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.
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
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
- Uses of Trusts in Estate Planning
- Selected Topics in Estate Planning: Asset Management and Financial Planning
- 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
- Taxation of Trusts & Estates
- Selected Topics in Estate Planning: Estate and Business Planning for the Privately Held Enterprise
- Business Organizations I
- Taxation II: Entity Taxation
- Real Estate Law
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.
- Family Law
- Advanced Legal Writing: Problem Solving
- L&CP: Law and People with Disabilities
- L&CP: Patient Advocacy
- Lawyering Skills
- Live Client Clinics
Note that whether a particular course is scheduled depends on faculty availability and student demand. For particular Estate Planning/Elder Law curriculum questions, contact Professor Howard Erlanger.
Clinics, Internships, and Externships
None currently in this practice area.
Student Organizations and Related Activities
In addition to our full-time faculty, the Law School's adjunct faculty members — prominent practicing lawyers and judges — bring their specialized knowledge and experience to the classroom.
Jennifer Annen (JD, Wisconsin, 1999) is a principal in Annen Roetter, LLC, where she practices in the areas of estate planning, elder law, special needs trusts, medical assistance planning, guardianships, and real estate. She is a member of the Elder Law Section Board of the State Bar of Wisconsin and has held leadership positions with the Sun Prairie Exchange Club, which works for the prevention of child abuse; Friends of McCarthy Park, a non-profit group working with the Dane County Parks department to develop a new Dane County Park; and the Sun Prairie Chamber of Commerce.
Michelle Behnke (JD, Wisconsin, 1988) is the principal of Michelle Behnke & Associates where she practices in the areas of estate planning, business acquisition and formation, and commercial real estate. She is a past president of the State Bar of Wisconsin and has been very active with the State Bar and the ABA. She has also served on the boards of several Madison nonprofits, including St. Mary’s Hospital Foundation, Edgewood High School, Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce and SSM Healthcare. Prior to establishing her firm in 1998, she was in-house counsel at CUNA Mutual.
Janice Bensky (JD, Wisconsin, 1983) is a partner with the law firm of Stafford Rosenbaum LLP, where her practice includes estate planning, probate, marital property agreements, and family law. She is a member and past president of the Wisconsin Planned Giving Council, a member of the Madison Estate Council, and a member of the Real Property, Probate and Trust Law Sections of the American Bar Association and the State Bar of Wisconsin. She has frequently taught the Estate Planning and Probate portion of the Lawyering Skills Program at the Law School.
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. Her past experience also includes serving as a book editor at the State Bar of Wisconsin and as a writing specialist at Valparaiso University School of Law.
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.
James Jaeger (JD, Georgetown, 1975; LLM (Taxation) Temple University, 1980) is a partner in Hill, Glowacki, Jaeger & Hughes, LLP in Madison. The major focus of his practice is elder law, estate planning and probate, including significant practice in the areas of guardianship and Medicaid planning. He is former chair of the Elder Law Section of the State Bar of Wisconsin and is a Certified Elder Law Attorney.
Irene B. Katele (JD, Wisconsin; PhD, History, Illinois- Urbana/Champaign) has served as Editor-in-Chief of the Wisconsin Law Review, as a judicial intern to Judge John L. Coffey of the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, as a judicial clerk to Justice David Prosser, Jr. of the Wisconsin Supreme Court, and as an associate in estate planning at the Madison office of Michael Best & Friedrich LLP. Currently she teaches Trusts and Estates at the Law School and criminal justice courses in the Legal Studies Program in the College of Letters and Science.
Paul Schmidt (JD, Kansas, 1990) settled in Madison after clerking for former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice William Callow. He practices with the Boardman & Clark law firm, where he concentrates his practice in the areas of estate planning, probate law and elder law, and he speaks and writes extensively in the areas of estate and tax planning.
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. Before attending graduate school, he worked as a statistical analyst and did Japanese-English translation work in Tokyo.
Mark Shiller (JD, Michigan) is a shareholder in the Godfrey & Kahn firm in Milwaukee, where he concentrates his practice in the areas of estate planning, tax planning and business law. He has experience working with a wide variety of clients and situations, has been quoted in such publications as Smart Money and Worth, and frequently speaks to lay and professional groups on estate planning topics.
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. She also serves on the board for the ARC-Dane County, and her past experience includes teaching special education at LaFollette High School in Madison.