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Leaving a Legacy in Wisconsin: A Comprehensive Guide to Trusts and Estate Planning


Welcoming you to a journey of foresight and preparation, this article aims to guide you through the essentials of leaving a memorable legacy in Wisconsin. It delves into the significance of estate planning, the role of trusts in this planning process, and how Heritage Law Office can assist in effectively shaping your legacy.

Importance of Estate Planning in Leaving a Legacy

Estate planning is a profound method of expressing the legacy you aspire to leave behind. It involves determining how your estate—comprising your real estate, financial assets, personal belongings—will be managed and distributed after your lifetime. This planning is essential in ensuring your loved ones' future security, minimizing potential family conflicts, and preserving your estate's value against excessive taxes or unforeseen liabilities.

The practice of estate planning extends beyond the mere allocation of assets; it signifies a lasting expression of your values, choices, and affections. Whether it's funding your grandchild's education, supporting a charitable cause, or ensuring the continuity of your family business, estate planning enables you to leave a lasting imprint.

Brief Explanation of Trusts in Estate Planning

In the realm of estate planning, trusts play a critical role in providing control over the distribution of your assets and preserving the privacy of your estate matters. Trusts are legal arrangements where a trustee holds and manages assets for the benefit of designated individuals or organizations.

Two prominent types of trusts are revocable trusts and irrevocable trusts. Revocable trusts, also known as "living trusts," can be altered or revoked during your lifetime. In contrast, irrevocable trusts, once established, cannot be modified without the consent of the beneficiaries.

Each trust type carries its own advantages and implications—ranging from probate avoidance, estate tax reduction, to asset protection—and should be selected based on the specific goals and circumstances of your estate.

Understanding Estate Planning

Dive deeper into the world of estate planning, a complex yet indispensable process of preparing for the future. In this section, we'll cover the concept of estate planning, its importance, and a snapshot of Wisconsin's estate planning laws.

Explanation of Estate Planning

Estate planning involves the formulation of a strategy to manage an individual's assets in the event of their incapacitation or death. This process can encompass several aspects, such as determining beneficiaries for your assets, minimizing estate taxes, nominating guardians for minor children, appointing healthcare surrogates, and establishing directives for end-of-life decisions.

One of the critical components of estate planning is the creation of a will, which legally specifies the distribution of your assets upon death. However, a comprehensive estate plan can also include trusts, life insurance policies, power of attorney assignments, and more, depending on your needs and circumstances.

Importance of Estate Planning

The importance of estate planning is multifold. Here are some key reasons why it's essential:

  1. Protection of Beneficiaries: By clearly stating who will inherit your assets and when they will inherit them, you protect your heirs—especially if they are minors or vulnerable—from potential disagreements or mismanagement of your wealth.

  2. Avoidance of Probate: Probate can be a lengthy, expensive legal process that validates a will and oversees the distribution of a deceased's estate. With strategic estate planning, it is possible to minimize or avoid probate, saving time and resources for your loved ones.

  3. Tax Minimization: Proper planning can help reduce the estate taxes your heirs might have to pay. This is particularly pertinent for high-value estates that could be subject to federal estate taxes.

  4. Peace of Mind: Knowing that you have a plan in place to take care of your loved ones and that your wishes will be respected brings peace of mind.

Estate Planning in Wisconsin (laws, rules, and regulations)

Wisconsin has its unique laws and regulations concerning estate planning. Here are a few key aspects to consider:

  1. Wills: Under Wisconsin law, any person 18 years of age or older, and of sound mind, can make a will. The will must be in writing and signed in the presence of at least two competent witnesses.

  2. Probate: If the deceased person's estate is worth more than $50,000 and does not pass directly to a surviving spouse or registered domestic partner, it may have to go through probate in Wisconsin. However, some assets, like those held in joint tenancy or in a trust, can avoid probate.

  3. Revocable Living Trusts: Wisconsin recognizes revocable living trusts, which can help avoid probate. You, as the trust maker, can control the assets during your lifetime and determine how they're distributed upon your death.

  4. Marital Property Law: Wisconsin is a community property state, meaning that assets acquired during the marriage are generally considered equally owned by both spouses. This can significantly affect estate planning, particularly for spouses contemplating the distribution of their assets.

  5. Estate Tax: As of the time of writing, Wisconsin does not impose a state estate or inheritance tax. Federal estate tax may apply to estates exceeding certain value thresholds.

When navigating through estate planning in Wisconsin, it is advisable to consult with knowledgeable attorneys. The Heritage Law Office, equipped with a profound understanding of Wisconsin's legal landscape, is prepared to assist you with estate planning tailored to your unique needs.

Role of Trusts in Estate Planning

Trusts play an indispensable part in comprehensive estate planning, providing a high degree of control over asset distribution while offering specific advantages such as tax benefits and probate avoidance. In this section, we will explore the concept of trusts, delve into the types of trusts, and highlight the benefits of setting up a trust.

Definition of Trusts in the Context of Estate Planning

In the sphere of estate planning, a trust is a legal arrangement that allows a third party, referred to as a trustee, to hold and manage assets on behalf of the trust's beneficiaries. Trusts can be established during the trustor's (person creating the trust) lifetime or upon their death as instructed in their will.

Trusts are instrumental in providing a detailed, controlled plan for asset distribution, often beyond what a will alone can achieve. They can cover a wide range of assets, including money, real estate, stocks, and other forms of personal property.

Types of Trusts: Revocable and Irrevocable Trusts

There are myriad types of trusts, but two primary classifications are Revocable Trusts and Irrevocable Trusts.

Revocable Trusts, also known as living trusts, are trusts that the trustor can modify, amend, or revoke entirely during their lifetime. This flexibility allows the trustor to adapt to changing circumstances, whether personal, financial, or legal. Upon the trustor's death, a revocable trust typically becomes irrevocable, and the assets within the trust are distributed according to the trustor's instructions without going through probate.

Irrevocable Trusts, on the other hand, cannot be changed or terminated without the consent of the trust's beneficiaries once they've been established. This lack of control is offset by significant advantages, including shielding assets from creditors and minimizing or eliminating estate taxes. Irrevocable trusts are often used when dealing with life insurance or assets intended for charitable giving.

Benefits of Setting Up a Trust

Setting up a trust can have several benefits based on the individual's financial situation, family dynamics, and estate planning goals. Here are some reasons why setting up a trust could be beneficial:

  1. Probate Avoidance: Assets held in a trust bypass the probate process, ensuring a faster and more private transfer of assets to the beneficiaries.

  2. Control over Asset Distribution: A trust allows for detailed directives regarding when and how your assets will be distributed. This is particularly helpful in situations involving minor children, spendthrift family members, or special needs beneficiaries.

  3. Privacy: Unlike a will, which becomes a public document during probate, a trust operates privately. The details of the assets and their distribution remain confidential.

  4. Potential Tax Benefits: Certain types of trusts, particularly irrevocable ones, can help minimize estate taxes.

  5. Asset Protection: Trusts can offer some degree of protection against creditors or legal judgments, safeguarding the trustor's wealth for their intended beneficiaries.

Revocable Trusts

Revocable trusts serve as key tools in many estate planning strategies, offering flexibility and control while simplifying the transition of assets. In this section, we'll delve deeper into the characteristics, benefits, setup process, and ideal scenarios for establishing a revocable trust.

Detailed Explanation of Revocable Trusts

Revocable trusts, often referred to as "living trusts," are legal arrangements where a trustor transfers ownership of assets to a trust during their lifetime. The term "revocable" signifies that the trustor retains the right to alter or terminate the trust at any time.

In a revocable trust, the trustor, trustee, and beneficiary can all be the same person, allowing the trustor to maintain control over their assets during their lifetime. After the trustor's death, a successor trustee—appointed by the trustor—assumes control and manages or distributes the assets as per the trustor's instructions.

Benefits of Revocable Trusts

Revocable trusts offer several advantages that can cater to a wide range of estate planning needs:

  1. Flexibility: Revocable trusts can be modified or revoked during the trustor's lifetime, allowing them to respond to life changes.
  2. Avoidance of Probate: Assets held in a revocable trust bypass the probate process, resulting in a quicker, more efficient distribution of assets to the beneficiaries.
  3. Privacy: The terms and assets of a revocable trust remain private, contrasting with the public nature of probate proceedings.
  4. Continuity of Management: In case of the trustor's incapacity, the successor trustee can seamlessly take over the management of the trust's assets, mitigating potential disruptions.

Process of Setting Up a Revocable Trust in Wisconsin

Setting up a revocable trust in Wisconsin involves a few key steps:

  1. Identify the Trust Assets: The first step is to decide which assets to place in the trust. It can include real estate, bank accounts, stocks, and other personal property.

  2. Choose a Trustee: The trustee will manage the trust. It can be you during your lifetime and then a successor trustee—either a person or an institution—upon your death or incapacity.

  3. Designate Beneficiaries: Decide who will receive the trust assets after your death. This can be family members, friends, or organizations.

  4. Create the Trust Document: With the help of an experienced attorney, create the trust document. It should outline all details, including the name of the trustee, beneficiary details, and instructions for asset distribution.

  5. Fund the Trust: Transfer ownership of your assets to the trust. This step is crucial—without it, the trust is just an empty shell.

Scenarios: When to Consider a Revocable Trust

While revocable trusts can be useful in many situations, they may be particularly beneficial in the following scenarios:

  • Privacy Concerns: If you wish to keep the details of your estate and your beneficiaries private, a revocable trust is a good option.
  • Complex Family Situations: For those with blended families or unique beneficiary considerations, a revocable trust offers more control over asset distribution.
  • Anticipation of Incapacity: If there's a likelihood of physical or mental incapacity, a revocable trust allows for seamless management of your assets.

It's important to consult with an experienced attorney at Heritage Law Office in Wisconsin when considering a revocable trust. We can help determine if a revocable trust is appropriate for your situation and guide you through the setup process, ensuring your legacy is safeguarded.

Irrevocable Trusts

While revocable trusts provide ample control and flexibility, irrevocable trusts offer their unique advantages, including robust asset protection and certain tax benefits. Let's delve into the essence of irrevocable trusts, their benefits, the setup process, and scenarios in which they may be appropriate.

Detailed Explanation of Irrevocable Trusts

An irrevocable trust is a trust arrangement that, once established, generally cannot be altered, amended, or revoked without the consent of the beneficiary or beneficiaries. The grantor (the person setting up the trust) effectively transfers ownership of assets into the trust, relinquishing their right to control or manage the assets.

Irrevocable trusts serve multiple purposes, from protecting assets against creditors to minimizing estate taxes. Depending on the specific type of irrevocable trust, such as life insurance trusts or charitable trusts, they can be tailored to serve specific estate planning goals.

Benefits of Irrevocable Trusts

Irrevocable trusts come with a distinct set of benefits:

  1. Asset Protection: Because the assets are technically no longer owned by the grantor, they are generally safe from creditors or legal judgments against the grantor.
  2. Estate Tax Reduction: By removing assets from the grantor's estate, irrevocable trusts may reduce the potential estate tax liability.
  3. Medicaid Planning: In certain circumstances, transferring assets into an irrevocable trust may aid in qualifying for Medicaid assistance for long-term care costs.

Process of Setting Up an Irrevocable Trust in Wisconsin

The process for establishing an irrevocable trust in Wisconsin is similar to that of a revocable trust but requires additional caution due to the irreversible nature of the agreement:

  1. Identify the Trust Assets: Determine which assets you wish to include in the trust.
  2. Choose a Trustee: This person or institution will manage the trust. As the grantor, you won't be able to change the trustee without the beneficiary's consent.
  3. Designate Beneficiaries: Decide who will receive the trust assets upon your death.
  4. Draft the Trust Document: With the help of a knowledgeable attorney, create the trust document outlining the terms of the trust, the trustee, the beneficiaries, and the distribution rules.
  5. Fund the Trust: Transfer the ownership of the identified assets to the trust.

Scenarios: When to Consider an Irrevocable Trust

Considering an irrevocable trust might be a wise choice in several situations:

  • Asset Protection: If you're concerned about creditors or legal judgments, an irrevocable trust can provide robust protection.
  • Estate Tax Considerations: If your estate is large enough to incur estate taxes, an irrevocable trust can help reduce the tax liability.
  • Long-Term Care Planning: If you're planning ahead for potential long-term care costs and Medicaid eligibility, an irrevocable trust could be a beneficial tool.

The team at Heritage Law Office in Wisconsin is well-versed in setting up irrevocable trusts and can provide experienced guidance on whether this estate planning tool aligns with your unique circumstances and goals. 


A well-planned trust can provide peace of mind, knowing that your assets will be managed and distributed according to your wishes. It is an essential component of estate planning and leaving a legacy.

At Heritage Law Office, we bring a wealth of experience and knowledge to guide you in your estate planning journey. Let us help you in creating an enduring legacy that reflects your life's work and aspirations.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

1. What is the main difference between a revocable trust and an irrevocable trust?

A revocable trust can be altered, amended, or revoked at any time during the grantor's lifetime. On the other hand, an irrevocable trust generally cannot be changed without the consent of the beneficiary or beneficiaries once it has been established.

2. Does setting up a trust help in tax planning?

Yes, trusts, particularly irrevocable trusts, can play a significant role in estate tax planning. By transferring assets out of the estate, the potential estate tax liability can be reduced.

3. What type of assets can be included in a trust?

Almost any kind of asset can be included in a trust, such as real estate, bank accounts, investments, business interests, and personal property like artworks or jewelry.

4. Can an out-of-state attorney set up a trust in Wisconsin?

While technically possible, it is advisable to work with a knowledgeable attorney licensed in Wisconsin who is familiar with the state's specific laws and regulations related to estate planning and trusts.

5. How can Heritage Law Office assist me in setting up a trust?

Heritage Law Office offers comprehensive estate planning services, including setting up both revocable and irrevocable trusts. We'll work closely with you to understand your estate planning objectives, assess your situation, and guide you in making informed decisions that align with your legacy goals.

Leaving a Legacy with Heritage Law Office

After understanding the mechanics and benefits of estate planning and trusts, it's essential to turn to experienced professionals like Heritage Law Office who can guide you through the process and help you craft a legacy that resonates with your intentions.

Heritage Law Office's Experience and Knowledge in Estate Planning

Heritage Law Office brings years of experience in the nuanced field of estate planning. Our attorneys are well-versed in the laws of Wisconsin and can help navigate the complexities that come with planning for the future. We've assisted countless individuals and families in designing an estate plan that fits their unique needs and aspirations.

Customized Approach to Trust Formation

At Heritage Law Office, we understand that every individual and family has a unique set of circumstances, assets, and future objectives. Hence, we adopt a personalized approach to trust formation, listening carefully to our clients' wishes, assessing their situation, and crafting a strategy that aligns with their legacy goals.

Client Testimonials and Success Stories

Over the years, we've built a strong reputation through the positive feedback and stories shared by our satisfied clients. From setting up robust asset protection mechanisms to designing comprehensive estate plans, we've enabled our clients to confidently plan for the future, secure in the knowledge that their legacy is in safe hands.

Contact an Attorney in Wisconsin to Leave Your Legacy 

Don't leave your legacy to chance. Secure your future and your family's future by setting up a consultation with Heritage Law Office today. Contact us at 414-253-8500 or send us a message. Let us assist you in making informed decisions about your estate planning needs.

Contact Us Today

For a comprehensive plan that will meet your needs or the needs of a loved one, contact us today. Located in Downtown Milwaukee, we serve Milwaukee County, surrounding communities, and to clients across Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois, and California.