Planning your estate in advance is essential towards ensuring your wishes are carried out. If you do not leave distinct dispositions that may include instruments such as a will or a trust, Wisconsin law steps in with its own provisions for distributing your property.
Some people think they have a valid will. However, a will that fails to comply with technical requirements or that succumbs to a challenge in probate court will not be enforced. In the absence of a valid will, intestacy provisions will apply.
Basic rules of intestacy
The following provisions form the ground rules, but they do have some exceptions. If you leave a surviving spouse, that spouse gets everything. If you leave no spouse, your descendants divide everything per stirpes. This means the estate gets split up according to the number of your children, forming the first generation. For example, if you have three children but one predeceases you, leaving two grandchildren, your surviving two children each get one-third, and the two grandchildren split the remaining third.
In the absence of a spouse or descendants, the estate goes to your parents. If no parents survive, the next beneficiaries are siblings or their descendants. In the last resort, the property goes to grandparents or their descendants. In the absence of all these, the estate goes to the State of Wisconsin.
Blended families and exceptions
One notable exception occurs when the decedent leaves a spouse as well as children had with another person. In this case, the spouse gets half, and the children divide the other half among themselves. Wisconsin law also singles out particular types of household property the spouse gets to keep.
You likely do not wish for the state to decide who gets your inheritance. Leaving your survivors without a valid, reliable estate plan is likely to result in confusion, conflict and litigation that may consume a significant part of the estate. Planning your estate in advance with the aid of an experienced attorney can help you ensure a proper disposition of your assets.