The Difference Between Wills and Estate Planning in Wisconsin

On behalf of Peterson, Berk & Cross, S.C.

When many people think about estate planning, the primary thing that comes to their mind is a will. While a will is a crucial aspect of an estate plan, it is important to keep in mind that estate planning in Wisconsin involves far more than drafting a single document. A comprehensive estate plan may include not only the will itself but also trusts, powers of attorney, a living will, health care proxy, and other legal tools. As such, working with an experienced Wisconsin estate planning attorney is essential to ensure you carefully consider each aspect of your plan.

What Is a Will?

A will is a legal document outlining an individual’s wishes for the distribution of their assets after their death. In Wisconsin, a will allows you to specify who will receive your property, appoint someone to manage your estate (an executor), and designate guardians for minor children. A will typically accounts for assets such as real estate, personal property, and financial accounts. For a will to be valid in Wisconsin, it must be in writing and signed by the testator (the person making the will), who must be of sound legal mind at the time of drafting. It must also be witnessed by two adults.

What Is Estate Planning?

Estate planning in Wisconsin is the process of arranging for the management and distribution of your assets during your lifetime and after your death. It involves establishing a comprehensive plan that includes a will, trusts, and powers of attorney, among other legal documents.

Estate planning covers a wide range of assets, including real estate, investments, retirement accounts, life insurance policies, and business interests. The primary benefits of estate planning are protecting your assets, minimizing taxes, providing for your loved ones and heirs, and ensuring that your wishes are carried out.

Differences Between a Will and Estate Planning

While it is a central component of an estate plan, a will is only one part of it. The main difference between a will and estate planning is the scope and flexibility of the two. A will focuses primarily on the distribution of assets after death and has limited control over how those assets are managed. In contrast, estate planning takes a more holistic approach, addressing issues such as incapacity, long-term care, and asset protection during your lifetime. 

Importance of Estate Planning

Estate planning is essential for protecting your assets, reducing your estate’s tax burden, and ensuring that your wishes are carried out. By creating a comprehensive plan, you can also shield your assets from creditors and legal challenges. 

Estate planning also allows you to provide for your loved ones, both during your lifetime and after your death. It can involve setting up trusts for minor children, providing for a spouse’s long-term care, or making charitable donations. 

Finally, a well-crafted estate plan can help your family avoid the time-consuming and expensive probate process, which involves the distribution of assets according to the terms of a will. The effective use of trusts allows your survivors to settle your estate more quickly, efficiently, and affordably.

Understand All Your Options with a Skilled Wisconsin Estate Planning Attorney

While many people believe they can simply write a will with a DIY website or software, creating a comprehensive estate plan requires far more experience and knowledge. The seasoned legal team at Peterson, Berk & Cross, S.C., has the skills and resources to craft a personalized estate plan to meet your needs and protect your family’s future. Contact us today for a confidential consultation to learn more about how we can help you.