At Meissner Tierney, our estate and succession planning attorneys represent a wide spectrum of clients. They range from individuals and families with substantial net worth to couples just starting a family and everyone in between, including individuals with uncommon planning needs. Like other areas of our practice, we take great pride in understanding each client’s unique situation and crafting a plan specifically tailored to that situation. We also have substantial experience administering trusts and estates, both large and small, complex and straightforward. This experience serves as useful guidance in drafting estate plans and documents that implement the appropriate level of sophistication without being unnecessarily complicated.
Consistent with our focus on providing comprehensive legal advice to our closely held business clients, a large amount of our estate planning work is done for the owners of these closely held businesses. Our attorneys are particularly skilled in recognizing and handling the extremely important and sensitive issues that exist when a significant part of the net worth of a family or individual is tied to the family business. In these circumstances, in addition to more-common estate planning considerations, careful thought is given to business transition, succession planning and similar matters. Our intimate familiarity with our clients’ businesses (and, often times, family dynamics) allows us to assist in the preparation of estate and succession plans which enable a smooth transition of the business or its assets to the next generation. This same intimate familiarity also allows us to continue to be a valuable resource during the transition and for the next generation for years to come.
Estate and Trust Administration
When a person dies, often arrangements will need to be made to administer and, ultimately, distribute that person’s assets. Several of our attorneys have a great deal of experience handling trust and estate administration matters, ranging from the simple administration of a decedent’s Will, to complex probate administrations where multiple issues are litigated, to multi-million dollar trusts and estates with significant tax and related issues. In all events, our attorneys are adept at handling the administration skillfully and efficiently.
Marital Property Planning
Wisconsin is one of nine states in the country to generally treat property acquired during marriage as “community” or “marital” property. Consequently, with numerous nuances, each spouse is deemed to own an undivided one-half interest in the assets of the spouses acquired during marriage. This presents unique consequences and planning opportunities. Several of our attorneys have an in-depth familiarity with Wisconsin’s marital property laws and regularly use that knowledge to ensure their clients’ assets are treated consistent with their expectations.
Several of our attorneys are experts in the field of tax-exempt entities, including both private foundations and public charities. Our attorneys regularly advise tax-exempt clients of various types as to entity structuring and governance, formation, funding, tax, and various other issues. Additionally, similar to our representation of closely-held businesses and their owners, we regularly advise individuals on issues related to personal tax planning and the start-up, organization and operation of private foundations.
The probate process involves the administration of a deceased person’s estate in accordance with his or her Last Will and Testament or, in the absence of a Will, according to the laws of intestacy. Probate administrations can range from simple, informal procedures where a decedent’s assets are collected and distributed to a surviving spouse or children to lengthy, complex proceedings with significant litigation, potentially including litigation brought to contest the validity of the Will. Several of our attorneys have experience handling probate administrations on both ends of the spectrum and are adept at doing so effectively and efficiently.
Succession Planning for Family and Closely Held Businesses
In some cases, there is no greater concern to a business owner than determining how to preserve value in a business that he or she spent years or, more often, decades building. Sometimes this means ensuring that a spouse or significant other will have access to liquid funds from the business. Other times it means establishing a plan for succession to the next generation of owners (either within or outside the family). Assisting these closely-held business owners with these types of issues are central to our practice. In fact, given our intimate familiarity with our clients’ businesses and issues that extend well beyond, we often spot and address these issues before our clients think to worry about them.
For many of our estate planning clients, tax consequences upon death are a primary concern. Estate (and, in some cases, income) taxes after death can significantly impact the amount which a person is able to pass along to his or her beneficiaries. Our attorneys are skilled in addressing these issues when preparing estate plans, which are dictated by ever-changing tax laws. Of course, while tax considerations may very well play an important role, we are always sure not to lose sight of our client’s main objectives in the disposition of their assets.