When considering estate planning and the drafting of a will, one of the key concerns individuals often have is how to avoid a will contest after their death. A contested will can lead to prolonged court battles, strained family relationships, and can significantly deplete the estate’s assets. To mitigate these risks, there are several steps you can take early on in your Wisconsin estate planning journey and we want to share them here with you on our blog.

  1. Work with an experienced Wisconsin estate planning attorney. First and foremost, it is crucial to work with an experienced Wisconsin estate planning attorney. A skilled lawyer can help ensure that your estate plan is legally sound, adheres to state laws, and clearly articulates your wishes. They can also provide advice on strategies to minimize the chances of a contest, including ensuring all legal formalities are correctly followed. It is important for you to share your specific concerns about potential contests with your attorney and ask for tailored advice to mitigate those risks.


  1. Contemplate speaking with your loved ones. You will want to speak with your attorney first but know that transparency can often prevent misunderstandings and disputes. You may want to discuss your estate plan as well as your goals with your loved ones. This does not mean you need to divulge every detail, but explaining your decisions can help manage expectations and reduce the likelihood of surprises that could lead to future contests.


  1. Choose the right decision makers. Selecting trustworthy and competent agents, personal representatives,  and trustees is essential. These individuals will be responsible for working with an attorney to administer your estate and ensure your wishes are carried out. Their ability to handle the role effectively and communicate with beneficiaries can greatly influence the probability of a dispute. As a point of consideration, you may want to discuss this important role with them to ensure they are willing to serve in this capacity before naming them in your Wisconsin estate plan. 


  1. Plan out what you want clearly. The clearer your Wisconsin estate plan, the less room there is for interpretation or contention. Work with your attorney to be explicit about your wishes, including the distribution of specific assets. Your attorney may even recommend you write a letter that could accompany your estate plan for specific family members.


  1. Consider using tools like trusts to avoid probate. One of the complications of using only a last will and testament in your Wisconsin estate plan is that your estate will need to go through the probate process. The probate process is public and could open your estate up to challenges. By contrast, when you use a trust agreement and fund it with your assets, you can eliminate the need for probate and provide a more structured distribution through trust administration. 


  1. Regularly update your Wisconsin estate plan. Life changes such as marriage, divorce, the birth of children, the sale of a business, or acquiring significant assets necessitate updates to your estate plan. When you regularly review and update your plan to reflect these changes, you ensure that it accurately represents your current wishes and circumstances, reducing the potential for disputes.


  1. Consider the emotional impact of your plan. Finally, be mindful of the emotional aspect of your Wisconsin estate plan, your death, and future inheritance. Unequal distributions or perceived slights can lead to hurt feelings and disputes within your family. While you cannot control how others feel and you do not have to consider this in your planning, being as fair and thoughtful as possible in your approach can minimize negative emotions that might fuel a contest.

In conclusion, while it is impossible to guarantee that your Wisconsin estate plan will not be contested, taking these steps can significantly reduce the risk. By discussing your specific concerns with your Wisconsin estate planning attorney and seeking their advice, you can develop a comprehensive strategy that addresses potential challenges and works towards ensuring your final wishes are respected and your loved ones are cared for as intended.

We know this article raises more questions than it answers.  As an estate planning and elder law firm, we urge our clients to take advantage of these tools and resources, ensuring comprehensive financial health and security. We want to help you protect your aging relatives. We encourage you to contact us and schedule a meeting with attorney Alan Hougum today.