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What Happens if you Die Without a Will?

Malm & LaFave, S.C. Nov. 30, 2023

If you die without a will in Wisconsin, your estate will pass to your heirs at law in accordance with intestate succession laws. Intestate succession is the legal process that governs the distribution of assets when an individual passes away without a will. This process not only affects the decedent and their loved ones, but also prolongs the disbursement of assets and funds to beneficiaries. This blog post will discuss the consequences, both financial and personal, of not properly planning for your future.

When an individual dies without a will, all probate assets are subject to intestate laws. In Wisconsin, any assets subject to probate will pass, in order, to:

  • Your living spouse or domestic partner. In Wisconsin, registered domestic partnerships follow the same rules as married couples.

  • Your children in equal shares.

  • Your parents.

  • Your siblings, including half siblings, in equal shares.

  • One-half to your maternal grandparents, and one-half to your paternal grandparents.

  • As a last resort, if the court cannot find any living heirs at law, to the state

What About Adopted Children and Blended Families?

Legally adopted children are treated the same as biological children under the law and are entitled to a portion of your estate in accordance with intestacy laws. Furthermore, all of your children from a previous relationship, even if you are remarried, would also be entitled to a portion of your estate. Step children and foster children that you have not legally adopted, however, are not entitled to your estate. Without proper estate planning documents, your estate is subject to intestate laws and could potentially pass to individuals against your wishes. 

Will my Estate be Subject to Probate?

In Wisconsin, if your estate is over $50,000, there will be a probate to oversee the distribution of your assets to your heirs at law. The probate process can be expensive, lengthy, stressful, and potentially create conflict among loved ones. Probates also come with extensive fees that decrease the amount of funds distributed to the heirs at law of the estate. Having estate planning documents, such as a trust and pourover will that ‘pours’ your assets into a trust upon your death, can potentially avoid the need for a probate administration.

Non-Probate Assets

Non-probate assets, such as insurance policies, retirement accounts, etc., with named pay-on-death beneficiaries will be distributed to the named individuals. Any real estate you own that has an executed and recorded a transfer-on-death deed on title will also be transferred to the named beneficiary.

The attorneys at Malm & LaFave, S.C. are here to ensure your assets are not passed to unwanted heirs upon your death. We have over 40 years’ experience drafting comprehensive estate plans to account for all circumstances. Intestate succession and probate administration does not have not have be the fate of your hard-earned assets. Contact our office today to speak with our attorneys and begin protecting your future today.