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Estate Planning Series Part 2: What if You Don’t Have an Estate Plan?

If you pass away without an estate plan in place, you will have no control over what happens to your assets. Those who pass away without a Will are said to have died “intestate.” Now, without an estate plan to guide the distribution of your assets after your death, the courts will look to the Wisconsin intestacy laws. These laws determine who will inherit your assets. Then, the courts will begin what is known as a probate proceeding to determine how those assets will be distributed. The probate process will take months, often times years, to effectively settle your final affairs and distribute your assets. And, of course, this entire process costs money.

Wisconsin’s intestacy laws are written like a computer algorithm (i.e., “if x, then y”). In order to determine who will inherit the decedent’s assets, the courts will engage in the painstaking process of scouring through the statutes and the decedent’s family tree to determine who will be considered an “heir.” For example, “If the decedent was married, and he had no children when he died, then the spouse will inherit the entire estate.” More often than not, the surviving spouse will receive the bulk of the decedent’s estate. What is left is usually distributed amongst the children. Siblings, parents, nieces, nephews, foster children or stepchildren who were never adopted, or children placed for adoption may be left out entirely. Things get even more complicated when there are children from a prior marriage involved or if close relatives have already passed. For instance, if many of your close blood relatives have predeceased you, the courts will look to your distant relatives when determining who your legal heirs will be.

It is common for heirs to fight when it comes to a loved one who has died intestate. Conflicts over the distribution of their loved one’s assets and over what the decedent truly wanted are commonplace. Furthermore, with no estate plan in place, the decedent’s “true” desires concerning their burial wishes are not documented. The decedent’s family will ultimately be left to decide amongst themselves what to do with his or her final disposition and burial. For obvious reasons, this is often a heavily debated and stressful process.

Having even a simple Will in place will provide the instructions on how you want your estate to be distributed after you pass. With the help of an experienced estate planning attorney, you can create a simple Will or even a comprehensive estate plan to specifically address all your concerns and ensure that the proper individuals are cared for following your passing. The complexity of your estate plan ultimately depends on what assets you have and what your goals are. After all, estate plans are not one-size-fits-all documents. A truly effective estate plan can be a single document or a series of documents that work together towards achieving a common goal. Continue to follow these posts for future articles discussing these estate plan documents. Call us now for a free consultation at 1-888-367-8198.


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