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How to Settle an Estate Without a Will

When someone you love passes away, you are left to pick up the pieces. This can be an extremely stressful time for family members. If the person had a will, the process of distributing their assets and taking care of their estate is straightforward. But what happens when someone dies without a will? The probate process is designed to oversee the distribution and handling of someone’s estate after their death. When someone dies without a will, they are said to die intestate. Without a will, the distribution of assets is left to state law.

Intestate Succession

It is common to believe that the person closest to the deceased will inherit everything in the estate, but that is not necessarily the case. Wisconsin intestate laws provide a clear view of the people who are legally in line to receive someone’s estate. If the decedent is survived by a spouse and children they had together, the surviving spouse is to receive the entire estate. In situations in which there are children from previous relationships, the estate is divided between the spouse and the children who are living.

Community property rules apply to the estate. When a couple is married, the assets they accumulated together during the marriage belong to both of them equally. Therefore, if the deceased owned property separately, those assets are distributed according to the will or the intestacy laws. Generally speaking, the law is designed to pass down assets to spouses and/or descendants. If someone dies without a spouse, the living descendants are to receive the estate. If there is no spouse and no descendants, the parents of the deceased are in line to receive the estate.

The Probate Process

Probate is the legal process in place for handling the estate and distributing assets of a decedent. The court assigns an administrator to oversee probate. This person is responsible for gathering the information and resolving the estate from start to finish. When there is no will in place, the process follows the state’s intestacy laws. When someone dies without a will, the process can be more complex in some situations. For instance, if the deceased was in a relationship with someone but was not married, that person may not be in line to inherit anything, even when the couple was living together as if they were married.

When someone close to you dies intestate, it is helpful to seek legal guidance as soon as possible from a qualified attorney. Your lawyer will help evaluate the matter and assist in making sure that the probate process is completed fairly and legally. Your attorney will represent you throughout the legal proceedings.  In some instances, disputes arise between parties who feel they deserve to inherit the decedent’s estate. The best way to avoid problems with the distribution of assets is to have a will in place before you pass away. The will generally takes precedence and you will be able to provide clear instructions for how you wish your estate to be distributed among your loved ones.

If someone you loved passed away without a will, you may be entitled to an inheritance. Contact our legal team at Moen Sheehan Meyer, Ltd. by phone at (608) 784-8310 or online for an initial consultation.

Published September 10, 2021
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