Jan 3

Who Needs an Estate Plan?


The short answer is–everyone! It does not matter whether you are single, married, divorced, or widowed. It does not matter whether you own a mansion or rent an apartment. It does not matter whether you have little kids, grown children, grandchildren, or no children at all. The bottom line is that everyone needs an estate plan.

What you may not already know is that if you don’t have an estate plan, you actually do. The State has a plan for you if you die without a will, which is called dying “intestate.” The basic rules of intestate succession in Wisconsin are found in statute section 852.01, and are as follows:

  • Your surviving spouse or domestic partner
    • If you leave no surviving children, or if all of your kids are born to your spouse or domestic partner, then your spouse or partner gets the whole estate.
    • If any of your surviving kids are NOT born to your spouse or domestic partner, then they basically split your property with your spouse or domestic partner, which could make for some interesting holidays after you’re gone.
  • If your spouse dies before you, and you leave kids behind, then each of your kids will share equally in your estate.
  • If you don’t have any kids, then your parents, or if your parents are gone, then to your brothers and sisters, and then to your nieces and nephews (this is where the myth of the “long lost rich uncle” comes from).
  • If none of those people are around, then they look for your grandparents and their relatives.
  • If they can’t find any of your relatives, then your estate “escheats” (which literally means “falls to”) to the State of Wisconsin to be used for the school fund.

You may think that the State’s plan is just fine.  However, the State’s plan may not represent how you would want your estate to be distributed.  It can also take lots of time, during which your family may be left without access to resources that you want them to have.  It’s also a public process, where anyone can take a look at how your estate is being distributed.  Do you really want all of this for yourself and the people you care about?

What if you don’t have any property to leave behind?  Do you still need an estate plan?  Of course you do, if you think about it.  Estate planning isn’t just about passing along your stuff to the next generation, it’s about passing along your legacy to them.  A properly constructed estate plan can pass along your values and insights to your heirs in ways that are as creative as you want them to be.  What if you have no property but you have kids?  Who is going to take care of them if you step in front of the bus?  If you haven’t left behind a legally binding declaration you’re opening the door to a fight between family members over who will get your kids.  Imagine the trauma your children and the rest of your family would likely endure as they waded through months of court hearings, court appointed guardians, etc.  You can avoid all of those issues in your estate plan so that you can ensure that your children will be protected and raised according to your wishes.

What’s the best way to go about getting an estate plan put into place?  Well, you’ve found the right place, as I specialize in constructing comprehensive estate plans that keep people out of court, out of the public eye, and ensure that their wishes are carried out appropriately after they’re gone.  If you would like to discuss your estate planning needs with me, please contact me to arrange a meeting.

Alf Langan

Solo practitioner attorney since 1991 based in Green Bay, Wisconsin, specializing in estate planning, family law, and criminal defense. B.A. from Northwestern University: J.D. from St. Louis University School of Law. Licensed to practice in Wisconsin, Illinois, U.S. Tax Court, U.S. Federal District Court (E.D., Wisconsin).

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