Life can change in a hurry. A major life event can bring great joy, or it can be a source of pain. No matter the reason for the change, it often is shrouded in stress and concern. Fortunately, these tumultuous feelings can be more easily navigated by taking a few simple steps to prepare for change and plan for you and your loved one’s future.
When starting your estate planning, there is a lot to think about: evaluating your personal and financial situation, talking with family, determining the documents you'll need, and finding a lawyer. At Levine Eisberner LLC, we have made tackling these issues simple by offering the following starting points:
“What are some major life changes that require estate planning?”
Death of Spouse
Purchasing or refinancing a home
New accounts or insurance policies
Birth, adoptions, or new stepchild
“What documents do I need to plan for the future?”
Last will and testament: The fundamental purpose of a will is to outline who will receive your assets upon your death. Another important purpose of a will is to specify guardianship for your minor children. It is important to understand that a will does not become effective until the date of death. A will does not provide any benefits during your lifetime, but it can be changed at any time
Trust: A trust is a legal tool used to manage your property. A trust may take effect during your life or it may be triggered upon your death. A common use for a trust is to manage assets on behalf of beneficiaries who are minors, incapacitated, or if they are simply not fiscally responsible. Property in a trust is also treated differently for tax purposes.
Power of Attorney: A Power of Attorney allows you to empower someone else to act on your behalf for legal and financial decisions. It can be a Durable Power of Attorney, which becomes effective immediately, or a Springing Power of Attorney, which becomes effective upon a stipulated event, typically when you are disabled or mentally incompetent.
Healthcare Power of Attorney: When you are no longer able to make decisions on your own, a healthcare power of attorney allows a designated friend or loved one to make medical decisions on your behalf. This document becomes effective immediately.
Living Will: A living will is a directive to your medical providers on how you want to be treated in the event that you are terminally ill or permanently unconscious. This document relieves your doctor and loved ones of the decision to withhold life-saving treatment, and it ensures that your wishes are respected.
Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (“HIPAA”) Release: Your medical information is kept private by federal law. Without the legal authority to share medical records, your family may not be able to obtain important information regarding your medical condition and treatment if you were to become incapacitated. A HIPAA release allows your medical providers to share and discuss your medical situation with whomever you specify in the document.
Letter of Intent: A letter of intent is simply a note to a friend, family member, or loved one that expresses your final wishes. While it does not have legal effect, this note serves to clear up any lingering confusion as to your final wishes.
“When I am gone, what could happen to my property if I do not prepare adequately?”
When a person dies without a will, he or she is presumed to have died “intestate,” meaning that the deceased left behind no instructions on how their property should be distributed. Since there is no will evidencing your wishes, state law regarding succession and inheritance will take over. This means that your property could be distributed to family members that you otherwise would not have chosen to receive your property.
“Are there any laws specific to Wisconsin that I should know in planning for my estate?”
Yes, Wisconsin is a “community property” state. Community property is a marital property regime under which most property acquired during the marriage is owned jointly by both spouses and is divided upon divorce, annulment, or death. At the death of one spouse, his or her half of the community property goes to the surviving spouse unless there is a valid will that directs otherwise.
No estate plan is the same. Your personal estate planning can be accomplished by any combination of the items mentioned above. At Levine Eisberner LLC we can work with you to create a cost-effective plan to provide for the changes in your life. For more information, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call us at 1-888-367-8198.