Attorney Thomas B. Burton answers the following question: "Is a Self-Made Will Adequate to Protect our Assets in the State of Wisconsin?"
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Hello, I'm Attorney Thomas Burton and welcome back to our popular Question and Answer Series.
Today's question comes from Racine, Wisconsin and the writer asks the following -
"Will a self-made will be adequate in the state of Wisconsin to protect our assets?
We are married with two adult children. We own our home and want to make sure we have everything in order with our assets and our self-made will. Beneficiaries are provided in our retirement accounts. We want to avoid taxes and also have our assets readily accessible as needed."
So first, I want to applaud you on taking the initiative to put something in place versus no will at all.
A self-made will could be valid or it could not be valid, it's hard for me to say because often what will determine the validity is if it was properly executed in front of two disinterested witnesses, for the will itself to hold up in court. So assuming the document meets the legal requirements in the state of Wisconsin, then making sure properly signed and dated in front of two disinterested witnesses is key. That's why I generally recommend working with a qualified estate planning attorney whenever possible because you're not paying just for a document, you're paying for the attorney to think about your entire situation, give you the best advice possible for your specific situation and then often assist you with signing the will properly, what I call a signing ceremony, in front of the two disinterested witnesses.
As far as your question about how to avoid taxes and have assets readily accessible, I would suggest you have a conversation about probate and whether you might want to avoid probate on your estate, because while having a will is good, a will ensures the assets distributed under the will need to go through probate court in order to distribute them and probate court costs and fees and attorney fees, to go through the probate court, can add up significantly. So even if your will is valid, having a valid will only ensures your estate will go through probate. So think of a will means will go through probate. If you want to save on time, expense and avoid probate court, then I would think you should look at using a trust to avoid probate and you could put the home, you mentioned a home in the trust. The beneficiary designations you have filled out on the retirement accounts is great because that ensures that money will pass outside probate, non-probate as long as the beneficiaries form is validly filled out because that's a matter of contract law between you and the custodian of the retirement account.
So a good estate planning attorney can lay out your options for you and look at your mix of assets and tell you what makes sense for avoiding probate versus going through probate. If you want to know more about three, I talk about the three different types of plans for your estate, check out my YouTube video on that topic called '3 plans for your estate' and I talk about 'No Plan', 'Will Plan', 'Trust Plan'.
'No Plan' means you die without a will, nothing, what we call intestate and that means everything has to go through probate and be distributed to your closest living heirs upon death.
'Will Plan' means you've set up your own plan, you get to choose who your beneficiaries are and your personal representative but we still flow through probate court upon your death.
and then 'Trust Plan', 'Trust Plan' is over here, that's avoiding probate court. You set up the trust during life, retitle assets into the trust, the trust outlives you and distributes them according to your plan as a private administration upon death.
So that's a short summary for others watching this video because the goal of these videos is to be helpful to you and thank you to the viewer for answering this question because it's illustrative for so many others and our goal on the channel is always to empower you and educate you to take charge of your own estate planning and legal affairs.
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Thanks again for tuning in and we'll see you next time!
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