Estate planning is an important topic for everyone. Accidents and serious medical conditions can arise suddenly and it is important to be prepared. The need for effective end-of-life planning impacts everyone, even the rich and famous. Take for example Stieg Larsson, author of the highly successful Girl With the Dragon Tattoo trilogy. Hollywood’s recent movie adaptation of the novel grossed more than $140 million. Unfortunately, Larsson died suddenly at age 50 from an unexpected heart attack. The author never prepared a living trust or will. Consequently, a lengthy legal battle over his $40 million estate ensued between his girlfriend of 32 years, with whom he shared a residence, and his family. Larsson’s estate was eventually awarded to his relatives.
Years later, Larsson’s family is still engaged in a court battle with his girlfriend over an unpublished novel that is allegedly in her possession. Larsson could have avoided the legal battle between his loved ones simply by preparing a living trust or will that clearly expressed how he wanted to divide his assets. By creating your Wisconsin living trust or will, you decide who receives your property and other assets upon your death. If you fail to provide for your loved ones in a trust or will, Wisconsin courts will distribute your estate according to Wisconsin intestacy laws, which may exclude certain people you would have wanted to include.
It is also crucial to create a health care power of attorney and a financial power of attorney well before any medical issues arise. If you are unexpectedly incapacitated, a health care power of attorney allows the individual you select to make any necessary medical decisions for you without heading to court. Making end-of-life medical and financial decisions can be tough on family members and often results in fighting. For example, although the late Etta James prepared a financial power of attorney that designated one of her sons as her decision-maker in 2008, her husband of 42 years challenged the document and claimed it was created after she became incompetent from dementia. Eventually, her husband and her sons reached an agreement regarding James’ care, but this does not always occur. You can protect yourself and your loved ones from legal battles by appointing medical and financial decision-makers well ahead of unexpected medical situations.
Keeping your living trust and your will and other legal documents updated is also crucial. Many people fail to update their documents after major life events such as a move to a new state, the birth of a child, or a divorce. It is a good idea to review your documents regularly. For example, when author Michael Crichton died at the age of 66, his wife was six months pregnant. His will not only failed to provide for the child but also specifically excluded additional children. Unfortunately, his wife and his adult daughter from a previous marriage wound up in a court battle. Although the baby was eventually allowed to inherit from his estate, Crichton could have avoided the court battle simply by keeping his will and other estate planning documents updated.
Family members and other loved ones often pay the price when someone fails to engage in proper estate planning. At Krause Law Offices LLC, our Madison wills and trusts lawyer can assist you with creating or updating your estate plan. Mr. Krause assists clients in Wisconsin with a wide range of estate planning needs. To schedule a free 30 minute estate planning consultation, call attorney Daniel J. Krause at (608) 268-5751 or contact him through the Krause Law Offices LLC website.
An Advance Care Directive is Part of a Successful Wisconsin Estate Plan, Madison Trust Law Blog, March 29, 2012
Wisconsin Appeals Court Holds Gifts in Contemplation of Death Were Not Delivered, Madison Trust Law Blog, March 19, 2012
Etta James, Others Remind of Need for Estate Planning in 2012, by Danielle and Andy Mayoras, Forbes