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Madison Estate Planning Attorney

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Our estate planning attorneys thrive on counseling clients when it matters most. We focus on estate planning for individuals and families near the Madison, Wisconsin area – even those who might not think they have an “estate.” Our mission is to design a plan that will help you and your family avoid conflict in court. We listen to your needs and design an estate plan to ensure what matters most to you is protected and passes to whom you want, and how you want, so that you have peace of mind.

Many people think that estate planning is only for the extremely wealthy. But even if you don’t think of yourself as wealthy, you do have an estate. If you own a home, have retirement and bank accounts, a life insurance policy, no matter how modest, that is your estate. And you will almost certainly benefit from an estate plan. More importantly, if you have a significant other, and children, an estate plan is essential to protect and plan for their future in the event you are incapacitated or pass on. Unless you specify in a will who will be the guardian of your minor children in your absence, that decision will be left for a court to make. We can all agree that we would prefer to make such an important decision for our kids.

Now that you know you have an estate that is worth protecting - do you have a plan? That’s where we come in. We will listen to your circumstances, goals, and values and design a plan that best serves you and your family.

Working with us to design an estate plan protects your family in three powerful ways:

  1. Your plan will keep everything private.

If your estate ends up in probate court, either because you don’t have a plan or you have a poorly drafted one, your affairs play out in a public court proceeding.

  1. You Keep Control.

Without an estate plan your estate will be distributed according to Wisconsin probate law, which means a judge will make your decisions for you. That includes who becomes the guardians of your children, where they live, and how they are provided for. Of course, that’s not the plan you would have chosen. Instead of relying on a judge who has never met you or your family, take control with a properly designed estate plan.

  1. You cover every contingency.

Don't leave your affairs to chance. We’ll ensure we think about every contingency and draft a plan that covers your specific situation. On-line wills and trusts will fail you, and you don’t want to leave your most important decisions for a judge to decide.

Let’s work together to give you peace of mind and protect everything you’ve worked for and the people you love. Our estate planning attorneys will design a plan specific to your situation and we’ll charge a flat fee so you know exactly what your plan will cost. If you live in the Madison, WI area, our estate planning attorneys can help. Book a call with us to get started.

Every plan is unique, but there are many elements involved in a plan that’s right for you, including wills, revocable living trusts, irrevocable trusts, durable powers of attorney, and health care documents. Read on below for questions and answers about the tools we may use to achieve your goals.

FAQ's About Estate Planning:

Do I Really Need an Estate Plan in Wisconsin?

First, it is worth noting at the outset that estate planning is not just for the extremely wealthy, and either a will-based plan or a revocable living trust-based plan is much better than no plan at all. If you die without an estate plan in place then you leave important decisions like who will be the guardian of your children, how they will be provided for, and who gets your assets, up to a court. What type of plan is right for you depends on your personal situation and your estate planning lawyer will help you get the right plan in place. In Wisconsin, both a will and a trust-based plan will direct where your assets go when you die, both designate who will carry out the terms of the document, both will designate who will be the guardian of your minor children, and both can specify your individual wishes. But there are important differences between the two.

What does a Will do in Wisconsin?

Your last will and testament is just one part of an estate plan, but it is an important part of it. If you die without a will then the disposition of your estate, and even who the guardian of your children, will be determined by Wisconsin law. In other words, if you don't have a will to state how you want your family to be taken care of when you die, a court will make those decisions for you.

So, take note, if you have minor children then a will is critical. It is where you nominate guardians for your kids. Just writing down who you want to be your children's guardian on a note and tucking it in your desk drawer will have no legally binding effect and does not constitute an estate plan. Rather, you need to specify who will be their guardians in a last will and testament and have it properly witnessed. Our practice at Coad Law is to have the will is notarized so that it is "self-proving" in probate. When we are designing a plan that uses a revocable living trust, we still use a pour-over will (it pours over into the trust) to nominate guardians for minor children and other planning provisions.

In Wisconsin, if you use a will as the primary estate planning tool, your estate must go through probate. Probate is the process by which a court supervises the administration of an estate. In Wisconsin, that means that the will must be filed in court. Probate is open for a minimum of three months to allow creditors and heirs to be notified and make a claim, but it usually takes longer than three months – more like six or more. So, a will and an inventory of the assets of the estate become a public once filed in court. And the administration of probate tends to be more costly than the administration of a trust without probate. The probate court charges a filing fee of $2 per $1,000 of assets. Thus, the main drawbacks of a will are the time and cost associated with probate, and the estate details become public.

For people who want to establish who will be the guardian of their minor children, don’t need sophisticated financial or tax planning (that’s most people), or simply want to make outright distributions of their property and assets upon their deaths, a will as their primary estate planning tool can be sufficient. Wills are great tools for naming guardians for your kids and making sure your assets are in order and passed along to them.

What doesn't a Will do in Wisconsin?

Remember, a will has no legal authority until you die. So, a will does not help manage your affairs and estate when you are incapacitated, whether by illness or injury.

And it is important to remember that a will does not help an estate avoid probate. A will is the legal document submitted to the probate court, but it does help make probate go more smoothly and makes your wishes known rather than just leaving the administration of your estate to the court's decision making according to state law.

Do I Need a Revocable Living Trust in Wisconsin?

There are good reasons an estate planning attorney will recommend a revocable living trust instead of just a will. In fact, the majority of the plans we design are trust-based estate plans. With a trust, probate is usually avoided. That means your assets aren’t subject to a public proceeding and the requirements of formal notice and the three-month notice period, or the filing fee. Instead, the trustee, sometimes with the assistance of an attorney, administers the estate without court supervision or requirements.

In addition, a living trust provides more comprehensive, long-term planning for minor children or grandchildren, and beneficiaries with special needs, by specifying the timing and method of distributing assets to them. Also, while wills are effective tools upon your death, they aren’t effective in the event of your incapacity. A living trust, on the other hand, can specify a successor trustee to manage your affairs and make sure your family is taken care of during the time of incapacity.

Of course, trusts must have assets either titled in the name of the trust or directed to it by transfer upon death. Real estate, investments and bank accounts, are typically considered. And beneficiary designations for life insurance and retirement accounts also need to be updated.

This may all sound like a lot. And it is. But we’re here to help make it as easy as possible. More importantly, we’ll listen to your needs and ensure what matters most to you is protected and passes to whom you want, and how you want, so that you have peace of mind.

What is a Power of Attorney?

A power of attorney is a legal document giving another person the legal right to do certain things for you. What those powers are depends on the terms of the document. A power of attorney may be very broad or very limited and specific. All powers of attorney terminate upon the death of the maker and may terminate when the maker becomes incapacitated (unable to make or communicate decisions). When the intent is to designate a back-up decision-maker in the event of incapacity, then an estate planning lawyer will draft a durable power of attorney should be used. Durable Powers of Attorney should be frequently updated because banks and other financial institutions may hesitate to honor a power of attorney that is more than a year old.

What are Health Care Advance Directives?

An advance directive is a document that specifies the type of medical and personal care you would want should you lose the ability to make and communicate your own decisions. Anyone over the age of 18 may execute an advance directive, and this document is legally binding in Wisconsin. Your advance directive can specify who will make and communicate decisions for you, and it can set out the circumstances under which you would not like your life to be prolonged if, for example, you were in a coma with no reasonable chance of recovery. A document that goes hand-in-hand with your advance directive is an authorization to your medical providers to allow specified individuals to access your medical information. Without this authorization, your doctor may refuse to communicate with your hand-picked decision maker. An estate planning lawyer will make sure you have what you need for your end of life care.

Serving Estate Planning Clients Throughout Wisconsin

Coad Law Office is located in Madison, Wisconsin, and provides estate planning attorney services to clients throughout the state, including: Madison, Middleton, Sun Prairie, Waunakee, Portage, Monroe, Janesville, Dodgeville, Juneau, Mauston, Richland Center, Whitewater, Elkhorn, Lake Geneva, Jefferson, Fort Atkinson, Oconomowoc and Delafield.  

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