In Madison, "estate planning" refers to all of the decisions affecting how a person's property is going to be disposed of after their death, as well as the process of implementing those decisions when the time comes.
Estate planning usually requires professional legal and financial advice, because of the complexity and importance of the issues involved. A poorly-executed estate plan can often end with survivors suing each other, and prevent your intentions from being effectuated.
While planning your estate, there are a few common issues that most people should consider. One big one is the decision relating to power of attorney, which is an arrangement where you give one person the power to make legally-binding decisions on your behalf. You can set up an agreement telling your representative exactly what power they have, what you want them to do, and when the power will vest (usually, if and when you become unable to make your own decisions).
The last thing a person wants to think about is the possibility that, after their death, their survivors are fighting over some part of their estate plan that's ambiguous or otherwise contentious. If you want to prevent this, or at least make it far less likely, you should have the help of a Madison attorney every step of the way.
Common Features of Madison Estates
Will: This is the centerpiece of most estate plans. A will is a document written by a person (the "testator"), usually with the help of a lawyer, which says what is to be done with their property after they die. Most provisions in a will are legally binding, to the extent that ownership of the property legally passes to the named beneficiary. However, a will cannot compel a person to do anything against their wishes (though it can certainly state your preferences on the matter, phrasing them as requests).
Living Will: A living will contains instructions about your medical care, generally for the purpose of informing your family and doctors of your preferences if you suddenly become incapacitated. A living will is very important if you have any strong preferences in this area. It should be written with the advice of a doctor, so you know the exact medical consequences of your decisions, and a lawyer, so it is virtually guaranteed to be legally binding.
Power of Attorney: Power of attorney allows you to grant someone else (usually a trusted family member or friend) the power to make certain decisions in your place, with the same legal effect as if you had made them yourself, in the event that you become unable to do so (usually due to mental or physical incapacity). If you decide to give someone power of attorney, you should make your wishes known to them in advance, so they are more likely to make the same decisions that you would make, if you were able to. And, of course, you should only give this authority to someone with whom you would trust your life because that is, in some cases, just what you're doing.
Funeral Arrangements: If you have any strong preferences regarding the disposition of your physical remains, you should make them known to your family early, and should not include funeral instructions in your will. Wills are often read weeks after the testator dies, so in most cases, it will be too late by then.
Do I Need a Madison Estates Lawyer?
A good estates lawyer in Madison can make the estate planning process much easier. He or she can maximize the chances of your wishes being given effect. Furthermore, a good and clear estate plan is far less likely to result in litigation in the future, since disputes of this nature are almost always the result of ambiguity.