To Port or Not: The Federal Estate and Gift Tax Exemption

Uncover the benefits of Portability in Trust and Estate Law with this informative article written by Attorney Evan Y. Lin for the State Bar of Wisconsin. Learn how leveraging portability can help you minimize estate tax liabilities and protect your family's financial legacy.
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Medicaid Planning for Nursing Homes: Preserving Wealth and Ensuring Care

By Attorney Curtis A. Edwards

When it comes to planning for long-term care and nursing home expenses, Medicaid is a critical program for many individuals and families in Wisconsin. With nursing home costs in Wisconsin ranging anywhere from $8,000 to $12,000 a month, it is essential to understand how Medicaid planning can be a valuable tool in preserving your wealth while ensuring you receive the care you need.

Medicaid vs. Medicare: Know the Difference

Medicaid, not Medicare, is the primary program that provides financial assistance for nursing home care and home-based long-term care in Wisconsin. While many people use the terms Medicaid and Medicare interchangeably, it is important to recognize that they are two distinct programs with vastly different coverages and eligibility requirements. Before delving into Medicaid planning, it’s crucial to understand the fundamental differences between Medicaid and Medicare:

Medicaid, is a state and federally funded program that provides health care and long-term care services for low-income individuals, including seniors. To qualify for Medicaid, your income and assets must fall below certain thresholds.

Medicare, on the other hand, is primarily a federal health insurance program for people aged 65 and older. While it covers some medical expenses, it offers limited coverage for nursing home and long-term care costs.

Key Aspects of Medicaid Planning

  1. Protecting Your Home

One of the most common concerns for individuals who may need to go into a nursing home is that they will lose the family home. Many people mistakenly believe that they must sell their home in order to qualify for Medicaid. However, this is not the case in Wisconsin. Your primary residence is typically not considered an asset as long as you reside in it or have the intent to return, even if returning seems impractical due to your current health condition. This means that you can retain ownership of your home while receiving Medicaid benefits for nursing home or long-term care services.

  1. Asset Transfers

Medicaid has strict rules regarding asset transfers. Most notably, the program penalizes asset transfers made within a specified look-back period (typically five (5) years). These penalties are designed to discourage “gifts” or transfers for less than fair-market value that could be perceived as an attempt to qualify for Medicaid by impoverishing oneself artificially. However, not all transfers result in disqualification and there are permissible ways to spend down assets within the guidelines to qualify for Medicaid.

  1. Spousal Impoverishment Protection

Medicaid provides protections for married couples to prevent financial hardship when one spouse enters a nursing home or requires long-term care. These protections are based on specific dollar amounts but typically allow the community spouse (the one not receiving Medicaid benefits) to retain up to 50% of the couple’s assets up to a maximum of $148,620. If the community spouse’s share of the assets is below $50,000, then 100% of the assets up to $50,000 can be retained by the community spouse. These allowances ensure that the community spouse can maintain a reasonable standard of living while ensuring the institutionalized spouse’s care needs are met.

  1. Income Allocation

Medicaid planning can also involve the strategic allocation of income. Specifically, income can be transferred from the institutionalized spouse to the community spouse to help equalize their financial situations. This can be a crucial step in ensuring both spouses have the resources they need.

  1. Gifting Strategies

While outright gifting can raise concerns, strategic gifting within Medicaid’s guidelines can be part of an effective planning strategy. It’s essential to consult with an attorney experienced in Medicaid planning to determine the best approach for your unique circumstances.

Seek Professional Guidance

In conclusion, Medicaid planning can be complex and nuanced, with each individual’s financial and familial circumstances requiring a tailored approach. With careful planning and the expertise of a knowledgeable attorney, you can ensure a financially stable and secure future for yourself and your loved ones. If you have any questions or are interested in learning more about this topic, please contact Lin Law LLC at (920) 393-1190.

Utilizing a Washington Will in Wisconsin: An Effective Probate Avoidance Tool in Marital Property Agreements

By Attorney Curtis A. Edwards

Wisconsin’s Marital Property Act empowers married individuals to customize the disposition of their assets during their life and after death through marital property agreements. One such provision that can significantly impact estate planning is the “Washington Will” provision, so named because of its origin and use in Washington State. This provision allows a married couple to seamlessly transfer assets upon death without the need for probate, simply by providing so in their marital property agreement.

Understanding the “Washington Will” Provision:

The “Washington Will” provision enables married couples to bypass the probate process upon the death of either spouse. By incorporating this provision into their marital property agreement, couples can direct the transfer of certain assets to specific beneficiaries, i.e. persons, trusts, or entities, without the need for a traditional last will and testament and without probate.

Avoiding Probate through Nontestamentary Disposition:

Traditionally, assets are distributed according to a will, which undergoes probate – a court-supervised process that can be time-consuming and costly. However, with a marital property agreement containing a “Washington Will” provision, designated assets are transferred directly to beneficiaries through nontestamentary disposition. This means that the assets pass to the intended recipients outside of the probate process, providing a more efficient and private transfer.

Simplifying Estate Administration:

The inclusion of the “Washington Will” provision simplifies estate administration for surviving spouses and their beneficiaries. Without the burden of probate, the transfer of assets designated in the agreement can occur swiftly, allowing beneficiaries to access their inheritance promptly. For example, the “Washington Will” provision can direct that all property transfer to the surviving spouse upon the first spouse’s death without probate.


The “Washington Will” provision within Wisconsin marital property agreements is an instrument that allows married couples to exercise greater control over the distribution of their assets upon death. By avoiding probate and providing a clear roadmap for asset transfer, this provision simplifies estate administration, and ensures that the wishes of each spouse are upheld.

If you have any questions or are interested in learning more about this topic, please contact Lin Law LLC at (920) 393-1190.

Demystifying Probate: Understanding the Process of Estate Administration?

by Attorney Curtis A. Edwards, J.D.

Probate—a legal process that can often appear complex and intimidating. In this article, we aim to provide a clear and concise explanation of the probate process, shedding light on its purpose and the steps involved. Whether you’re a personal representative, beneficiary, or simply seeking to better understand the probate process, this article will help demystify the fundamentals of estate administration.

What is Probate?

Probate is a “court-supervised” legal procedure that oversees the administration of a deceased person’s estate, including the distribution of assets and settlement of any outstanding debts. In light of the court’s jurisdiction over the probate process, it ensures that the wishes outlined in the deceased’s will (if one was created) are respected and that the estate administration is carried out in accordance with applicable laws. Probate also provides a forum to resolve any disputes that may arise during the distribution process.

Initiating the Probate Process

The probate process typically begins with the filing of a petition in the appropriate court. The court validates the will, if one exists, and appoints a personal representative consistent with the deceased’s will to administer the estate. If there is no will, the court will appoint a personal representative to oversee the distribution of assets based on the laws of intestacy (default rules for distribution when no will exists).

Inventory and Valuation of Assets

The personal representative’s first task once probate has been initiated is to create an inventory of the deceased person’s assets. This includes identifying and documenting all real estate, bank accounts, investments, personal belongings, and other assets. It’s important to assess the value of these assets accurately, often with the help of appraisers or experts, to determine their fair market value.

Notifying Creditors and Settling Debts

During the probate process, the personal representative must notify creditors of the deceased person’s passing. This provides an opportunity for creditors to make claims against the estate for any outstanding debts. The personal representative will then review and settle any valid claims using the assets of the estate. Resolving debts is a crucial step in the probate process to ensure that the remaining assets can be distributed to the beneficiaries.

Distribution of Assets

Once all debts, taxes, and expenses have been settled, the personal representative proceeds with the distribution of assets. This involves transferring ownership of assets to the beneficiaries as outlined in the will or according to the laws of intestacy. It is important to follow the proper legal procedures to ensure a smooth and lawful transfer of the assets of the estate.


Challenges and Timeframes

The probate process can be affected by various factors that may cause delays or complications. These may include disputes among beneficiaries, complex asset structures, or disagreements over the validity of the will. The duration of probate can also vary depending on the size and complexity of the estate.


Probate, though initially daunting, is a necessary legal process that ensures the proper administration and distribution of a deceased person’s estate. Understanding the basic steps involved in probate can provide clarity and help individuals navigate this process more confidently. It is advisable to seek professional legal guidance from an attorney specializing in probate law to ensure compliance with Wisconsin law and to address any unique circumstances that may arise during the probate process.

If you have any questions or are interested in learning more about this topic, please contact Lin Law LLC at (920) 393-1190.

What is an Irrevocable Life Insurance Trust?

By Attorney Curtis A. Edwards

Irrevocable Life Insurance Trust (ILIT) is a powerful estate planning tool that can provide several benefits to individuals and their families. An ILIT is a trust that is designed primarily to own a life insurance policy. The policy proceeds are paid to the trust upon the death of the insured, and the trust distributes the funds according to the trust document. The trust is irrevocable, meaning that once it is created, the grantor cannot change its terms or reclaim the assets transferred to the trust.

ILITs can provide significant benefits to individuals and their families. One of the primary benefits is that they can help reduce estate taxes. When an individual passes away, their assets may be subject to estate taxes if they exceed the estate tax exemption amount. Life insurance proceeds are also included in an individual’s estate, so if the policy is owned by the insured, the life insurance proceeds may be subject to estate taxes. However, if the policy is owned by an ILIT, the proceeds are not included in the insured’s estate, and therefore not subject to estate taxes.

In addition to estate tax benefits, ILITs can provide a source of liquidity for the trust beneficiaries. Upon the death of the insured, the ILIT receives the life insurance proceeds, which can be used to pay estate taxes, debts, or other expenses. This allows the beneficiaries to inherit other assets without having to sell them to pay expenses.

In conclusion, an ILIT is an effective estate planning tool that can provide significant benefits to individuals and their families. An ILIT can help reduce or eliminate estate taxes and provide liquidity to a decedent’s beneficiaries, among other things. By understanding what an ILIT is and how it works, individuals can make informed decisions about their estate planning strategies.

If you have any questions or are interested in learning more about this topic, please contact Lin Law LLC at (920) 393-1190.

A Lesson from the Estate of Abraham Lincoln: The Risks of Dying Without A Will

By Attorney Curtis A. Edwards

On the evening of April 14, 1865, Abraham Lincoln attended a performance of the play “Our American Cousin” at Ford’s Theatre in Washington D.C. As he watched the play, unaware of the tragic events that were about to unfold, he was simply a man enjoying a night out at the theater. Little did he know, that John Wilkes Booth, a well-known actor and Confederate sympathizer, would soon enter the theater’s presidential box and fatally shoot Lincoln. You may be surprised to learn that when Lincoln was pronounced dead the following morning on April 15, 1865, he died intestate, that is without a will, setting off a prolonged legal battle over his estate.

At the time of Lincoln’s death, his estate was valued at approximately $110,000, which was a substantial sum of money in 1865. Without a will, his estate was subject to the Illinois Probate Act, which dictated that his property be administered through the court supervised probate process. Under the intestate laws of Illinois, Lincoln’s property was to be divided equally among his widow and two sons. However, complications arose because Lincoln’s estate included real estate in multiple states and other assets held in Washington, D.C., adding to the overall complexity and duration the process.

Additionally, Lincoln’s estate included his personal papers and books, which were deemed valuable because of his status as a former president. His widow, Mary Todd Lincoln, claimed ownership of the papers, while Lincoln’s son, Robert, argued that they belonged to the estate. Despite the estate being administered by friend and Supreme Court Justice David Davis, the dispute over Lincoln’s estate went on for years, something Lincoln’s family undoubtedly would have preferred to avoid.

Given his background as an Attorney, Lincoln would have certainly understood the importance of having a will, so it is peculiar that he never took the time to create one. Perhaps he believed that his estate was relatively simple and did not require a will, or like many he may have simply procrastinated the task.

Regardless of the reasons, the challenges faced by Lincoln’s estate as a result of him dying without a will illustrate the importance of having a solid estate plan in place, regardless of profession or status. Even as a sitting president, Lincoln’s estate was still subject to the traditional probate process and his property and assets were ultimately distributed according to the default intestacy laws.

While Lincoln may be remembered primarily for his contributions to American history, his estate serves as a cautionary tale for those who neglect to plan for the future. By taking the time to create a comprehensive estate plan, individuals can help ensure that their legacy is preserved and their loved ones are provided for, even after they are gone.

If you have any questions or are interested in learning more about this topic, please contact Lin Law LLC at (920) 393-1190.

What Is An Irrevocable Trust?

by Attorney Curtis A. Edwards, J.D.

An Irrevocable Trust is a type of trust that cannot be modified, amended, or terminated once established, notwithstanding few limited exceptions. Like other types of trusts, an Irrevocable Trust has a grantor, a trustee, and a beneficiary. However, unlike a revocable trust, once the grantor places his or her assets in an Irrevocable Trust, that gift cannot be undone or revoked.

When a grantor establishes an Irrevocable Trust, they layout the terms of the trust, including who the beneficiary or beneficiaries will be, what the assets of the trust may be used for, and when and how those assets will be distributed. The terms of the trust become more or less permanent and cannot be changed once established.
The assets placed in the trust become the property of the trust and must be managed by a third-party trustee. The grantor cannot be the trustee of an Irrevocable Trust. In a nutshell, the grantor no longer has ownership or control of the assets once placed in an Irrevocable Trust. This termination of ownership and control is by design, of which creates certain benefits unique to an Irrevocable Trust.

As with other types of trusts, one of the primary benefits of an Irrevocable Trust is the ability to avoid probate. Upon the passing of the grantor, any assets that were placed in the Irrevocable Trust will not have to go through the public and court supervised probate process. Instead, the assets will be distributed by the trustee in accordance with the terms of the Irrevocable Trust, as originally established by the grantor.

Unlike a revocable trust, an Irrevocable Trust can shield assets from creditors. Because the grantor no longer has ownership or control over the assets, the assets placed in trust cannot be used to satisfy any legal obligations or court judgements, such as those that may arise out of litigation or divorce.

Another benefit associated with an Irrevocable Trust, is that it may allow the grantor or beneficiary to have or maintain access to publicly funded government benefits such as Medicaid or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits. These types of programs have very low income and asset eligibility thresholds for recipients. Therefore, giving up ownership and control over certain assets by placing them in an Irrevocable Trust is a common way to obtain eligibility and ensure assets are not otherwise depleted.

An Irrevocable Trust can be a tool to achieve very specific estate planning goals. However, due to their permanence, their use requires a thorough understanding and accounting of the pros and cons of their implementation. For this reason, it is important that you consult with an attorney to find out if an Irrevocable Trust is right for you.

If you have any questions or are interested in learning more about this topic, please contact Lin Law LLC at (920) 393-1190.