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Estate Planning

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Using Your Will to Dictate How to Pay Off Debts

Most people realize that they can use their last will and testament to set out who should receive particular assets or income. However, few people understand that they can also describe how they would like specific debts paid off in their will as well. Unfortunately, many of your debts do not just disappear when you pass away; they are often passed on to your loved ones to address.

Thankfully, some careful planning and forethought now can help your family and friends deal with these issues much more efficiently in the future, cutting down on confusion and stress.  


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Monday, October 1, 2018

4 Common Will Contests

A will contest or will challenge questions whether the will is valid or whether specific terms are really what the testator intended. In some will contests, the entire will could be determined invalid. In other situations, only portions of the will may be disregarded.

While there can be any number of validity challenges, will contest typically center around just a few common problems.

1. Lack of Testamentary Capacity

To create a will, you must be of sound mind. That means that the testator must have the mental capacity to understand what he or she is doing. The same requirement exists if the will is being modified or revoked as well.

Being of “sound mind” requires that the testator know what property he or she owns and understands the effects of creating and finalizing the will. This standard is relatively low. However, it can be a real challenge for someone who is suffering from the beginning stages of dementia or has another health issue.


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Monday, September 3, 2018

Can a Living Trust Replace a Will?

Wills and trusts can be extremely complicated, especially when they relate to one another or feed off of each other. You can certainly have both tools as part of your estate  plan. Depending on your unique financial circumstances and personal preferences, it may make sense only to have a will. Moreover, there are some things that a will cannot do that a trust can, and vice versa. Are there ever situations where a trust can completely replace a will? Probably not.

Why Would I Want a Trust Instead of a Will?

The main reason that people prefer trusts instead of wills is that trusts  do not have to be probated, which can be an expensive and time-consuming process. It can also be difficult for your loved ones in some situations. A probated will is also a matter of public record, which may not be desirable for some people. For these and  and other reasons, some individuals choose to use an estate planning tool that will avoid the probate process -- a living trust.

In some situations, using a trust can also reduce or eliminate estate taxes, and a trust is especially  helpful if you own real property in several states. Placing all of that property into the trust allows your loved ones to avoid opening probate in each of those states..


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Wednesday, August 1, 2018

What is an Estate Tax? Is it the same as an Inheritance Tax?

While the terms "estate tax" and "inheritance tax" are often used interchangeably, they are not synonymous. Let's try to clarify the difference.

Estate Tax

Estate tax is based on the net value of the deceased owner's property.  An estate tax is applied to these assets when they are transferred to the beneficiary. It is important to remember that an estate tax doesn't have anything to do with the beneficiary or that person's resources.

Federal estate tax only affects individuals who die with more than $5.45[s1]  million in assets and individuals with such large estates can leave that amount to their beneficiaries without being subjected to a  tax liability. Ninety-nine percent of the population will not owe federal estate tax upon their death.

In most circumstances, no federal estate tax is levied against spouses. As of the Supreme Court's recent ruling, this includes gay married couples as well as heterosexual couples. Federal estate taxes can, however, be charged if the spouse who is the beneficiary is not a citizen of the U.S. In such cases, though, a personal estate tax exemption can be used.  Even where remaining spouses have no liability for federal estate tax, they may be charged with state taxes in some states, taxes which cannot be avoided unless the couple relocates.


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Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Tax Consequences to Keep in Mind During Divorce Property Division

When you are going through the divorce process, particularly the property division process, you may end up focusing on what you are getting and the monetary value of what you are getting. This will do your finances a serious disservice. Considering the tax consequences of what you are awarded during property division could save you a significant amount of money.


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Wednesday, May 2, 2018

What are the powers and responsibilities of an executor?

An executor is responsible for the administration of an estate. The executor’s signature carries the same weight of the person whose estate is being administered. He or she must pay the deceased’s debts and then distribute the remaining assets of the estate. If any of the assets of the estate earn money, an executor must manage those assets responsibly. The process of doing so can be intimidating for an individual who has never done so before.


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Wednesday, April 11, 2018

The Difference Between Equal and Equitable Inheritance

When it comes to estate planning, many individuals believe that dividing assets equally among adult children is the best choice. However, there are situations in which leaving each child the same amount might not be practical. For this reason, it is important to know the difference between an equal inheritance and an equitable inheritance, in which each child receives a fair share based on his or her circumstances.


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Friday, March 2, 2018

How a Prenuptial Agreement Can Protect Your Estate

There are many circumstances that can impact an estate plan, not the least of which is divorce. While ending a marriage is complicated, it is not only crucial to arrive at a fair and equitable distribution of the marital assets, but to preserve your estate as well.


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Monday, February 5, 2018

What are Letters Testamentary?

An individual who has been named as a personal representative or executor in a will has a number of important duties. These include gathering the deceased person's property and transferring it to the beneficiaries through a court-supervised process known as probate. In order to initiate this proceeding, the executor must first obtain what are referred to as letters testamentary. This document gives the executor the legal authority to administer the deceased person's estate.

While the process varies from state to state, the executor must petition the probate court in the county in which the decedent lived. This typically requires submitting the death certificate and completing a short application. The application includes a sworn statement that the person has been named as the executor in the will, as well as an estimate of the estate's property and debts.

The probate court will then hold a hearing to verify that the individual meets the qualifications to act as executor. Generally he or she must be a mentally competent adult and not be a convicted felon. If approved, the court will issue letters testamentary and officially open probate.

In short, the letters allow the executor to collect the assets of the deceased which may be held by  another person or an institution such as a bank. Since banks and other institutions may want to keep the document on file, it is necessary to obtain multiple certified copies. The executor can also carry out his or her other duties such as inventorying and appraising assets, paying debts, and transferring property to beneficiaries, according to the terms of the will.

Letters of Administration

In the event a person dies without a valid will in place, an heir of the decedent, typically a legal relative, needs to petition the probate court for letters of administration. In this situation, the court will hold a hearing to appoint this individual to act as the estate administrator, issue the letters and open probate. The administrator then manages and distributes the assets according to the state's intestacy laws which generally give priority to spouses, children and parents.

 


Monday, January 29, 2018

Things to Consider When Picking an Executor

The role of an executor is to effectuate a deceased person’s wishes as declared in a will after he or she has passed on. The executor’s responsibilities include the distribution of assets according to the will, the maintenance of assets until the will is settled, and the paying of estate bills and debts. An old joke says that you should choose an enemy to perform the task because it is such a thankless job, even though the executor may take a percentage of the estate’s assets as a fee. The following issues should be considered when choosing an executor for one's estate.

Competency: The executor of an estate will be going through financial and legal documents and transferring documents from the testator to the beneficiaries. If there are legal proceedings, the executor must make all necessary court appearances. There is no requirement that a testator have any financial or legal training, but familiarity with these areas does avoid the intimidation felt by lay people, and potentially saves money on professional fees.

Trustworthiness: The signature of an executor is equivalent to that of the testator of an estate. The executor has full control over all of an estate’s assets. He or she will be required to go through all of the papers of the deceased to confirm what assets are available to be distributed. The temptation to transfer assets into the executor's own name always exists, particularly when there is a large estate. It is important to choose a person with integrity who will resist this temptation. It makes sense to utilize an individual who is an heir to fill the role to alleviate this concern.

Availability: The work of collecting rents, maintaining property, and paying debts can take more than a few hours a week. Selecting an executor with significant obligations to work or family may cause problems if he or she does not have the time available to devote to the task. If an executor must travel great distances to address issues that arise, there will be more of a time commitment necessary, not to mention greater expenses for the estate.

Family dynamics: Selection of the wrong person to act as executor can create resentment and hostility among an estate’s heirs. A testator should be aware of how family members interact with one another and avoid picking someone who may provoke conflict. Even the perception of impropriety can lead to a lawsuit, which will serve to take money out of the estate’s coffers and delay the legitimate distribution of the estate. 


Monday, January 15, 2018

How to Leave Gifts to Step-Children

Today, blended families have become increasingly common, and many individuals have step-children, that is, children of a spouse or partner. In situations where step-children have not been legally adopted, however, they do not have a legal right to an inheritance from a step-parent. For those who wish to leave step-children part of their estate , it is necessary to include them in an estate plan.

The easiest way to leave gifts to step-children is to name them in a will. As with any other gift, they can be given a percentage of the estate, or specific gifts. If there are other children involved, it is important to avoid confusion by naming each child and step-child by using their individual names, rather than terms such as "descendants," "heirs," or "children."

There are also a number of estate planning tools that can be utilized to include step-children in an inheritance. If the objective is to avoid probate, for example, a revocable living trust can be established in which a step-child is named as a beneficiary. Moreover, it may be necessary to provide for a disabled step-child who is eligible for public benefits by establishing a special needs trust. Lastly, a step-child can also be named as a beneficiary in a life insurance policy or a pay-on-death financial account.

While there is no legal obligation to leave step-children an inheritance, it may be the best choice for those who have a close relationship, or played a significant role, in raising them. However, this will reduce the amount of assets available to other children and beneficiaries. Because blended family relationships are complex and subject to emotional challenges, it is important to explain these decisions with all family members.

By engaging in an open and honest dialogue, you can minimize the potential for strife and the possibility of a will contest. In particular, it is important to clarify why you gave each recipient a gift, the selection of your executor, and your thoughts about the family.  Lastly, you are well advised to engage the services of an estate planning attorney who can help ensure your wishes regarding step-children are carried out.


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