Month: May 2013

Your Wisconsin Estate Plan Can Provide for Your Pets, Too

Four-legged friends need planning, too. Don’t forget your pets when planning to give your assets to family, friends or charity. Unknown to many people, your Wisconsin estate plan can include instructions, and financial provisions, for caring for your furry, feathered or other animal companion. Failing to plan, however, may doom your pet to an undesirable fate if no one steps up to take the animal.

A lot of people assume that they’ll outlive their pets. Certainly though, if they do not survive their animals, these people likely desire that their beloved companions continue to enjoy the same standard of living they knew before. WKOW TV reported on Jerry and Judi Wilkerson, who were in this position and created a pet trust for their bulldog, Lulu Bell. The trust contained roughly $2,000 in assets to cover larger expenses such as vet bills, and named a cousin, with whom the dog was already acquainted and emotionally attached, to care for the dog. “[W]e wanted to make sure Lulu Bell was taken care of no matter what happened. It actually relieved a lot of stress. At least we know we have set aside a little bit of money, some instructions and there is a person willing to take care of her,” the husband explained.

Wisconsin law does not have a specifically dedicated pet trust statute. However, the Wisconsin Statutes do permit residents to create honorary trusts that for a non-charitable cause and have no human beneficiaries, as long as the trust’s purpose is not “capricious.” This statute forms the basis for a Wisconsin pet trust. A citizen may create an honorary trust, with the trust agreement’s instructions naming a provider for the animal and providing instructions regarding using the trust’s assets for the animal’s care.

Death of NY Real Estate Developer Contains Important Estate Planning Lesson for Wisconsin Residents

New York City may be a long way from Madison, both literally and figuratively, but the facts surrounding the death of one multimillionaire from Staten Island illustrate some truths about estate planning, and the failure to plan, that are nearly universal. The death of Roman Blum highlights some of the unintended consequences that sometimes result from failing to plan. In the case of Blum, a real estate developer with a $40 million estate, one such consequence may be having his entire estate go to an unlikely beneficiary: the State of New York.

Blum, a Holocaust survivor from Poland, married his wife, Eva, shortly after the end of World War II and emigrated to New York in 1949. Blum became an extremely successful real estate developer, building several hundred houses in Staten Island. The Blums had no children. The developer reputedly had multiple mistresses. “There were lots of women on the side. It was a way of life,” Charles Goldgrub, Blum’s godson, told the New York Times. However, no records indicated that Blum had illegitimate children. The couple eventually divorced and Eva died in 1992. Roman did not remarry.

According to Blum’s long-time accountant, Mason D. Corn, he could not persuade Blum to act until his waning days. “Two weeks before he died, I had finally gotten him to sit down. He saw the end was coming. He was becoming mentally feeble. We agreed. I had to go away, and so he told me, ‘O.K., when you come back I will do it.'” Blum died before Corn returned. Blum’s friends speculated that his experiences during the war may have shaped his aversion to estate planning: coming so near to death during the Holocaust may have rendered him averse to contemplating his mortality, and his deep need for secrecy, also a product of those experiences, made him reticent to confide in a lawyer.

Blum left no known heirs. Even if Eva had survived him, she would have received nothing, since the couple was divorced. With Blum leaving no wife and no children, a search ensued for a blood relative. The administrator handling the case told the Times that his worldwide search had, to date, yielded no one. If the search comes up empty, the State of New York receives the developer’s entire estate, the largest amount ever to escheat, or revert to the state. “He was a very smart man but he died like an idiot,” Paul Skurka, a friend and fellow Holocaust survivor, told the Times.

Thoughtful Planning Helpful to Provide for Second Spouse

“The times, they are a-changin'” says a famous Bob Dylan song. This is definitely true regarding family units. Fewer couples resemble the Ward-and-June-Cleaver model. More and more people, as they begin the path of estate planning, are married to a second, third or subsequent spouse. A careful plan can help ensure that you leave that spouse the legacy you intended.

Planning for a second spouse can be more complicated than a first spouse. If you and your spouse married later in life, a greater possibility exists that you each brought your own assets and wealth to the marriage. In addition, you may desire to leave that wealth to your own children from a previous marriage. In some cases, both parties are well off, and do not need anything from the other. Alternately, your spouse may have more limited means and a need for assistance if he/she is widowed.

Regardless of your spouse’s financial condition, state laws exist to prevent individuals from entirely disinheriting their spouses. Wisconsin is a “community property” state, meaning that your spouse automatically has a right to 50% the earnings accumulated by either of you during the marriage (unless there is a written marital property agreement or “prenuptial”).

Another concern for some second marriages involved a desire to care for a new spouse, but not for his/her children from a previous marriage. In the past, some individuals established estate plans that placed assets in a trust for the benefit of the spouse. The trustee distributed assets to the spouse during his/her lifetime and then, after that spouse died, the trustee distributed the remaining assets to the trust creator’s natural children.

If you and your spouse agree to such a trust arrangement, or agree that he/she will receive nothing (or very little of monetary value) from your estate when you die, it is important to obtain your spouse’s consent in writing. A prenuptial or postnuptial agreement can be effective at documenting this consent.

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