Plan your Estate for peace of mind today and tomorrow.

“Estate Planning” is the process by which you plan for the transfer of your property upon your death.  “Probate” is the court-supervised process used after your death to carry out the wishes in your Will, and is the process involved if you have no Will. We have an experienced team at Curran Law Office to handle the complex legal issues associated with Estate Planning and probate, and we handle these sensitive issues in an atmosphere of trust, respect and confidentiality. Let us help you.

Estate Planning:

Estate planning has become increasingly complicated. Estate planning now can include retirement planning, health care planning, tax planning, property divestment, charitable giving and more. To make matters worse, the exaggerated hype from websites and traveling salesmen pitching “Estate Planning kits” at mass meetings has added to the public’s confusion.  Curran Law Office has developed a team to deal with this complex and confusing area of the law, and will tailor your Estate Plan to your specific needs and goals.

Place your trust in our hands.  Our first concern is to provide documents which will allow for continuity of decision-making if you become disabled, and then to provide for the execution of your wishes upon your death, thereby giving you peace of mind. Throughout the whole process, we help you avoid needless taxes and minimize or eliminate probate.

Types of Estate Planning Matters:

We handle all kinds of estate planning matters, from small basic estates to large complex estates.  We routinely deal with the following estate planning and tax matters:

  • Wills
  • Living Wills
  • Durable Powers of Attorney
  • Health Care Powers of Attorney (Advanced Directives)
  • HIPAA Releases
  • Marital Property Agreements
  • Charitable Giving
  • Estate Tax Planning
  • Gift Tax Planning
  • Beneficiary Designations
  • Retirement Benefit Planning
  • Business Succession Planning including Family Businesses
  • Transfer-on-Death or Payable-on-Death Planning
  • All Other Estate Planning Needs

Types of Trusts:

We also handle all kinds of Trusts, including the following:

  • Irrevocable and Revocable Trusts
  • Testamentary Trusts
  • Insurance Trusts
  • Charitable Trusts
  • Special Needs Trusts
  • Spendthrift Trusts
  • Credit Shelter Trusts
  • Irrevocable Life Insurance Trusts (ILITs)
  • Retirement Benefit Trusts, including IRA Trusts
  • Qualified Terminable Interest Property (QTIP) Trusts
  • Grantor Retained Annuity Trusts (GRATs)
  • Grantor Retained Unitrusts (GRUTs)
  • Grantor Retained Income Trusts (GRITs)
  • Charitable Remainder Annuity Trusts (CRATs)
  • Charitable Remainder Unitrusts (CRUTs)
  • Qualified Income Trusts
  • Pooled Trusts such as Wispact
  • Intentionally Defective Grantor Trusts

Estate Planning Needs Often Change:

Estate plans, once completed, should never be forgotten.  It is important to review your estate plan whenever significant changes occur in your life, such as the birth or emancipation of a child, the death of a family member, a marriage or divorce, the acquisition of real estate (particularly out-of-state), any significant change in wealth or income, and any significant change in the law.  Our lawyers will continue to work with you throughout your life to ensure that your estate plan and financial arrangements are kept up to date and meet your changing needs.


The death of a loved one is an extremely difficult time for the survivors, who need a trusted advisor to help guide them through the minefield of legal issues which arise upon death.  Our highly experienced probate team can take the worry out of probate and related legal issues. We handle all types and sizes of estates, big and small, including estates and trusts that hold business assets, farm assets, foreign (non-Wisconsin) assets, marital property assets, insurance assets, and multiple-owner assets. We are experienced in all aspects of probate and non-probate transfer law, including the following:

  • Formal and informal probate proceedings
  • Non-probate transfers which avoid probate
  • Property division
  • Termination of joint tenancies
  • Summary proceedings
  • Fiduciary income tax returns for Estates and Trusts
  • Estate tax returns
  • Ancillary proceedings for property in other states
  • Special Administration of Estates
  • Trust management, distribution and tax issues
  • Will contests
  • Insurance and retirement benefit claims

Common Questions

Do you have questions about Estate Planning or probate in Wisconsin?

Click here for answers to common questions.

What is probate?

Probate is the process by which a Court supervises the distribution of the property of a deceased person so that the decedent’s bills are properly paid and the decedent’s property is properly distributed to those entitled to receive it.  In Wisconsin, there are different kinds of “probate” procedures depending on the nature and extent of the decedent’s debts and property.

What is a personal representative?

In probate, a personal representative is a person appointed by the Court to collect and inventory the decedent’s property, to protect, manage and preserve the decedent’s property, to pay debts and claims owed by the decedent, to report this information to the Court, and to distribute the remaining assets as directed by the Court. The powers and duties of the personal representative are established by Wisconsin statutes and the Court.

How is a “Power of Attorney” different from a Personal representative?

A “Power of Attorney” becomes invalid upon the death of the person for whom they are acting.  The Power of Attorney has no authority to pay bills, dispose of property, or plan the funeral of the decedent.  After a person dies, the only person authorized to take action regarding the decedent’s property is a personal representative (known outside Wisconsin as an “executor”), once the Court appoints the personal representative in a probate proceeding.  As a result, there is always a period of time between (1) the death of a decedent (which terminated the Power of Attorney) and (2) the appointment of a personal representative, when there is no one legally authorized to act for the decedent.  Usually this is a short period of time, causing no problems unless an urgent issue arises.

What are Domiciliary Letters?

The phrase “Domiciliary Letters” is the name given to the document issued by the Court, in probate, to the Personal Representative authorizing them to act for the Estate.

What does it mean for a person to die “testate” or “intestate’?

To die “testate’ simply means that the decedent had a Will.  A person who dies without a Will is “intestate.”

What is a Will?

A Will is a legal document which expresses a person’s wishes for what should be done with his or her property upon death.  A will can also accomplish other things, such as name a personal representative for the estate, nominate a guardian for minor children, create property management (or a trust) for beneficiaries, and forgive debts. To be valid, a Will must be properly created and executed in strict compliance with the law.  Be careful of “Do-it-yourself” Wills, particularly found on the internet, which are not valid under Wisconsin law.

Does having a Will avoid probate?

No.  In most cases, some sort of probate proceeding will be needed to make sure the terms and conditions of the Will are properly carried out.

What is a Living Will?

A “Living Will” (also called a “Declaration to Physicians”) is a legal document which names your agent to make health care decisions for you if you are unable to do so, and which explains your wishes regarding medical care at the end of your life if you are unable to do so.

What is a codicil?

A codicil is a legal document which amends or changes a previously executed Will. Like a Will, a codicil must be properly drafted and executed in strict compliance with the law to be valid.  Again, be careful. An improperly prepared or executed codicil can not only invalidate the codicil, but it can also invalidate the underlying Will.

What happens if I die without a Will?

If you die without a will, State law determines who are your next-of-kin, and thus who will receive your property—usually, this will be your spouse, parents, children, or siblings. A Will is necessary if you wish to make sure which relatives receive a share of your probate estate, and which relatives do not.  If no relative can be found, the property goes to the State—but this rarely happens. Any debts owed by the estate will be paid before property is distributed to relatives. Dying without a will is called dying “intestate.”

Can I make my own Will?

Yes, but be careful.  If it is not created and executed in the proper manner, it will be void and unenforceable.  We have seen many cases of internet forms which are not acceptable under Wisconsin law.

What is “joint tenancy” and is it a substitute for a Will?

Joint tenancy is a legal arrangement by which two or more people own a property together, each with equal rights and obligations. When one of the owners in a joint tenancy dies, that decedent’s interest in the property passes to the survivors without the property having to go through the probate court. You can use joint tenancy to transfer property to a co-tenant without probate, but using this method to transfer property is not a substitute for having a Will. Using joint tenancy raises significant tax and ownership issues that are very different from the issues raised by passing property through a Will.  A lawyer experienced in Estate Planning will help you determine what assets, if any, should be placed in joint tenancy.

What is a life estate?

A life estate is a form of joint ownership which gives a person (the life tenant) the right to use and enjoy the property during their lifetime, and upon their death, the use and enjoyment of the property automatically transfers to another (the remainderman).  The creation of life estates can be an important estate planning tool. However, there are advantages and disadvantages which can cause serious complications.  An experienced estate planning lawyer can help you determine whether a life estate is the right tool for you.

In my Will, can I dispose of my property any way I wish?

Yes, for the most part you can give your property away however you wish, but there are a few exceptions. Because Wisconsin is a marital property state, your spouse may have a right to some of your property. Also, your children may be able to claim some of your property unless you expressly disinherit them. Moreover, your estate must pay any debts that you die owing, and those debts will be paid before any property is passed to your named beneficiaries.

Can I appoint a guardian for my children in my Will?

You can nominate a person to be guardian for your minor children, but the Court makes the final decision.  The Court will seriously consider your nomination, but the Court will assess the entire situation and make the final decision. Also, if your children have another living parent, that parent is likely to be named as guardian unless that other parent is found to be unfit.

What should I do with a Will when the testator dies?

The Will of any decedent must be filed with the Register in Probate, or delivered to the personal representative named in the Will, within 30 days after knowledge of the death.  If delivered to the personal representative, the personal representative must file the Will within 30 days of receipt.

Must the Will be read to the family?

No. A family can choose to read the Will as a group, but doing so is not required and is rarely desired. The Will must be filed with the Register in Probate, and if a probate is required, notice to all interested parties is normally mailed, along with a copy of the Will. Also, there is nothing private about a Will that would require it to be controlled or read by an attorney or other representative. In fact, when a Will goes through probate, it becomes a public document – so literally anyone can read it or have a reading of it.

Can I change my Will?

Yes.  You can revise, cancel or otherwise change your Will as often as you wish, so long as you are competent.  However, all changes must be done properly in strict compliance with the law.  Be careful. An improperly prepared or executed change can destroy the entire Will.

Can I contest a Will?

Yes, but you must have a legal reason for doing so, such as incompetence, fraud, undue influence or duress.  To contest a Will, you must file papers with the Court, within certain time limits, explaining why the Will should not be accepted by the Court. Will contests are complicated, rare, and require the assistance of a lawyer.

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