About Estate Planning
Estate planning is a broad practice area encompassing personal, family and financial issues related to control and transfer of property and to end-of-life decision making. It includes helping clients address life-planning and management of their property to satisfy their personal needs and the needs of their family or business—during their lives, during a period of disability, and after death.
Clients at all income levels and with all kinds of families have estate planning needs. Estate planning varies greatly depending on each client’s individual requirements. The estate planner will focus on the client's overall estate-planning objectives and how best to accomplish them with wills, trusts, powers of attorney, long-term health care, end of life care, life insurance and other planning vehicles. Those representing high net-worth individuals or business owners must have in-depth knowledge of tax and business law, since they may use sophisticated planning vehicles such as specialized trusts, family-limited partnerships, limited liability companies, and private charitable foundations to facilitate succession planning and reduce potential taxation.
Some estate planners focus particularly on the needs of the elderly. Elder law is a growing field that overlaps with estate planning. Lawyers practicing elder law handle estate planning issues, but focus on issues that many elderly people face, such as asset preservation when a spouse enters a nursing home, Medicaid and Medicare claims and appeals, conservatorships and guardianships, long-term care placements, disability, elder abuse, and fraud recovery.
Estate planning attorneys bring more to their practice than legal expertise. They are familiar with the real life concerns of traditional and blended families, the elderly and disabled, and families with a wide range of net worth. Estate planners often work directly or indirectly with social workers, psychologists, religious advisors and other professionals who provide support during times of important decisions and challenging events.
Estate planners work in law firms of all sizes, the trust departments of financial institutions, and in development offices of nonprofit organizations and foundations. Estate planners, no matter who their clients are, must have good people skills, enjoy attention to detail, and a have a sophisticated understanding of family dynamics and how those dynamics affect legal outcomes.
Note: Whether a particular course is scheduled depends on faculty availability and student demand.
These are the basic courses that — at a minimum — employers expect a student interested in this specialty to have.
- Trusts and Estates
- Introduction to Estate Planning
- Law and the Elderly
- Taxation I: Federal Income Tax
- Estate and Gift Tax
Students interested in this practice area should consider including one or more of the following courses as electives. These courses are also part of the Estate Planning Concentration offered at the Law School.
- Selected Topics in Estate Planning: Estate & Trust Administration and Dispute Resolution; Marital Property
- Uses of Trusts in Estate Planning
- Selected Topics in Estate Planning: Financial Planning and Asset Management
- Client Counseling and Interviewing
Students expecting to work with high net-worth clients and those with business interests should consider the following courses as well. Several of these courses are also part of the Estate Planning Concentration
These courses deepen or broaden the skills and substantive information that a lawyer in this field needs and may also provide advanced courses for students interested in a specialty within this area of practice.
For particular Estate Planning/Elder Law curriculum questions, contact Professor Howard Erlanger.
Clinical Programs, Internships & Externships
- Externships: Second and third-year law students can earn academic credit, through the Law Externship course, for externship work at government agencies and non-profit organizations, such as the Greater Wisconsin Agency on Aging Resources and the Wisconsin Institute for Healthy Aging, that will expose them to elder law and estate planning issues. Contact Externship Director Erin McBride at firstname.lastname@example.org for additional information.
Here are some of the faculty who teach or have an interest in this subject area:
- Howard Erlanger, Professor Emeritus
In addition to our full-time faculty, the Law School's adjunct faculty members — prominent practicing lawyers — bring their specialized knowledge and experience to the classroom.
- Susan Collins (JD, Wisconsin, 1995) Susan Collins is a senior vice president and fiduciary law senior counsel for Associated Bank, where she provides legal advice to management and staff on personal trust and other fiduciary matters. Before joining Associated, she was in-house counsel at BMO Harris Bank and a partner at Boardman Law Firm, LLP, in Madison, focusing her practice on estate and gift planning and estate administration.
- Jeffrey Goldman (JD, Wisconsin, 2002) is an attorney at DeWitt Ross & Stevens S.C. His practice focuses on estate planning, complex trust and estate administration, and trust and estate litigation. Prior to returning to Wisconsin to work at the DeWitt firm, he practiced in the trust and estate practice groups of firms in Seattle and New York City. He is licensed to practice in Washington State and New York as well as Wisconsin.
- Andrew Seaborg (MS in Finance, Investment & Banking, Wisconsin) is a founding partner of The Capital Group in Madison, where he focuses on investment portfolio design and advanced estate planning techniques.
- Laura Skilton Verhoff (JD, Wisconsin, 1997) is a partner with the law firm of Stafford Rosenbaum LLP. She practices in the areas of estate planning, probate, guardianship and litigation, including probate litigation, and is a member of the Madison Estate Council and the Forum for Women Estate Counselors.
Filter by "Adjunct" in the Law School Directory for a full list.