Neuberger, Griggs, Sweet & Froehle, LLP

What Happens When You Die Without a Will?

Have you considered what will happen to your loved ones if you die? It’s a bleak thought, but one that needs to be considered.

Death is already hard enough on family members, but if you die without a will, it can make the process even more difficult. Wills are useful because you can communicate your intentions on how you want your possessions handled after your death. 

Even if you think your estate is small or you only intend to name one beneficiary, you need to have a will. Unforeseen problems can arise if you die without leaving a will behind. Keep reading to learn what some of these problems are and how they can affect your loved ones.

What is Intestacy?

Intestacy is what occurs when a person dies before creating a will. If you die without a will, all of your assets are frozen. The court will then review everything in your estate.

Once this is complete, the court will apply the state’s intestacy laws to determine who receives your assets.

Intestacy laws differ by state, so the primary recipient of assets will vary based on where you live. If you put off making your will, this could lead to additional stress for your loved ones. This can include waiting on the courts for months while they review your assets or even arguments among family members.

Divorce and parental disputes may change your opinion of who you want to be your beneficiaries. If your estate goes into intestacy, family members you don’t care for may end up as your beneficiaries. 

You can view Wisconsin’s intestacy laws to see who would be your primary beneficiary without a will.

If You Die Without a Will While Single 

If you are single and without children, generally, your parents will inherit your estate. If your parents are deceased, your siblings will inherit your estate.

If you are single with children, then your children will typically inherit equal shares of your estate. If any of your children have died but had children, your grandchildren will inherit that share of your estate.

Married With No Will

If you are married without a will, then your estate could go to your spouse.

This can be complicated if you are divorced and remarried but have children from both marriages. Intestacy laws can make this situation more complicated, as well.

Domestic Partnerships and Unmarried Couples

Domestic partnerships are a little tricky in Wisconsin. If you and your significant other filed for a domestic partnership before April 2018, you have nothing to worry about. However, since then, Wisconsin does not allow couples to file to become domestic partners.

Generally, domestic partners have the same rights as a spouse. This includes the way jointly-owned property is allocated.

The same considerations do not apply to unmarried couples. Marriage provides legal rights to couples that come into play in these types of situations. 

The two of you may love each other very much, but the estate will defer to family first. This can cause problems for your significant other if you want them to inherit anything that you have. 

If you do not have plans to get married but want to make them a beneficiary, there are some preparations to consider.

Family Disputes

Even with a will, the way you allocate your estate may leave some family members unhappy. Dying without a will can make your death infinitely more stressful for the ones you leave behind.

In estate disputes, greed is rarely the primary reason why families end up fighting. These issues typically have their roots in the way families interacted with each other before a loved one’s death. Some examples of these situations include the children of a parent’s separate marriages or siblings with large age gaps. 

The death of a loved one is an unbearable time for a family that doesn’t have to be exacerbated because there is no will. 

If you want certain family members to inherit specific pieces of your estate, wills were designed especially to handle these matters. Taking the time to speak with a lawyer and plan your estate can save your family from undue stress once you are gone.

Family Law, Estate Planning, and More

If you found this guide on what happens if you die without a will helpful, our attorneys at Neuberger, Griggs, Sweet, & Froehle, LLP can assist you with your estate planning. We also have experience in many other areas of law, like family law, landlord/tenant law, criminal law, and many more.

If you have any legal concerns, contact us, and one of our attorneys will be able to assist you.

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.


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