Month: June 2013

The Key Elements of Estate Planning for Wisconsin Military Families

News sources everywhere highlight the importance of estate planning, regardless of your age, health or position in life. This advice is especially true for those Wisconsin families with one or more members serving in our nation’s armed forces. Whether you are single, married, have children or are childless, if you are a member of the military, you should take advantage of the benefit that an estate plan can offer.

Servicemen and women with children have an especially wide array of important decisions that an estate plan can clarify. One of these is the matter of guardianship. Through your will, you can designate the person or people you prefer to care for your minor children, should that need arise. Engaging in this form of planning is particularly important if you are the child’s sole parent, or if both of you are in the military.

Another important element of planning may involve your Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance (SGLI) benefits. SGLI benefits are typically paid to the beneficiary you name in writing, but not always. If the named beneficiary is a minor, then the benefits are paid to the beneficiary’s legal guardian. If you have a child with a former spouse or partner, this may present some complication, as you may desire to leave your SGLI benefits to your child, but may not want your “ex” to control that money. In this circumstance, trust planning may offer substantial benefits. You can establish a trust for the benefit of your child and select a person or entity you trust to serve as the trustee of your child’s trust. You can then name your child’s trust as your SGLI beneficiary and the benefits will go to the trustee to manage for the benefit of your child.

In addition to SGLI benefits, a service member who also has a Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) should also ensure that the proper forms are completed and up to date regarding death beneficiaries. With both SGLI and TSP, it is essential to ensure that your beneficiary forms are current to reflect your life circumstances. If you’ve recently divorced or married, you should make sure to fill out new beneficiary forms, if necessary, to prevent your ex-spouse for receiving, or your current spouse not receiving, benefits in ways you do not want.

Assisted Reproduction and Your Wisconsin Estate Plan

Today, more and more families rely upon assisted reproduction technologies in order to conceive a child or children. According to Forbes magazine, that number is at a quarter-million families a year and rising. Couples or individuals may utilize artificial insemination, egg and embryo donation, and post-death gamete harvesting or conception as means for having a child. With these new technologies come new questions, though, regarding estate planning, the law and families that rely on assisted reproduction.

These methods can be especially useful for military families, as well as persons with cancer, as both might choose to freeze genetic material to use in the event of a premature death (in the case of military personnel) or treatments leading to infertility (in the case of cancer patients).

Your Wisconsin estate plan can provide necessary instruction to your family regarding how you want this genetic material treated after your death, and how you desire to plan for any children conceived with that material after your death. You may consent, or deny consent, to the use of this material after your death. You may also plan to leave a distribution to any posthumously conceived children, but must do so specifically and carefully. If your estate plan simply leaves an inheritance to “my children”, this would leave nothing to your posthumously conceived children, as Wis. Stat. § 854.21(5) specifically limits such classes as “children”, “nieces and nephews”, etc. to individuals who are alive, or at least conceived, at the time of your death. A recent U.S. Supreme Court case also stated that only living, or conceived, children could receive survivor’s benefits from government programs (such as Social Security).

Your estate plan may also establish a financial means for your spouse or partner to continue assisted reproduction treatment. For example, your trust could permit your spouse or partner to invade the trust’s principal to fund the continuation of a treatment you have begun and were pursuing at the time of your death.

In addition to these circumstances, there is also the matter of maintaining stored genetic material. Storing genetic material is often very expensive, and if you do not wish to have your material destroyed at death, your estate plan should indicate who has ownership of the material and who has responsibility for the financial costs of continuing to store that material.

Proper Wisconsin End-of-Life Planning Documents Can Save Your Family Anguish… and Money

Wisconsin law permits Wisconsinites to create a “Declaration to Physicians,” often commonly known as a “living will,” to provide instructions regarding medical care in certain circumstances. A living will can be an essential part of a complete estate plan, providing essential instructions if you are in an end-of-life or persistent vegetative state situation.

A decade ago, much of the country watched the brewing controversy in Florida regarding the medical care of Terri Schiavo. Schiavo was was 26 when, in 1990, she suffered a massive heart attack that deprived her of oxygen and led to massive brain deterioration. For the next 15 years, her husband and parents fought multiple legal battles regarding whether Schavo would have wanted to live in a persistent vegetative state. Before Schaivo, the families of Karen Ann Quinlan and Nancy Cruzan fought long and expensive court battles to receive the right order an end to medical care.

Your Wisconsin living will can help your family know your wishes, and avoid a similarly painful, protracted and expensive legal proceeding, in the event you become terminally ill or suffer a medical trauma placing you in a persistent vegetative state. In order for the instructions you place in your living will to become effective, at least two doctors must agree that, either (1) you are terminally ill and death is imminent, or (2) you are in a persistent vegetative state.

You may be able to incorporate all of the decisions governed by a living will into your health care power of attorney. In your health care power of attorney, you name an agent to make many of your health care decisions for you. These powers can be very broad, and can allow your agent to make decision regarding maintaining feeding tubes or pursuing life-extending medical care.

Using the Wisconsin Marital Property Act to Facilitate Your Estate Plan

A little more than a quarter-century ago, the state Legislature passed the Wisconsin Marital Property Act (MPA). This statute, along with the state’s law regarding trust funding, provides a significant degree of flexibility to certain Wisconsin residents when it comes to estate planning.

For many Wisconsinites, avoiding probate is a substantial estate planning goal. In some states, a married couple’s options for probate avoidance might require substantial advance trust planning, along with the constant obligation to ensure that all property is transferred into the couple’s trust. If you fail to do so, those assets not transferred likely become subject to probate.

Wisconsin residents enjoy an additional legal safety net, however. The MPA allows married couples (or, in the case of same-sex couples, registered domestic partners) to create what’s called a Marital Property Agreement. Under this agreement, couples can spell out which assets are individual property and which ones are marital property.

This agreement also permits couples to agree that, upon the occasion of the death of either spouse, either or both spouses’ assets may be transferred without probate. By creating such an agreement, couples can ensure that their assets avoid probate. A unique component of the MPA is that it allows couples to construct their agreements such that their assets transfer to their living trust upon death. Only in Wisconsin can residents fund their living trusts after death without undergoing a probate procedure.

Using a marital property agreement to transfer assets to a living trust at death has both advantages and disadvantages. As a positive, it creates an additional safety net to protect against assets which, whether forgotten or acquired late in life, get left out of the living trust funding process and would otherwise require probate to distribute. It also, in many situations, can provide substantial tax savings.

The Importance of Selecting the Right Agents for Your Wisconsin Powers of Attorney

Many Wisconsin residents, as they set about creating an estate plan, give considerable thought to the distribution of their assets. Sometimes, though, they neglect to give a similar degree of consideration to the part of their estate plan that matters during their lifetimes: their powers of attorney. This is a mistake, as the person you appoint to make decisions for you if you become incapacitated often has substantial power to make even the most basic life decisions for you. A wrong choice may cost you a huge portion of your estate, or alter the course of your medical care or where you live.

Selecting agents as part of creating your powers of attorney is incredibly important. The person you name as your agent, or attorney-in-fact, under your Wisconsin power of attorney often has very broad powers. Your agent under your financial power of attorney may have the legal authority and responsibility to manage all your assets, handle all your money and pay all your bills. Your agent under your health care power of attorney may decide where you live (including whether you will be placed in a nursing home), whether you will undergo a medical procedure and perhaps whether you’ll receive life-sustaining care (such as a feeding tube).

These are obviously enormously important decisions. In order to ensure that your agent best serves your needs, you should consider several factors as you select your agent. For your financial agent, you should select someone who can logistically handle managing your finances. If someone you’re considering lives far from Wisconsin, it may be difficult for them to manage your financial affairs from long distance. Your agent should also have the time to devote to managing your affairs, so a person with an especially demanding job may be at a disadvantage when it comes to dealing with your assets and bills. He or she should also be organized and good at handling money.

Similarly, when deciding on a health care agent, you should select someone who has the time and the logistical wherewithal to devote to managing your personal decisions and communicating with your caregivers. You also want to analyze a potential agent’s abilities to put his/her own emotions aside and follow through with your preferred desires for health care, even if those decisions are in conflict with his/her own feelings arising from his/her love or affinity for you.

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