Author: Patrick Furman

Estate Planning is not a DIY Project

If you are like me, you take pride in completing a DIY project. On top of doing the project yourself, you saved yourself a little bit of money and maybe some hassle (like being home to let the contractor into you house.  Some DIY projects are easy such as hanging a picture; others are more challenging such as electrical work.  I’ve learned over the years that there is a time and a place for DIY projects and a time for professionals to be called. Often, the risks of incorrectly doing a project outweigh the costs of calling a professional. This holds true for estate planning as well.

Some people think Estate Planning can be a DIY project. You simply go online to a website and plug in your information and, magically, a will or power of attorney is produced.  You get it notarized and you are ready to go.  It seems easy enough.  However, when does a DIY’er know if they are doing it correctly?   Just like doing a house project you sometimes do not know all the ramifications of what you are doing.  That wall you removed may actually be load bearing and now you have a problem.  By attempting to use a DIY estate planning tool, people can end up causing more problems.

For example, a will must be properly executed to be valid.  If a will is not executed in front of witnesses, then the court may throw it out.  This is exactly what happened to a gentleman in New Jersey.  Matter of Will of Feree.  He did his own will using a do-it-yourself program.  He also decided to add some additional handwritten requests to the preprinted form.  These handwritten remarks ended up causing a fight that went to court.  The New Jersey Courts found that the handwritten part of the will was not admissible (and therefore, not enforceable) because it was not properly signed by Mr. Feree.  Mr. Feree saved some money doing his own will but it lead in this circumstance to 1. Family Dispute; 2. Lawsuits; and 3. Ultimately the defeat of his wishes.  This could all have been avoided if he would have spent a few dollars and went to an estate planning attorney.

So what are some of the problems with DIY estate plans:  First, estate planning is not just completing forms.  An experienced estate planning attorney will go through various options available to you and your family and the best ways for you to meet your goals.  Every family is a little different and not all situations should be treated the same.  An experienced estate planning attorney can assist you with achieving the best outcomes such as protecting your hard earned money from your beneficiaries’ predators and creditors.

An attorney, because of their experience, can anticipate where there may be future problems either with the family or with the administration of your estate.  An attorney can also make certain that the language you use actually creates a testamentary intent.  Your DIY will may be written in a manner that the language is not dispositive and thus renders the will unenforceable.  An attorney can also guide you through certain income and estate tax issues that can arise on death.

Much like the home project that goes haywire, the DIY estate plan can cost families more time and money than if  a professional was called in the first place.  The role of an Estate Planning Attorney is to be a counselor in explaining your different options and pointing out some of the pitfalls that may be lurking. Computer generated forms are simply not comparable to the advice that an Estate Planning Attorney can provide. The estate planning process should not be scary.  It is much more frightening to think about what could happen if your plan is defective.

Pat has been practicing law for almost 20 years and focuses his practice on all aspects of estate planning. Understanding that the estate planning process is very personal, Pat takes the time to listen to his clients’ goals and concerns and empowers his clients so they can make decisions that can produce the best outcomes.

Preserving Harmony at the Family Cottage

Owning a family cottage can undoubtedly create numerous memories for you and your family. Whether it be boating, fishing, hunting, swimming or just time away, these memories are cherished.

Unfortunately for some, a family cottage can also be the source of great conflict and hostility for successive generations.  When two parents own the cottage, the chances for disagreement are minimal.  However, when the time comes and the cottage is passed to the four children, it is more likely that there will be disagreements. In this example, suddenly, the cottage has four owners instead of two.

When multiple people inherit a cottage, hunting land or other property, they typically take the property as Tenants in Common.  This means that each owner has an undivided interest in the whole of the entire property so that even a 1% owner has the same right to occupy the entire property as a 99% owner.  Also, a tenant in common can sell, give, or loan her interest to anyone she chooses. Outright ownership by multiple family member is not ideal when the goal is to keep the cottage in the family as a source of happy memories.

Fortunately, with proper planning there are ways to make sure any potential problems are avoided. One way to allow for more harmonious ownership is creating a Family Cottage LLC.  A Family Cottage LLC will change the way the property is owned.

First, let me explain briefly some of the relevant background of LLCs.  The owners of an LLC are referred to as members.  The members can control the governing of an LLC by entering into an operating agreement, with written rules, obligations, restrictions and conflict resolution procedures.  LLC members can also appoint a manager of the LLC to centralize decision making and operating control in one person.

A Cottage LLC does not have to be complicated and there are many reasons why it may help:

  • An LLC can protect owners from liability
  • An LLC Operating Agreement will dictate the capital contribution rules for each member of the Cottage LLC. Meaning each member will be responsible for their share of the expenses.
  • An LLC Operating Agreement will define a fair method for dividing up and alternating use of the prime times.
  • An LLC will assign responsibilities for management tasks such as cleaning and maintaining the house and the yard.
  • When time comes, for one owner to sell or transfer her/his shares, a Cottage LLC allows for flexibility and minimizes the risk of a forced sale.

Ensure the future of your family cottage will continue to be a cherished, harmonious place to create memories, by contacting us to help you create a Cottage LLC today.

Protecting Children with Special Needs


Special Needs Trust

Parents with children with disabilities are faced with unique challenges. One of the major concerns of parents of a child with special needs is how to properly leave money to the child.

Because most children with disabilities will receive some sort of public benefits to help pay for medical and long-term care, it is of vital importance that the disabled child not receive assets directly or have money gifted to them personally. Even for a child who does not utilize public benefits it is important to understand that their child may be at risk to creditors and other people who may want to take advantage of them.

Because of these above reasons, a Special Needs Trust becomes a necessary tool for a person with disabilities.  Mom and Dad are able to leave a legacy to their child but without disqualifying the child from public benefits. Other family members, such as grandma and grandpa, can leave gifts or a legacy to the disabled child without a worry that the child will become a target from unsavory individuals. As a result, these funds will then be available to supplement the needs of the child in the future.

To learn more about  Special Needs Trusts visit our site.

Estate Planning is Not a DIY Project

So if you are like me, you take pride in completing a DIY project. Even though I feel a sense of satisfaction when I complete a project, I’ve learned over the years that there is a time and a place for DIY projects and a time for professionals to be called. Often, the risks of incorrectly doing a project outweigh the costs of calling a professional. This holds true for estate planning as well.

Some people think Estate Planning can be a DIY project. These people find online tools and services to complete estate planning documents.  By attempting to use a DIY estate planning tool, people can end up causing more problems.

Over the years, I have helped people who come in after they realized there were problems with their DIY estate planning documents. Some of the problems these DIYers experienced include:

  • Institutions did not accept their DIY power of attorney
  • The online forms were not in sync with Wisconsin laws.
  • Errors were made because they misinterpreted the online forms
  • Unintentionally disinherited assets

These problems ended up costing the DIYers and their beneficiaries more time and money than it would have if they called a professional in the first place. These issues may have been avoided by speaking with an experienced Estate Planning Attorney up front. The role of an Estate Planning Attorney is to be a counselor in explaining your different options and pointing out some of the pitfalls that may be lurking. Computer generated forms are simply not comparable to the customized service and advice that an Estate Planning Attorney can provide.

Legal Documents for Your 18 Year Old

The law says that kids become legal adults the day they turn 18.  So what does that mean?  Yes, they can vote…but what else? When a child turns 18, parents no longer are able to make health care and financial decisions for the child without written legal authorization.

Imagine being a parent of an 18 year old.  Now imagine that the child is in the hospital due to an emergency situation.  Without the proper planning, doctors are unable to share information with you.

Imagine your 18 year old is a victim of fraudulent use of their credit card.  As the parent, since your child is a legal adult, banks will not communicate with you about this.

So what is the solution?

Together, parents and children should review and discuss several important legal documents with the understanding that it’s the child’s right to decide how to proceed. Important documents to review include:

  • Medical Power of Attorney – Gives parents the authority to make medical decisions on a child’s behalf if the child is unable to do so.
  • Living Will – States a person’s wishes about life-extending medical treatment.
  • HIPAA Release –Allows heath care providers to release medical information with designated people.
  • Durable Power of Attorney – Grants parents the authority to sign documents for their child. For example, this allows a parent to manage financial accounts or file a tax return on behalf of the child.

Without these documents, the courts will make decisions for you. Therefore, it is important to have this difficult discussion with your children.

It’s Not Too Late to Protect Assets

People often believe that when they enter into a nursing home, it is too late to do any planning. However, this could not be further from the truth.  The truth is it’s never too late to legally protect assets.

Just the other day, we helped a client who was already in a nursing home. We gifted part of her estate to her family while she remained eligible for government assistance to pay for her nursing home care.

The client entered the nursing home in January.  We were contacted in April in regards to protecting some of her assets for nursing home.  Her assets were around $130,000.00 and kept in money market accounts.  We used a Medicaid Compliant Annuity which allowed her to gift approximately $58,000.00 to her family.  The remainder of the money will go to pay for her nursing home payments for the next 6 months.  During this time period, we will apply for government assistance which will continue making the payments to the nursing home after her 6 moth payment period expires. This example demonstrates that it is never too late to plan for nursing home.

Cases like this happen all the time, people enter a nursing home and loved ones assume that they it’s too late to do any asset protection planning. Don’t assume that it’s too late! Unless your assets are already gone, it’s never too late.

A phone call to learn about asset protection from nursing home costs won’t cost a thing…but not making that call could cost everything.

Protecting the Family Cottage

It’s that time of year…kids are back to school and if you are a family who is fortunate enough to have a family cottage, lake house or beach house, you may be getting ready to close it up for the season.

The family cottage undoubtedly provides numerous memories for your family.  Whether it be boating, fishing, hunting, swimming, or just time away, these memories are cherished. Every family wants to pass on these memories to their children and their grandchildren.  However, many times problems arise when more than one person owns or inherits property.

Continue reading “Protecting the Family Cottage”

The Risks of DIY Estate Planning

Many of us, including me, enjoy the satisfaction that comes from completing a DIY project. This satisfaction is a result of knowing that I completed a project without having to call a professional and that I saved a lot of money. However, all too often, we “DIY-ers” make a mistake, or something goes wrong with the project. Quickly that feeling of satisfaction turns to frustration when realizing that DIY project wasn’t done right and ultimately the project costs are bigger than they would have been if a professional was hired in the first place.

Continue reading “The Risks of DIY Estate Planning”

Selecting a Guardian for Your Children

Tragedy is an unfortunate reality in this world. It could be a drunk driver running a red light, an airplane crash, or a boating mishap that leaves someone’s children without a parent. In such a case, who would raise your children? Will it be a judge who picks that person, or have you taken the steps to name a guardian in your Will or other estate planning documents?

Few decisions in your life will be as hard as choosing the people to act as guardians for your children if you are unable to act. However, as difficult as it can be to imagine other people raising your children, it is probably the most important decision you can make. The guardian will not only be the person who will be responsible for the welfare of your children, but will also be the one responsible for instilling your values in them.

Of all the key players in your estate plan, do you want to leave the decision of your children’s guardian up to the courts? It has been said that if you can imagine the very worst person to raise your child, this is exactly the person the court will appoint. While I don’t know that is true, it is critically important that you decide now who you would want to raise your children.

How do you go about selecting a guardian? Consider these simple questions:

• Is this person physically able to take on the responsibilities? Is the person battling a
serious disease or disabled? Is he/she too old at this point to raise your toddler who
goes non-stop all day?

• Is this person emotionally able to take on this responsibility? Let’s face it, some
people are not built to raise children. Consider if he/she possess the
temperament and patience to raise your child. Furthermore, he/she may not
have yet achieved the necessary maturity to raise a child.

• Is this person’s life stable and consistent? You may not want to pick the person who
is transferred for their job every year, causing your children to constantly be

• Will this person instill your values in your child? If your religious faith is of critical
importance, then you will want to appoint someone who will fully honor those
wishes. However, beyond your religious beliefs, does this person honor your
value system and will he/she teach your child those values?

• Does this person have the financial means to take on the responsibility? Often, you
should be able to provide for your child’s welfare through insurance or other assets.
However, if this person is financially irresponsible, you might run into issues.

While it’s certainly a tough decision, if you think of these questions in selecting your children’s guardian, you will be able to rest assured that if tragedy strikes, your children will be in the best hands possible.

7 Pieces of a Simple Estate Plan

What would happen if I died?  What would happen if both my spouse and I died tragically and unexpectedly? Who would care for my children? Who would provide for them? Where would they live? Would they be able to go to college?  What would happen to all my personal belongings?

No one likes to think of these types of questions. We would like to think that we will take care of those situations and questions “someday” when we get older. Yet, if we do not answer these questions ourselves someone else, like the courts, will answer these questions for us.

When you think of estate planning do you think of a method in which to answer these types of questions or do you envision a concept that brings up visions of summer homes in the Hamptons and palatial estates. At some point in our lives, everyone needs an estate plan, including the person who does not have a large estate. Quite often the concept of estate planning is misunderstood as something only the rich and famous have to do; but every person should have an estate plan in place.

At its simplest level, an estate plan is a number of legal documents that help protect you and your family in the event of your incapacity or untimely death. However, on a deeper level, it is a process that attempts to anticipate future events and then craft a plan so that your wishes are fulfilled.

At its most basic level an estate plan will consist of seven documents

1.      Will
2.      Living Will
3.      Health Care Power of Attorney
4.      Financial Power of Attorney
5.      HIPAA Release
6.      Personal Property Memorandum
7.      Marital Property Agreement

So, why do you need to make an estate plan? Well if you don’t, the State of Wisconsin will make the decisions for you.  I am willing to bet that the State’s plan does not coincide with your plan in every way.  Unfortunately, the State does not know that you would want one of your siblings to care for your minor children.  The State would not know at what ages to distribute your property and the amount of money to distribute to each of your children either.  By creating an estate plan, you could specify specific individuals, specific time periods, and specific amounts of money.  Your money can then be used for your children’s care and not used elsewhere.   Furthermore, under the State’s plan, you may not give any assets outside of the family unit.  If you wanted to leave some money to your favorite organization, you are out of luck.

So with an estate plan, you should do all of the following:

1.      Designate someone to manage your affairs if you become disabled.
2.      Name a guardian for your children if you pass away.
3.      Provide for your minor children or grandchildren.
4.      Reduce or eliminate Income, Gift, or Estate Taxes.
5.      Give away your family heirlooms and sentimental items in a
Personal Property memorandum.
6.      Designate who gets your estate and how.
7.      Reduce the costs and time for administration of your estate.

The above list probably includes some facet of your estate you would want to control.  Since we have established that you need an estate plan, what is the next step?  You probably have some questions? You should give us a call at Epiphany Law and we can answer those questions.  We pride ourselves in making this process as simple and as painless as possible.  We would love to help you navigate these issues and come up with a plan to meet your wishes.  For more information, visit\estateplanningsimplied.