returns for the deceased as well as income tax returns for any income earned by the estate after the decedent’s death.

Picking an executor to your estate is an important part of your estate planning process and should be done with a lot of thought and consideration about who is best to carry out your final wishes and ensure posthumous dispersal of your assets. Sometimes referred to as the “personal representative,” the executor is tasked with protecting your estate by settling debts, paying taxes, and ensuring assets are properly transferred to beneficiaries.

Executors have tremendous power over an estate and must make an assessment of all the deceased’s assets and debts and may even be able to sell of or liquidate property to help settle those debts. For those reasons and others, courts do set a standard all executors must meet and even leave open the possibility of the individual being excluded from serving as the personal representative altogether.

Wisconsin law only has two written requirements for persons to serve as executors of an estate, which are that the individual must be at least 18 years of age and be of sound mind. While some states exclude persons convicted of a felony from serving as the personal representative of an estate, Wisconsin places no such restrictions on the person assuming that role.

Receiving an inheritance in Wisconsin comes with many questions, including those about state and federal taxes. Fortunately for state residents, changes to federal tax laws in 2013 gave heirs a big break on how much tax may be levied against an inheritance.

The American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 (ATRA 2012) effectively ended inheritance and estate taxes for Wisconsin residents and drastically increased the threshold for federal taxes as well. Until the bill’s passage, Wisconsin estate taxes were directly tied to rates on federal inheritance taxes under what is known as a “pickup tax.”

Under the old law, Wisconsin “picked up” a portion of the credit for state death taxes allowed on the federal estate tax return (federal form 706 or 706NA). Because there is no longer a federal credit for state estate taxes on the federal estate tax return, there is no longer basis for the Wisconsin estate tax.

While Wisconsin courts try to move estates as quickly as possible through the probate process, some estates can take longer than others to gain the necessary approvals. If the probate court decides the estate needs to undergo formal probate, it could take much longer and become more costly.

Although not every estate can avoid undergoing formal probation, in most circumstances it should be unnecessary, especially if proper estate planning is done. By taking the time to sit down, think, and plan for the future, most folks can leave their estate is the best possible condition and avoid a long and distracting process.

Most estates in Wisconsin pass through the informal probate process with minimal supervision by a Probate Registrar in the county where the deceased lived. Also referred to as the Register in Probate, this office assists the judiciary and public by handling estates, guardianships, trusts and involuntary commitments.

A couple came in that had been referred by another financial advisor. The couple had a teenage child and wanted to make sure that their “legal affairs were in order” because they had done no estate legal planning in the past. We will be setting up an estate program for this couple to make legal matters easy or nonexistent when one spouse dies, and then making sure that guardians and trustees are named for their minor child should something happen to the parents before the child is an adult.  The simple goal to protect and organize is accomplished.

Planning for unfortunate situations is a real concern for families.  Rather than relying on good fortune and the law of averages, prudent families plan for contingencies.  While the time and expense of estate planning seem like a “not fun” endeavour, dealing with the mess of having no plan in place is a difficult and expensive process for those left behind.

In this case, our “Essentials Plan” was put in place.  A set of legal documents to provide guidance and authority for this family and their trusted agents in the event of an unfortunate event.

Over the next several blog posts we will briefly illustrate the variety of needs we meet for our clients. While many people think that estate planning is the same for everyone, upcoming posts provide seven examples of some recent activity. This is to demonstrate that every family and every individual has a unique situation that requires unique solutions. Each family has a different situation and a different concern, so we thought we’d give you a general overview of their problems and how we are solving them so that if you have a similar problem you will know that you are not alone and there is someone that can help who has helped others in similar situations.

The facts will be anonymized enough for client protection but will be informative enough to provide value to the reader. I think you will see that Estate Planning is a varied practice, every situation is very different and you will learn the importance of an estate planning legal program that you and your family want and deserve!

• Keep your estate settlement simple;

Which Of These Powerful Secrets Could You Use To Build Your Ideal Estate Planning Legal Program

  • Keep your estate settlement simple;
  • Avoid the court-supervised Probate process when you die;

Are You Making Some of the Biggest Estate-Planning Mistakes?

There are some things we just don’t like to think about, much less speak about. The universal truth is we are all going to pass away one day. The legacy you leave can either simplify the process of dealing with your personal and financial property, or it can be a worrisome burden for those you leave behind.

Legacy planning is as important as your final wishes. So, as much as you avoid the topic, it can’t be — and shouldn’t be — ignored.

People often ask us to explain the difference between a revocable and an irrevocable trust. That’s a tough one because there are so many kinds of trusts and even irrevocable trusts can, within the Trust-300x225terms of the trust, allow certain things to be revoked or amended. But here’s our answer.

Most people who consider forming a trust like the concept of a “revocable” trust. The word “revocable” implies that you can amend, undo, change, alter, or revoke the trust. When someone hears that a trust is “irrevocable,” they often get concerned because that implies that things are rigid, fixed, inflexible, and control is lost.

The typical “avoid probate” trust is a revocable trust. There is no requirement that the typical “avoid probate” trust be irrevocable. Your home and other assets must simply be titled in the name of your trust when you die.

6d40ea6ed7ae7784abf574b8c6174543_300x300-300x200I met today with the children of a woman who is presently residing in a Madison nursing home due to her dementia diagnosis. The children had no idea how long term care and Medicaid financing for long term worked.

They told me that Mom owned a home, three annuities, some cash in the bank, and expensive jewelry and antiques. Their financial advisor referred them to my office. I asked them what they knew about long term care and Medicaid. They said they were starting to “hear things” but they wanted to get the truth.

I told them that if all of the assets stayed in their mother’s name, then their mother would be forced to spend her $475,000 of financial assets until she had less than $2,000 remaining. They told me that their mother was spending about $8,000 per month currently on her care. I also told them that – if Mom keeps everything in her name – then after Mom spends all of her finances, she will qualify for Medicaid, but then Medicaid will have the right to enforce its Medicaid Estate Recovery rights after Mom dies, forcing the house to sold after Mom dies to reimburse Medicaid for what they spent on Mom’s care after Mom spent all of her own money.