Skip to Content

Estates and Trusts

Estates & Trusts

Our team can help you establish a sound plan that balances personal objectives with economic considerations. We are skilled in wealth transfer, trust and estate administration, probate procedure, and fiduciary income tax and related regulations for individuals and businesses.

Main Content

Estates & Trusts

The Foundation of Our Firm 

Our attorneys are experienced in all aspects of wealth transfer techniques, trust and estate administration, probate procedure, fiduciary income tax, and related federal and state transfer tax laws.

At the time of our founding over 60 years ago, our focus was estate, business, and tax planning. Today, we continue to be recognized for our sophisticated and innovative estate planning practice for both individual and business clients.

Relationships Built on Trust

Every Godfrey & Kahn estate planning attorney is skilled in all aspects of our practice including:

  • The drafting of wills, trusts, and other sophisticated wealth transfer techniques
  • Administration of estates and trusts
  • Business succession planning
  • Charitable planning for individuals, private foundations, public charities and the state’s largest community foundations
  • Preparation of federal transfer tax returns, including the estate, gift, and generation-skipping transfer taxes
  • Estate, trust and fiduciary litigation
  • The representation of clients before the Internal Revenue Service and in local, state, and federal courts

Each member of our team provides our clients with a full range of planning services. These services often extend beyond economic and tax considerations, and address the personal concerns and issues important to our clients and families who rely on us for sound advice.

Open AllClose All
Drafting Estate Plans

Some of the more common estate planning instruments that we draft for our clients include:

  • Wills
  • Revocable "living trusts" customized to our client's wishes and designed to take advantage of federal and state transfer tax exemptions
  • Irrevocable trusts, including:
    • Generation-skipping trusts that include multiple or an unlimited number of generations commonly referred to as "dynasty" trusts
    • Grantor trusts for installment sale transactions
    • Life insurance trusts
    • Minors trusts
  • Leveraged gifting techniques including:
    • Family limited partnerships (FLPs)
    • Installment sales to defective grantor trusts
    • Grantor retained annuity trusts (GRATs)
    • Qualified personal residence trusts (QPRTs)
    • Self-canceling installment notes (SCINs)
    • Annuities
  • Insurance partnerships
  • Charitable split-interest trusts, including charitable remainder trusts and charitable lead trusts
  • Private foundations and charitable gift annuities
  • Durable powers of attorney and advance medical directives
  • Marital property agreements (both prenuptial and postnuptial designed to afford both tax and non-tax benefits)
Trust and Estate Administration

We provide a full range of legal services relating to trust and estate administration and probate administration. Such services include trust and estate accounting, preparation of fiduciary income tax returns for trusts and estates, federal and state estate tax returns, and federal gift tax returns. We also provide sound income tax planning advice to our clients with respect to their trusts and estates.

Our trust accounting department uses the most current equipment and software to provide our clients with complete accounting services for the trusts and estates we administer. Our accounting and tax services also allow us to provide sound income tax planning advice to our clients with respect to their trusts and estates, many of which hold business interests or the proceeds of the sale of business interests.

Business Succession Planning

Many of the firm's clients are founders of closely held businesses.

Over the years, the firm has grown along with these businesses and in many instances, we now represent members of the second and third generations. Often, this representation has spanned the full scope of the business cycle—from the birth and growth of the business, to a public offering or a successful ownership transition to members of the next generation, to the successful sale of the business followed by the beginning of a new enterprise.

Working with our corporate attorneys, we help clients achieve their business goals. We recognize that one size does not fit all when it comes to business succession planning so we tailor our strategies to address our client's specific situation. Our experience also encompasses the implementation of planning techniques such as grantor retained annuity trusts, installment sales to grantor trusts, transfers to generation-skipping trusts, family limited partnerships, deferral of estate tax, redemptions, insurance trusts and the like to accomplish our clients' objectives.

We are experienced in valuation discount opportunities for our clients. In many cases, we have been able to transfer ownership of a client's business to the next generation through timely and innovative recommendations involving tax-effective lifetime and testamentary transfers that minimize or avoid the impact of federal estate and gift taxes on the business owners' estates.

Private Foundations and Charitable Planning

Many of our clients have charitable objectives as part of their gifting program and estate plan.

All members of the estate planning team are skilled in the use of various charitable gifting techniques, such as charitable remainder trusts, charitable lead trusts, charitable gift annuities, donor-advised funds, conservation easements, and private foundations to meet our clients' goals.

In fact, we were in the forefront of developing the effective use of charitable lead trusts in the early 1980s as a means to make distributions to charity while at the same time benefiting the client's children and grandchildren. These trusts pay an annuity or a unitrust amount to charitable organizations for a specified term and then continue for the benefit of the donor's descendants.

Through the informed use of charitable lead trusts, it is possible to transfer substantial amounts of wealth to younger generations at little or no transfer tax cost and accomplish the client's charitable objectives at the same time.

Estate, Trust & Fiduciary Litigation

Estate and trust litigation is often family litigation, with complex financial, personal and emotional implications that linger long after judgment or settlement. 

Our estate, trust and fiduciary litigation practice pairs talented and resourceful advocates that are trained and experienced in estate, trust and fiduciary litigation with Wisconsin’s premier estate planners to maximize outcomes for the growing number of families and fiduciaries who find themselves in disputes over wealth planning, preservation and distribution.

Never adopting a one size fits all approach, our attorneys listen and prudently assess client goals to carefully fashion an appropriate and efficient strategy. Litigation should typically be a last resort, and our attorneys advise and negotiate with creativity and sensitivity to try to achieve client goals while avoiding the stress and expense of legal proceedings. However, litigation is sometimes necessary or unavoidable. In those circumstances, a stronger response may be warranted, particularly when family members take rash, improper, and even illegal action with respect to family property. To meet those challenges, our attorneys have the ability, experience and know-how to respond quickly and aggressively, and may even be able to prevent improper and illegal action in the first place.

Trust companies and other professional fiduciaries are also no strangers to litigation. Our attorneys are well-versed in helping personal representatives and trustees to recognize and comply with their fiduciary duties, to seek court instruction when necessary, and to defend their actions after the fact.

We represent fiduciaries, beneficiaries, and grantors in a wide range of estate and trust disputes:

  • Breach of fiduciary duties
  • Fiduciary surcharge, removal and resignation
  • Undue influence, lack of testamentary capacity, and will contests
  • Will and trust construction and modification
  • Prudent investment and diversification issues
  • Gift, estate, and generation-skipping tax disputes
  • Probate asset identification and recovery
  • Charitable pledges and bequests
Representing Clients in IRS Proceedings

Our experience also encompasses the representation of our clients in disputes with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) from the audit stage through trial court and appellate levels of the litigation process. For example, we were retained to represent an estate in a tax court case involving a multimillion-dollar deficiency asserted by the IRS, and we were successful in persuading the tax court to reverse three of its prior decisions, resulting in a complete victory for our client.

Our Trust Company Industry Group

Trust companies and bank trust departments are highly specialized financial institutions and deserve counsel that understands their unique legal needs.

Trust Company Industry Group

Our Unique Approach

We gather legal professionals from across disciplines to coordinate and collaborate in order to deliver custom solutions to the issues facing trust companies and departments in Wisconsin and around the United States. When working with us, you get the benefit of legal expertise from a variety of our legal disciplines, from banking and investment management to employee benefits and cybersecurity.

We understand that trust and wealth management operations often involve the referral of trust, investment advisory, brokerage, and other wealth management products and services among affiliates. Our group includes attorneys and professionals who specialize in dealing with related regulatory and compliance issues. This includes the firm's experienced trust administrators who regularly assist clients with trust accounting matters, tax matters, and substantive fiduciary issues.

Unmatched Experience To Best Serve You

Our Trust Company Industry Group has extensive experience in representing state and national trust companies and banks in a variety of matters including:

  • Trust company formation and situs planning
  • Sales and acquisitions
  • Corporate governance
  • Trust operations
  • Fiduciary litigation 
  • Regulatory compliance

Godfrey & Kahn serves as the primary outside legal counsel for dedicated trust companies and banks with substantial trust operations. The firm represents financial institutions of all types and sizes, from large publicly-traded financial holding companies to community banks. For financial institutions with distinct trust divisions, our attorneys regularly advise on a variety of legal, regulatory, and compliance.

We bring together our deep knowledge and years of experience, all in one place.

Get in Touch


Join us at a seminar

Looking For More?

Our attorneys write on a variety of topics and provide engaging educational opportunities through free webinars and seminars enabling you to stay up-to-date with the most current developments, trends, and legal issues affecting your business.

Explore Insights

We’re Honored to be Honored

We are honored by awards that reflect our vision for our work. Work-product awards like Best Law Firms and top tier rankings by Chambers USA and Benchmark Litigation help us attract and keep quality talent who are often recognized as Best Lawyers. Our people help us attract clients and build a team-oriented culture that's led to Top Workplace awards year after year.

Best Lawyers Best Law Firm 2023 Award Logo from US News & World Report

You might also be interested in

Join Our Mailing List

Need to stay current on the latest news, trends and regulatory issues impacting your business? Subscribe today! We know your time is valuable, so we limit our communications to only the most pertinent info you need to stay informed.