Debunked: five myths about wills and probate

what do i need to know about estate planning

Let’s just say it: Planning for your own demise is a downer. But you know what’s an even bigger downer? Leaving the work of sorting through your earthly assets to your heirs, especially when you could so easily set your estate up now to relieve that burden for them. 

“People have many reasons for putting off estate planning,” says Prinsen, “many of which are due to common myths.”

Myth #1: I don’t have any assets. Nearly everyone has some assets, even if just a car or furniture. It is important to have a will so that your assets pass to the individuals that you want to receive them following your death.

Myth #2: Everything will go to my spouse anyway. This isn’t necessarily true. Under Wisconsin law, if you had any children with a prior partner or spouse, then your assets would be divided among those children and your spouse, provided that (1) the assets are not jointly held with the spouse; (2) the spouse is not a named beneficiary of the assets, and (3) you don’t have a will or trust that designates the spouse as the beneficiary of the assets.

Myth #3: If I have a will, my heirs can avoid probate. According to Prinsen, the following assets do not pass through a will and will not be subject to probate:

  • All assets held in joint tenancy with others (others, in which case the assets would pass to the surviving owners upon an owner’s death).
  • Bank accounts that have payable-on-death beneficiary designations.
  • Real estate with transfer-on-death beneficiary designations.
  • Investment accounts, retirement accounts and life insurance policies with designated beneficiaries.
  • Any assets that are held in a revocable or irrevocable trust.

Myth #4: Probate takes years. Wisconsin probate law requires estates to close within 18 months, but some counties have reduced it to 12. If it’s a smaller estate, probate can take as few as six months.

Myth #5: Cost of probate consumes all the assets. The biggest cost is the inventory filing fee, which runs $2 per thousand of the assets’ net value. That means an estate with a net worth of $500,000 will require a $1,000 filing fee.

Preparing a will doesn’t have to be expensive, says Prinsen. “The important thing is getting started. The peace of mind is well worth it, both for you and for those you love.”

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