Dying Without a Will: 4 Things to Know in Wisconsin

dying without a will

When someone dies without a will, the question eventually is asked, “who receives the deceased’s estate?” Wisconsin has  intestacy laws that dictate who receives the deceased’s assets when there is no will. (This is one of the key reasons to draft a will; a person can name beneficiaries to receive assets.) This post highlights key points that family members should know about the situation when a person dies without a will. For information specific to the exact situation, consult an  experienced estate planning lawyer.

The exact distribution of the assets depends on the spouse and descendants.

When a deceased person is survived by a spouse and descendants, it is important to know the difference between community and separate property. Community property applies to assets acquired during the marriage (with a few exceptions). Separate property might include assets acquired before the marriage or by inheritance.

There are several inheritance situations that apply when a deceased’s spouse and children are alive:

  • If there is only a spouse, the probate estate goes to the spouse.
  • If the descendants are the deceased’s and spouse’s, the probate estate goes to the spouse.
  • If the descendants are the deceased’s, but not the deceased’s and spouse’s, the probate estate is split between the spouse and the descendants.

Descendants eligible to receive the deceased’s estate include biological and adopted children. Stepchildren not legally adopted by the deceased and biological children adopted by another party are not included in the estate distribution.

There is a procedure for situations where the deceased is not married.

When the deceased is not married and does not have any descendants, there are two common inheritance situations:

  • If the deceased is survived by their parents, the parents inherit the probate estate.
  • If the deceased is not survived by their parents but is survived by their siblings, the siblings inherit the probate estate.

There are exceptions to these situations, such as if a relative intentionally causes the deceased’s death or does not live 120 hours after the deceased’s death. To see if other exceptions apply, you should speak to an experienced estate planning lawyer.

Some assets may not be included in the estate.

Not all assets are part of the inheritance. If the asset is part of a living trust or is an asset with a named beneficiary, the asset goes to the named beneficiary. Some real estate, 401Ks, and other accounts may not follow intestate succession.

The materials on this website are provided for informational purposes only and do not constitute legal advice. These materials are intended, but not promised or guaranteed to be current, complete, or up-to-date and should in no way be taken as an indication of future results. Transmission of the information is not intended to create, and the receipt does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship between sender and receiver. You should not act or rely on any information contained in this website without first seeking the advice of an attorney.

Estate Planning Tips for the New Year

Estate planning worksheet for writing a willThe New Year is the logical time for financial planning and estate planning.  After all, the start of the New Year is an ideal time to look forward and plan for the future.  Estate planning is the essence of planning for the future, both for you and your heirs.  You can make a very difficult time easier for them now—if you follow these tips.

Don’t wait.

This is one of the most common mistakes people wait: they wait too long to plan for the future.  Unfortunately, procrastination adds stress to their family and friends during an already tough time.  If your New Year’s resolution is to establish an estate plan for the future, don’t wait to consult a lawyer.

Make sure it’s legal.

As tempting as it is to jot down a few wishes on a piece of paper, a worthless document can cause more problems for your heirs during an already stressful time—and cost them more money.  To create a legally-binding estate planning document that eliminates any questions when you’re not there to answer them, contact an experienced lawyer who is knowledgeable in your state and local regulations.

Don’t just file your will away.

A will is not a static document; instead review and update your will when you add more members to your family, your marriage circumstances change, there is a death of a beneficiary, or significant changes in assets.  Ask your attorney for any other circumstances that would dictate a change in your legal estate planning documents.   

When your will is updated, avoid filing your estate planning documents in a safe deposit box.  If you put your will in a safe deposit box, you can make the process more costly and complicated for your family.  Your family may have to get a court order to gain access to the safe deposit box.  Instead, choose a fireproof, protected container for your document or ask your attorney for other recommendations for document storage.

Think beyond just drafting a will.

Many think of a will as a catch-all document with stipulations for almost any situation; actually, a will’s only purpose is to dictate the distribution of your assets when you die.  A complete estate plan also names a Power of Attorney, Healthcare Power of Attorney, and includes other legal documents specific to your situation. To find out what should all be included in your estate plan, ask your attorney.

The materials on this website are provided for informational purposes only and do not constitute legal advice. These materials are intended, but not promised or guaranteed to be current, complete, or up-to-date and should in no way be taken as an indication of future results. Transmission of the information is not intended to create, and the receipt does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship between sender and receiver. You should not act or rely on any information contained in this website without first seeking the advice of an attorney.

10 Tips for Writing a Will

Estate planning worksheet for writing a willEveryone has a story about a family they know divided because a parent or family member did not have an estate plan in place.  If you want to prevent that story from being about your family, it’s imperative to initiate your estate planning, including a will.  Getting the process of preparing and drafting a legal document accomplished is not a difficult process, but it’s helpful to understand the basics of preparing a will that prevents that story of family drama from happening to your family.

Don’t procrastinate.

There are a lot of emotions that accompany the process of drafting a will.  Don’t let your feelings get in the way of writing your will.  Start inventorying assets, collecting documents, creating lists, and having important discussions about beneficiaries, executors, and what assets you want passed on.

Know the terms used in drafting your will.

Because a will is a legal document, there are a lot of terms to understand when preparing your will.  Here are a few basic terms used in almost every will:

Beneficiary-heir(s) (family members, friends, associates, organizations) that receive assets specified in your will

Executor-party that ensures that all the terms of your will are carried out

Guardian-person(s) that is going to care for your kids

Make sure it’s legal.

A worthless will can cause more problems for your heirs, including financial costs.  For that reason, choose the author of your will carefully. Selecting an experienced lawyer not only ensures that your assets are distributed in the manner you want, but also has the expertise to recommend any other legal documents that need to be in place for estate planning and any related situations that could arise.

Don’t make any assumptions.

Leave nothing to chance when drafting your will.  Be specific as possible; carefully detail every wish, every item that you want passed on, every beneficiary (and a back-up if your beneficiary is unable to receive the item), and any other preferences about your estate.  For example, if you want your nephew to have your prized model trains, carefully list every item from your collection in your will.

Keep it updated.

A will is not a static document to be tucked away and collect dust.  Update your will when you add more members to your family, marriage circumstances change, death of a beneficiary, significant changes in assets, etc.

Keep it safe.

If you put your will in a safe deposit box, no matter how legally sound, you can make the process more costly and complicated for your family.  Your family may have to get a court order to gain access to the safe deposit box.  Instead, choose a fireproof, protected container for your document.   You’ve gone through all the work to draft a sound will to make it easier for your family; finding a safe location ensures that your will is accessible when the time comes—and can do everything you specified.

The materials on this website are provided for informational purposes only and do not constitute legal advice. These materials are intended, but not promised or guaranteed to be current, complete, or up-to-date and should in no way be taken as an indication of future results. Transmission of the information is not intended to create, and the receipt does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship between sender and receiver. You should not act or rely on any information contained in this website without first seeking the advice of an attorney.