What A Will IS
A will is the most basic part of an estate plan. A will is a very simple document where a person outlines their wishes to be followed upon death. There are many different ways to write one, but most well-drafted wills are done by estate planning attorneys and share similar elements, such as nomination of guardians for children, testamentary trusts and tax protection provisions.
Can I Write My Own will?
In Wisconsin, the only legal requirements for a valid will are the person has to be competent and it has to be signed in the presence of two competent adults not related by blood or marriage. A Will not following these requirements is invalid. In some circumstances, even a will not meeting these requirements may be found to be sufficient by a probate judge.
Should I Write My Own Will?
Simply put, you should not write your own will. There are a number of reasons why not and all of them have potentially serious consequences relative to your estate plan.
First of all, consulting a lawyer significantly decreases the chance something important is left out – and it gives you (your beneficiaries) someone hold accountable if something is missing from the document harming your estate plan. This is also why you should not use premade forms – if your source of the documents isn’t practicing law, you cannot sue the source for malpractice if something goes wrong. Your attorney will be held accountable for preparing you will correctly.
A lawyer can keep you up-to-date on changes in the law or the tax environment. The reality is it’s not your job to keep track of the current legal environment and many changes can have a huge impact on your estate planning. Lawyers have access to better sources and you can trust Monahan & Johnson to be current day in and day out. If you have a lawyer, he/she will keep track of your needs and inform you about a potential change signaling a need to update your will. In fact, some lawyers even blog or publish newsletters about current legal issues! Be sure to bookmark the Monahan & Johnson blog for additional legal insight on an ongoing basis in Beloit WI.
It’s also difficult to accurately set up a testamentary trust without legal training. Testamentary trusts are designed to protect younger beneficiaries. The age range can span from minor children to young adults in their twenties and even thirties. Our experience has shown the majority of people do not want inexperienced or immature individuals to receive large amounts of money before reaching the point of being responsible stewards of the assets. The beneficiaries can be under the age of eighteen. In the event the beneficiaries are under age eighteen, effective estate planning, trusts and your will can often times protect them from themselves. After all, children will not always use the best judgment when it comes to managing money. A simple will generally doesn’t include provisions for such a trust, meaning a probate court determines who administers a trust for an underage beneficiary. Most people are uncomfortable with the idea of having to trust a judge to determine what happens to their children.
A testamentary trust should not be used for special needs beneficiaries. If a beneficiary has special needs, a more complicated trust (a separate document) will need to be drafted.
Outright distributions to beneficiaries who are on public benefits can threaten the status of those benefits. In layman’s terms, this means that if you give money to someone on benefits, the government tends not to see the need to keep giving those benefits. In a case like this, a generous gift turns into a major problem for the recipient.
Finally, an attorney will help you determine which documents you need. Sometimes documents should be drafted differently from the boilerplate norm, like if you own a business. Some real estate transfers require particular deeds to be drafted in order to make transfers legal. Often other companion documents need to be updated as well when the will is changed.
Instead of trying to draft a will on your own or using a boilerplate document, consult a lawyer and get it done the right way. Monahan & Johnson offers free consultations and can make sure you have the right will and the right companion documents to ensure your wishes are followed.
Call or email Tom Johnson today at 608-362-8086 for assistance in the Beloit and Janesville WI.