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What is a will?

A will is a written document that accomplishes three tasks; (1) it directs the distribution of your property after your death; (2) it states who will care for and distribute that property; and (3) it names someone to care for any minor children.

What happens if I die without a will?

If you die in Wisconsin without a will, state law says that your entire estate will be distributed to your spouse unless you have children from a prior marriage. In that case, your spouse receives half your estate while the remaining half is shared equally by all the children of your prior marriage.

If you do not have a spouse or surviving children when you die, the law lists the order in which parents, brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews, grandparents, grandchildren and other relatives will inherit property. The state school fund receives your property only if you die with no heirs.

What is a revokable living trust?

A revokable living trust is created by you to retain your assets before and after your death. During your lifetime, you will retain total control over your assets as the trustee of your trust. The trust will require that the successor trustee distribute the assets in the trust according to your wishes upon your death. If all of your assets are in the trust at the time of your death, there will be no need to probate your estate.

How much does it cost to set up a revocable living trust?

Depending on the nature and extent of your assets, it costs no more than $300 - $800 to set up a revocable living trust, which is considerably less than the cost of a probate or guardianship proceeding.

Can I write my own will or living trust?

Yes, if you comply with Wisconsin's legal requirements regarding witnesses. However, an experienced attorney would be able to give you the best advice regarding choices that you make in your will and clauses that should be included in your will to make sure your wishes are followed.

How do I change my will or living trust?

There are two ways to change a will. The first way is simply to execute a new will. The new will replaces all previous ones (although it is not necessary, it is best to destroy all previous wills). The second way is to write a supplement, called a codicil, which amends your existing will. The codicil must be made with the same formalities requited for executing the original will.

Will I have to pay estate taxes when I die?

Estates of less than $650,000 are generally not subject to federal estate taxes, although they may be subject to probate. Those who believe their estate will be worth more than $650,000 can take steps to avoid or reduce the estate taxes.

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