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.