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.

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.

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.

Wisconsin is one of nine states with community property laws that can have a major impact on how couples conduct their estate planning and pass on property to their heirs. The law holds that any property acquired during the course of a marriage is equally owned between spouses and in the event of a divorce, must be split 50/50. Wisconsin is one of a handful of states that take the law further to apply to probate laws.

Married couples in Wisconsin are allowed to have property as survivorship marital property, also known as community property with right of survivorship, which passes on the deceased spouse’s half of the property upon death. What this means is that when one spouse passes away, the house, cars, furniture, and other real estate automatically become the sole property of the surviving spouse.

Wisconsin Statute 766.60(5)(a) reads: “On the death of a spouse, the ownership rights of that spouse in the property vest solely in the surviving spouse by nontestamentary disposition at death.” This law was promulgated in 1986 as part of Wisconsin’s adoption of the Uniform Marital Property Act (UMPA) which sought to create more consistent spousal property laws across the country.

funeralPlanning for your burial is another important part of one’s estate that can often be overlooked when it comes time to planning other aspects like creating a last will and testament, assigning an executor, or creating various types of trusts to avoid tax implications of dividing an estate. However, if you have a family or need to observe certain religious burial practices, it is vitally important that you create an Authorization for Final Disposition to ensure that your final wishes are carried out at your burial.

 

An Authorization for Final Disposition allows individuals to make advance arrangements for their funeral viewing, suggest which religious observances should be followed, and suggest a source of funds to pay for the burial. The Authorization for Final Disposition also gives instructions on what type of funeral ceremony, memorial service, graveside service, or other last rite the individual may desire and inform family members whether a burial, cremation, or other disposition or donation of the remains is desired.

 

Without a signed Authorization for Disposition letter, Wisconsin law provides a hierarchy of surviving heirs who have the authority to make decisions on final burial arrangements. Wisconsin’s order of priority for burial procedures is as follows:

Continue reading

HOME-300x199When it comes time to plan your estate, there are many way to pass on real estate to avoid paying costly expenses. One transfer method with tax advantages that may work for some folks is known as the estate deed. Essentially, an estate deed allows you to transfer your home to beneficiaries but still live there and avoid estate taxes and the probate process.

When you create a life estate, you will own the property along with whomever you designate as a beneficiary. The person living in the home is known as the “life tenant” and has exclusive rights to the property during his or her lifetime. The life tenant can be one person or individuals with joint tenancy, like a husband and wife. It is important to note that the life tenant has the responsibility to maintain the property, pay taxes, and retain insurance on the dwelling. Continue reading

living-will-300x200Estate planning covers more than just creating a last will and testament to distribute your assets upon passing away. While none of us expects to find ourselves in a situation in which we cannot dictate the terms of our medical treatment in an end-of-life situation, we should nonetheless be prepared for situations like these and give guidance to or families on what to do when difficult decisions need to be made.

One document vital to these important health care decisions is a living will, which is not the same as a durable power of attorney that designates an agent to make choices on your behalf. These documents are two sides to a coin that your loved ones will need to instruct doctors on what to do should you be unable to speak for yourself in situations like being placed on a ventilator, a feeding tube, or being in a persistent vegetative state. Continue reading

A Wisconsin man who claims that notorious California cult leader Charles Manson, who orchestrated the gruesome Manson Family murders in the 1960s, was his biological grandfather recently filed paperwork challenging a will Manson allegedly wrote giving his estate to a long-time penpal. The legal moves could set up months of courtroom sparring between the two sides and potentially other biological heirs who Manson allegedly disinherited from his estate in the will produced by the California penpal.

A Los Angeles Superior Court judge will first have to rule on the appropriate venue to hear the challenges over the estate, including who would be entitled to Manson’s property, money, image, and song catalogue. Manson died at a hospital in Kern County in November but was incarcerated in Corcoran State Prison in neighboring Kings County. His supposed heir believes Los Angeles to be the proper venue to hear the probate proceedings as Manson lived there before he was imprisoned for orchestrating the 1969 killings of pregnant actress Sharon Tate and eight other people.

In the will produced by the man who befriended Manson, the deceased specifically disinherited two known sons and any other unknown children but left the penpal all the rights to the estate and his body. It is believed Manson specifically asked the willholder to find burial arrangements alternative to that of the cremation process California state prisons take if an inmate dies without a party to accept responsibility for the deceased’s burial.

Reviewing your estate plan and updating the beneficiaries on your retirement accounts is important anytime you have a major life change. A last will and testament does not generally cover who will receive the benefits from your retirement accounts when you pass away, which makes review and revision all the more important when necessary.

Some of the most important times to update your retirement accounts include after a divorce, remarriage, and having children. Other examples of when you will need to revise the beneficiaries on your retirement account could be if you have designated a charity to receive your benefits and it is no longer solvent. In either case, it can be especially difficult for heirs to challenge the designation in court and recover what should be theirs.

Should you fail to designate a beneficiary altogether or that individual passes away before you do, your beneficiary may be determined by state law or the provision that governs your account. Federal regulations govern profit-sharing plans, 401(k)s, and money purchase pension plans and will automatically go to your spouse if you are married. Unless your spouse signs and notarize a document stating otherwise, no one else may be designated as a beneficiary for these types of accounts.

Acting as the personal representative to an estate comes with a lot of responsibility, none the least of which is ensuring that all the proper paperwork is filled out and submitted to the proper authorities. While Wisconsin has essentially done away with the estate tax, executors still need to turn in tax returns on behalf of the deceased and ensure any outstanding taxes from the estate’s income are paid.

According to the State of Wisconsin Department of Revenue, more than one-tax form is required for deceased taxpayers. Those forms include:

  • Individual Income Tax Return

While planning for a catastrophic accident is something we may never want to think about, creating a power of attorney for someone to act in our best interest in the event that we become incapacitated is an important aspect of estate planning. Even in cases in which we make a full recovery, we still may need someone to take care of our finances or act on our behalf for a period of time while we recover.

In Wisconsin, these legal arrangements are called “durable powers of attorney” and allow someone to name another individual as the “attorney in fact” to make important healthcare decisions when someone faces an end of life scenario. Some of the scenarios where someone may have to exercise their durable power of attorney over another could be cases where someone is on a respirator or has severe brain damage and  unlikely to make a recovery.

Wisconsin law 155.01 et seq. Allows individuals to create a durable power of attorney for: