Who Gets Your Property if You Die Without a Will?

By Shanna N. Yonke
May 16, 2019

Some clients decide to hire an attorney to prepare their estate planning documents because they do not like the default laws in Wisconsin about who gets their property if they die without a will.  In Wisconsin, if you die without a will, or your will doesn’t give all of your property away, your property will be distributed according to the following inheritance chart:

RELATIONSHIP TO DECEASED PERSON

INHERITANCE FROM DECEASED PERSON
(PERCENTAGE OF NET ESTATE)

Spouse

100% if deceased person’s children, if any, are spouse’s children
50% if deceased person has children from a prior relationship

Children

50% divided equally among children if spouse is not parent
100% if deceased person did not have surviving spouse

Parents

100% divided equally between parents

Siblings

100% divided equally among siblings (and a deceased sibling’s part is divided equally among that sibling’s children)

Grandparents

50% divided equally between maternal grandparents
50% divided equally between paternal grandparents
(if no surviving grandparents, then property passes through this inheritance chart, as applied to grandparents)

Wisconsin State
School Fund

100% if deceased person has no heirs

In order to determine who will inherit your property, begin at the top of the chart.  Distribute the property as directed by the chart until all of the property is gone.

Here are a few examples of how the inheritance chart works:

  1. Harry died without a will.  When Harry died, he was married to Sally.  Harry and Sally had four children together.  Sally will inherit 100% of Harry’s property.
  2. Harry died without a will.  When Harry died, he was married to Sally, who was his second wife.  Harry had two children with his first wife, and two children with Sally.  Sally will inherit 50% of Harry’s property, and each child from Harry’s first marriage will inherit 25% of Harry’s property.
  3. Harry died without a will.  Harry’s second wife, Sally, died before him.  Harry was survived by four children, two from his first marriage and two from his second marriage.  Each child will inherit 25% of Harry’s property.
  4. Harry died without a will.  Harry, his wife Sally, and Harry’s four children died in an accident together.  Harry’s parents are alive.  Each parent will inherit 50% of Harry’s property.
  5. Harry died without a will.  Harry, his wife Sally, and Harry’s four children died in an accident together.  Harry’s parents died before him.  Harry’s brother is alive.  Harry’s sister died before him as well, but her two children are alive.  Harry’s brother will inherit 50% of his property, and each of Harry’s sister’s children will inherit 25% of his property.
  6. Harry died without a will.  Harry, his wife Sally, and Harry’s four children died in an accident together.  Harry’s parents, siblings, and nieces and nephews died before him as well.  Harry’s grandfather on his father’s side is alive.  Harry’s grandparents on his mother’s side died before him, but Harry’s aunt (his mother’s sister) is alive.  Harry’s grandfather will inherit 50% of his property, and Harry’s aunt will inherit 50% of his property.
  7. Harry died without a will.  He is not survived by any family members.  Harry’s property will be contributed to the Wisconsin State School Fund.

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The content in the following blog posts is based upon the state of the law at the time of its original publication. As legal developments change quickly, the content in these blog posts may not remain accurate as laws change over time. None of the information contained in these publications is intended as legal advice or opinion relative to specific matters, facts, situations, or issues. You should not act upon the information in these blog posts without discussing your specific situation with legal counsel.

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