Frequently Asked Questions About Estate Plans

Estate planning is a topic that can be confusing to many people. Since it concerns life, death, family, money and other matters that are important to nearly everyone, we think it is essential to understand the basics and to know what you have to gain from having a solid estate plan and what you stand to lose by not having one.

While one of our Wisconsin attorneys can help you address your specific concerns, the following basic estate planning questions are asked commonly by our clients:

When should I do a will?

If you don't have a will, the short answer is that you should have one as soon as possible. Not having a will is like not having an important kind of insurance — you are missing out on protection that you and your family need.

I made a last will and testament years ago. Do I need to do it again?

In some situations, no, but in many others, yes. It depends on the quality of the will, and it also depends on whether you have had changes in your circumstances, property or assets since the original will was prepared. In many cases, an old will may not address everything in your life that needs to be covered now. While it is true that wills and trusts don't expire, it is important to review them periodically because tax laws and families change.

Every estate plan should include a financial power of attorney and a power of attorney for health care. These documents address who will manage your affairs and make decisions for you if you are unable to do so.

I don't have many assets, and I don't own a home. Do I really need an estate plan? Can't my children just divide up what's left?

Many people think the term estate planning sounds like you need a large estate to justify the planning. Making arrangements for the disposition of your property and assets after you're gone is important — not to mention considerate — for families at every income level, but too often, people procrastinate or make mistakes that their heirs pay for later. At worst, it creates rifts in families.

Based on our experience, you need a will to prevent potential conflicts in your family. You might not have a home or any major assets, but you might have a car or an engagement ring that belonged to your mother. Families also often argue about who is in charge of disbursement. A simple estate plan will cost you less than $1,000, which can be money well spent.

Can't I just do a will online and get the same result without paying an attorney? Simple, do-it-yourself wills are available online, but they can prove to be incomplete and unreliable when the rubber hits the road. While online will templates tend to be one-size-fits-all, an estate planning attorney will customize your will and your other documents to the actual needs of your family.

There are well-regarded websites, such as LegalZoom.com, that offer wills at $69 and trusts at $249, but these sites might only get you an acceptable result, when what you want is what is best. One concern is that when people draft their own documents they often don't think through what else might happen. An experienced lawyer will make provisions for people dying together or people dying out of order. Moreover, the boilerplate wills don't always address the needs of a specific couple.

Another thing to keep in mind is that if you do something very simple, you might have to redo it often. For example, if you leave $1,000 to your grandchild, and then you have another grandchild, you'll likely want to change it, while an attorney can help you structure something that will last for all grandchildren. Lastly, people often get worried about paying legal fees to have their estate plan drafted. Our firm offers flat fees and, in most cases, they prove to be lower than the cost of probate proceedings for which your heirs end up hiring an attorney anyway.

Can't I put it off until after my spouse dies?

Many married couples assume that they don't need to worry about their estate documents until one of them dies. However, this is an error. By the time the first spouse dies, will the remaining spouse be capable of making important decisions? Additionally, each spouse should have their own will in case they want to leave a gift to their favorite charitable organization.

Where should I keep my will?

Estate documents should be kept in a safe place that a family member or trusted friend knows about and has access to. Waterproof and fireproof home safes are good places to keep a will.

What does it cost to prepare a will?

We can almost always prepare a will or update an existing will for you on a reasonable, flat-fee basis. Since everyone's situation is different, the fee you pay will depend on how detailed your will needs to be and on whether you need other documents. For nearly everyone, the cost of preparing a will and other estate documents will probably be far lower than the cost of legal fees, tax losses and family conflicts that could occur down the road if you are not prepared. Contact us for a fee estimate.

This list of frequently asked questions is just a starting point. Call Miller & Miller Law, LLC, at 866-678-9352 for a free consultation about your situation. We will be happy to answer your specific questions about estate planning or financial matters.