Dying without a will basically means that you give up having control over who gets your property after your death and who will be the guardian of your minor children.
Many celebrities die without wills. This past year saw a host of celebrity estate snafus. It’s as if they were sending a message from beyond that they didn’t care about how much turmoil and family fights would take place over their money and assets. Some of these battles go on for decades. However, as reported in Press Republican’s article “The Law and You: Important to make a will,” even if you think you don’t have enough property to make it necessary to have a will, you’re wrong. It’s not just wealthy or famous people who need wills.
Do you really want other people making those decisions on your behalf? Would you want the laws of your state making these decisions? Your family will do better if you have a will and an estate plan.
For example, in Wisconsin, if you don’t have a will, and since Wisconsin is a community property state, your surviving spouse will receive all of your property. However, if you have children from a previous relationship, then they will inherit an interest in some of your property.
If you have a spouse but no children, your spouse will inherit everything. If you have children and no spouse, then the children get everything, divided equally.
If you have no spouse, no children and your parents are living; then your parents will inherit everything you own.
If your parents are not alive, your siblings will get it all.
Adopted children are treated by the courts the same as biological children when there is no will. Stepchildren and foster children do not inherit unless they are explicitly named in the will.
If you have been in a long-term relationship with someone and never married, even if they qualify for health care benefits from your employer under the “domestic partner” provision, they are not considered a spouse when it comes to inheritance. At the same time, if you are not legally married and your partner dies, you have no legal right to inherit from your partner’s estate. No matter how long you have been together, how many children you have together if you are not legally married, you have no inheritance rights.
Wisconsin does not recognize “common law marriages;” as a legal union.
If you want someone who is not your legal spouse to receive your assets, you need to meet with our estate planning attorneys and, at the very minimum, have a will drawn up that meets the requirements of the laws of your state. Our estate planning attorneys can explain how state laws work and what provisions are and are not acceptable in your estate.
Our estate planning attorneys will also help you consider other issues. Do you want to leave anything to a charity that matters to you? Do you want anyone else besides your children to receive something after you pass? Is there anyone who needs a trust, because they are unable to manage their finances, or you are concerned about their marriage ending in divorce? Making these decisions in a properly prepared will, can protect your family and lessen the chances of your wishes being challenged.