By definition, estate planning is a process designed to help you manage and preserve your assets while you are alive, and to conserve and control their distribution after your death according to your goals and objectives. But what estate planning means to you specifically depends on who you are. Your age, health, wealth, lifestyle, life stage, goals, and many other factors determine your particular estate planning needs. For example, you may have a small estate and may be concerned only that certain people receive particular things. Or, you may have a large estate and minimizing any potential estate tax impact is your foremost goal.
Do I Need a Trust?
A Trust is a legal entity that holds property designated by me for the benefit of me and my beneficiaries. Common examples of trusts include a Revocable Trust, Irrevocable Trust, or a Generation Skipping Trust. My trust would also be drafted and routinely updated by my attorney. A Revocable/Living Trust is similar to a will, however it also provides for the management of my assets during my lifetime to assist in the event of disability or incapacity. Any assets named by the title of my revocable trust eliminates the need for probate and is also helpful for any assets owned in another state than my primary residence. Because it is a “revocable” trust, it can be changed by me at any time and the assets that are included can be changed too. If I wanted to establish a trust that could not be modified later, I would talk to my attorney about an Irrevocable Trust.
Should I Make or Update a Will?
A Will allows me to determine:
- What happens to my estate’s money and possessions when I die
- Who will settle my estate
- Nominate the guardian of any minor and/or disabled children
- Without a Will, courts will make those decisions for me according to state law:
- In the state of Wisconsin, if a resident dies without a will, or “intestate,” basic state laws for intestate succession (Sec.852.01) consider the order for my heirs as follows: Spouse, Children, per stirpes, Parents, Siblings
- If this order would be incorrect for my situation, I should prioritize drafting a will with an attorney
- A will does not control certain types of assets (non-probate property), which pass by title (such as joint accounts by rights of survivorship or accounts listed as payable on death) or by beneficiary designation (e.g. IRA’s or insurance policies)
Keep signed, original copies of estate documents in your attorney’s office as well as a copy in a fireproof file at home.