NOTE: Attorney Dera Johnsen-Tracy is a highly respected and nationally known speaker on estate planning. She sees the big picture, and then puts those pieces together for her clients. Her office is conveniently located on Madison’s West Side, and there is no charge for her initial consultation with you. We highly recommend Dera!
—Randy Lenz, Broker/Owner, NextHome Metro Group
By Dera Johnsen-Tracy, Horn & Johnsen SC
Regardless of your age or financial circumstances, everyone needs an estate plan. For the benefit of your loved ones, you should have at least the following basic estate planning documents in place:
- Nominates guardians for your minor children, if applicable.
- Names your personal representative (a/k/a “executor”).
- Establishes the disposition of your probate estate upon your death.
Power of Attorney for Finances and Property
- Designates an agent to manage your financial affairs if you become incapacitated.
Power of Attorney for Health Care
- Designates an agent to make health care decisions for you if you become incapacitated.
Declaration to Physicians (Living Will)
- States your preferences regarding life-sustaining procedures and feeding tubes.
- Ensures your loved ones have access to your medical records when needed.
Authorization for Final Disposition
- Designates a representative to make funeral arrangements on your behalf.
Once you become a homeowner, however, there are additional considerations that must be addressed:
- If there are multiple owners, you must determine how your real estate would pass upon an owner’s death and ensure title is held appropriately. Regardless of any provisions to the contrary in your Will, the form of title on the deed to your real estate will control.
- Joint tenancy: If title is held as joint tenants (or as survivorship marital property for married couples), then upon the death of one owner, the surviving owner(s) will inherit the deceased owner’s interest in the real estate outside of probate.
- Tenancy in common: If title is held as tenants in common (or if the deed is silent as to the form of ownership for non-married co-owners), then upon the death of one owner, the deceased owner’s interest in the real estate will be distributed as part of the deceased owner’s probate estate and will ultimately pass pursuant to the terms of his or her Will or, if the decedent died intestate (i.e., with no will), then to the decedent’s heirs at law as determined by Wisconsin statutes.
Joint Ownership Agreement
If there are multiple owners who are unmarried, you should have a Joint Ownership Agreement in place outlining each owner’s financial responsibility, what should happen in the event of an owner’s death or incapacity, and what should happen in the event of a breakup. A comprehensive Joint Ownership Agreement can provide peace of mind for both owners and can eliminate the need for an unnecessary court proceeding.
Without proper estate planning, upon your death your loved ones will be unable to even hire a realtor to sell your real estate without first going to court and getting appointed as the legal representative of your estate. The death probate process will last about a year and will cost thousands of dollars in court costs and legal fees. Further, the death probate process is a public court proceeding. If you wish to avoid probate upon your death, then you should consider alternative estate planning options such as a Transfer on Death Deed or a Revocable Living Trust.
Attorney Dera L. Johnsen-Tracy of Horn & Johnsen SC has a true passion for helping individuals and families plan. If you are interested in a no cost, no obligation consultation regarding your own estate planning needs please call our office at (608) 829-2525 or contact us by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. For additional information, please visit our website at HornJohnsen.com.