Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Speaking at UW Memorial Union

Two or three times a year I give a seminar on estate planning as part of the UW Mini Course program. This Saturday, Feb. 26th, I'll be back on campus discussing wills, powers of attorney, probate, trusts, and other related issues. Interested in attending? You can sign up on-line on the UW's web site.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Safekeeping For Your Will

I advise clients to keep an original will at home, in a fire proof box. For those clients uncomfortable with this option, I recommend turning to the county courthouse. Here in Dane County, and many other counties, a person is able to file a will for "safe keeping" with the probate court. The fee in Dane County is $10; a lot less expensive than a safe deposit box. Just remember, if you do file a will at the courthouse, make sure you leave documentation of where it can be found after you die. If your loved ones can't find a will, it is as though you died intestate (i.e. without a will, and then state statue will control).

As always, it is wise to advise an attorney for advice on estate planning....this blog is for general discussion and should NOT be taken as legal advice.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Powers of Attorney - Make Copies

Every client signing I tell my clients the same thing. Now that you have powers of attorney, make sure you have copies on hand and filed when possible. Why? The paperwork is useless if it cannot be found. And, if all you have is the original, do you really want your agent to have to run to the copy center in the middle of a crisis? No, so get organized and hope you never need to use them. I always recommend putting POAs for Health on file with your doctor, specialist, and hospital as well as with each of your agents. POAs for finance will most likely not be help by financial institutions, so make a few copies for your file at home. You've take the time, and spent the money, on these forms. Make sure they will make a difference!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Seminar at Verona Library

This Wednesday evening I will be a presenting a seminar on estate planning as part of a lecture series put on by the Wisconsin Women's Business Initiative Corporation. Details can be found on the Verona library's web site. It is free, and open to the public.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Transfer of Death Deeds in Wisconsin

Recently an interesting fact came to my attention regarding transfer on death deeds in Wisconsin; if the form is completed, signed, and notarized it does NOT need to actually be filed with the register of deeds prior to death. Yes, the Dane County register of deeds is stating that they will accept it after death, followed by the HT-110 form to transfer ownership. As I write this, this fact surprises me. My instinct was that it would have to be on file prior to death. Since these are relatively new instruments in Wisconsin, it is a procedural step I plan to monitor.

As always, I advise you to seek a lawyers counsel for your own situation. Blogging does not constitute legal advice.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Speaking at Performance Micro Tool

This Saturday I will be giving an estate planning seminar to the employees of Performance Micro Tool, a Janesville company that makes high end bits. I'm looking forward to learning more about this Wisconsin company. So much of the news about Janesville has been about companies leaving. I know that the electronics industry has a bit of a boom going on (my husband is an electrical engineer), so I wonder if that has filtered to PMT?

Companies interested in scheduling an estate planning seminar for employees are welcome to contact me at melinda@gustafsonlegal.com. Estate planning knowledge fits nicely with wellness programs.

Probate in Wisconsin

I've been hired by the son of a women who died last week, and she lived in northern Wisconsin. Since her son lives in the Madison area, he wants a Madison attorney and came to me. However, an attorney in the women's home town stated that he "had to have a local attorney handle the probate". The son wasn't happy to hear this, thought it sounded odd, and so did I. I'm licensed to handle cases throughout the state, so I called the register in probate for the county where the mother lived. And they confirmed, a local attorney is NOT required for a probate.

So, I've signed on to handle the case. And in this process I came across a very impressive web site, one that provides a step-by-step guide to an informal probate in Wisconsin, with links to the relevant forms. If you are trying to do a probate on your own, I recommend you review this web site.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Scattering of Ashes

Recently a client told me that a funeral director (in Wisconsin) told her that scattering ashes was punishable by fine. Odd, I had not heard of this fine before. And during the time when my father died, the cremation facilitator told me there was no fine because the material was inert, there would be no organic material remaining. I suspect the funeral director in my client's situation was interpreting common law or statues in a way that favors funerals. I'll have to check the statutes and see what I can determine on this question.

Has anyone else out there had experience with scattering ashes and fines?

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Financial Book Focusing on Widows

Sadly, I have helped several clients recently who have lost their husbands. The ages of the widows range from 32 to 63, but the issues they face are similar:
  • what to do with life insurance payouts;
  • handling a spouses retirement account - roll it over or cash it out;
  • whether to stay in the home;
  • hiring an accountant because the spouse had always done their taxes; and
  • ensuring there will be enough assets to see them through retirement.
A family member has recommended that I take a look at a new book, Moving Forward on Your Own: A Financial Guidebook for Widows by Kathleen Rehl. I have not yet read the book, but it is one that I will put on my list of "to-read".

I wonder if any of my readers have come across this book or other books that would be a good resource for widows?

Spring Break Motivation

In the past 24 hours I' worked with two different couples on an estate plan, and they are rushed. Why? They have plane tickets to warm clients, and before boarding their flight they want to make sure their estate plans are in order. Fortunately I expect these clients this time of here, and always build a little space into my calendar so that I can work them in.

What if you are headed to warmer clients (I'm located in Madison, Wisconsin), but can't get into an attorney before leaving? My suggestion is to make sure your beneficiary forms are up-to-date and accurate. Whatever is listed on those forms controls, not your will. And now days people own a larger percentage of assets that are distributed by beneficiary form (life insurance and retirement).

As always, it is best to consult a licensed attorney in your area for legal advice....and when doing an estate plan to find an attorney who focuses on that area of the law.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

2011 Gift Tax Exemption

It's a new year, and it is always wise to make sure you know what the federal gift tax exemption is. For 2011 it is $13,000. That means any one person can give another person $13,000 or less and not have to file a gift tax return.

Gift tax issues creep up on people who add their kids names to the family cabin or home, or a a bank account. When you add a name, you are likely making a gift of half the asset. And if it exceeds the exemption, a gift tax return may be needed. Check with your CPA to be certain.

Monday, February 7, 2011

The Fear of Probate....

Today I took another call from a new client. She started the conversation by saying “we want a will so that our kids can avoid probate”. My response launched us into a lengthy, but informative conversation.

First, a will does not avoid probate. A will facilitates probate by telling the court who you want to do what, and who should get your probate property.

Second, you avoid probate by not owning probate property. Probate property can be defined as property that has no clear label on it stating where it should go upon your death. A bank account is a good example. In contrast, people own non-probate property. That does have a label on it, usually a beneficiary form. The property goes to the name(s) on the beneficiary form.

Third, avoiding probate is often a cumbersome and costly experience, one that may lead to an unnecessary trust. In my opinion, being organized is more important than avoiding probate. If you set up a trust, but your papers are a mess your heirs will still end up hiring an attorney to sort everything out.

Fearing probate? My answer is to get yourself organized….a simple will can go a long way if your papers are in order!