Estates, Personal Planning and ProbateWILLS AND TRUSTS
Individuals are concerned with preserving their hard-earned assets and structuring their estates to transfer assets to their intended recipients while minimizing estate taxes and using the most efficient method of transfer. Addressing estate/gift tax and income tax issues, while balancing the needs of spouses, children, grandchildren or favorite charities, must be primary objectives in any estate plan. We provide legal advice and address potential tax issues to enable our clients to accomplish their goals. By utilizing innovative and practical approaches to minimize estate tax exposure our clients’ achieve those wealth transfer objectives.
- Although the basic vehicle to transfer ones assets at death is a will, we advise our clients on all available tools that can be used in conjunction with an estate plan to transfer and protect their assets.
- We structure and draft a range of trust instruments, including revocable trusts, irrevocable life insurance trusts and other asset protection trusts, charitable remainder and annuity trusts, Dynasty (generation skipping) Trusts and specialized Grantor Trusts to meet the specific needs of each client.
To die without a properly drafted estate plan is to risk turning over your assets to a probate court administered by an executor named by the state, not by you or your family. State laws are fairly strict in how assets are parceled out to a surviving spouse, dependents, and in some cases distant relatives. Those laws may not be consistent with your wishes or the needs of your survivors.
MARITAL PROPERTY LAW
Our lawyers assist clients in understanding the complicated Wisconsin Marital Property Law and prepare marital property agreements, prenuptial agreements and other documents that spell out how these property rights and obligations will be handled during a marriage or at the end of a marriage due to divorce or death. We work to protect our clients’ assets and ensure that our clients receive a fair and equitable representation in any negotiated agreement.
PRE- AND POST-NUPTIAL AGREEMENTS
We advise individuals with significant wealth or those entering into second marriages on how ownership and control of their assets are impacted by the Wisconsin Marital Property Law and federal laws. We assist our clients in clarifying ownership rights of such assets through pre- and post-nuptial agreements. Our counsel includes:
- Drafting agreements to determine ownership rights in the event of divorce or death
- Clarifying management and control rights over property interests
- Addressing enforcement provisions
- Providing flexibility for changes in economic circumstances
Probate of an estate through the court system can generally be avoided through proper advanced planning. Many individuals die without proper planning. During the probate of an estate, assets of a deceased person are inventoried and collected, creditors' claims and tax obligations are reviewed and paid, and the distribution of funds to spouses, children, other relatives, charities and trusts are made according to the deceased's pre-death plan (the will or trust) or by state law, if the person died without a will. The services we provide include:
- Working closely with our clients, demystifying each step of the probate process to inform and counsel them so they understand the difference between probate and non-probate assets
- Developing creative pre- and post-death strategies to avoid or minimize the expense of probate
- Addressing external risks that can potentially endanger what is rightfully an individual’s inheritance. These risks can arise with claims from creditors, challenges from relatives, and ever changing tax laws.
Sometimes people seek to set aside a will because they believe the person executing the will was not competent or was subject to improper influence. Our probate attorneys are experienced in identifying and avoiding any appearance of impropriety in the creation of an estate plan. The firm's trial lawyers can defend estates against such claims or assist beneficiaries in pursuing claims where loved ones may have been taken advantage of in their execution of an estate plan or where other controversies may arise including:
- Asset disputes
- Competency issues
- Estate disputes
- Trust disputes
- Undue influence over the decedent
- Will contests
We routinely represent individuals, families, guardians and corporate fiduciaries concerning estate, guardianship and protective placement proceedings. Guardianship actions through the Court system could include the appointment of a representative to protect an individual and manage their assets when such individual lacks the capacity to act on their own behalf. Protective placement actions seek appropriate care and placement of an individual in a facility designed to meet their specific needs and challenges.
BUSINESS SUCCESSION PLANNING
In small, closely held businesses, particularly those that are family-owned, insuring smooth transitions from one generation of ownership to the next is vitally important for continued success. We advise clients about business planning needs, including:
- Structuring alternatives that address the impact of income, estate and gift taxation on the succession of family businesses
- Sale of business-related real estate
- Advising on succession issues that arise from different choices of business entity in a start-up of a new venture or spin-off of an existing business
Decisions regarding the level of health care given in potential life-ending situations is an important aspect of personal planning and should be made by the person affected long before the situation arises. We know how to prepare a properly worded and effective health care directive, empowering a trusted relative or friend to put a client's wishes into effect if the client is unable to do so by often drafting the following:
- A living will that conveys your wishes for continued life support and treatment in the event there is no medical expectation of recovery.
- A health care power of attorney that, in the event of your incapacity, authorizes your physician or other health care providers to deal directly with your appointee for their determination of health care treatment and decision making.