Making a will is an important decision. For parents, a will can help you provide for your children and name a guardian to care for them after you die. If you do not have children, you can use a will to choose the people or organizations that will inherit your money and property.
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Do I Really Need a Will in Wisconsin?
You are not required to have a will in Wisconsin, but having a will is a good idea for most people. A will can provide peace of mind to your loved ones because it is an opportunity to tell them your wishes for your assets and care for your minor children.
If you create a trust, it is still wise to also have a will. A will can act as a safeguard for items you forgot to put into the trust and for life insurance policies with defective beneficiary designations.
If you die without a will, Wisconsin’s intestacy laws will determine who receives assets that are owned solely by you. The intestacy laws provide for a spouse or domestic partner and your children first. If you do not have a spouse, domestic partner, or children, then the court will move on to increasingly distant relatives until it finds relatives who can inherit from you. In rare cases, the deceased person’s property will pass to the state if no living relatives are located.
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How To Get a Will in Wisconsin
In Wisconsin, you can ask an attorney to draft your will, or you can make your own by using a will form. If you use a form, you should follow these steps: See full process
Make a list of all your assets
You need to know what you own and whether items will pass through your will or other means. Think about everything you own, including money, real estate, personal property, retirement accounts, and life insurance policies.
Assets will pass through your will and go through probate if you are the sole owner. Items that have beneficiary designations, like life insurance and real estate, will not pass through your will unless the designation is defective. Items you own as joint tenants with another person and marital property owned with your spouse will not pass through probate unless your spouse or joint tenants die at the same time as you. If you place items in a trust, they will not pass through probate.
In Wisconsin, you can create a tangible list of personal property that serves as an addition to your will. This list only should be used for tangible property like jewelry, clothing, and books. You cannot use it to give away money, real estate, or other intangible items like stocks, and it cannot devise property that is devised in the will.
To be valid, a tangible list of personal property must list in detail each item and who will receive it. You must sign and date the list, and your will must refer to a document that lists tangible personal property not devised in the will. You can update the list without executing a new will, and you can create the list after your will is executed.
Choose your beneficiaries
A will lets you decide who will receive your money and property. You can devise assets of varying sizes and values to people or entities such as charities. For example, after you ensure your family will be provided for in your will, you could devise a large sum of money to charity and sentimental items to close friends.
You also can use your will to disinherit someone, such as an estranged relative. However, you should ask a Wisconsin estate planning attorney for legal advice if you want to disinherit a spouse or child. Disinheriting a spouse or a child is difficult, and almost always leads to a lawsuit.
Choose a personal representative
Your personal representative should be someone you trust. They also should be responsible with money and comfortable dealing with attorneys and accountants. When making your will, choose one or more successor personal representatives to step in and serve if your first choice is unavailable or unwilling to serve.
Your personal representative will manage your estate during probate. They will have many duties. You should speak with them before you name them in your will to ensure they are willing to serve. Some of a personal representative’s duties are:
- Collect, inventory, and care for your assets
- Paying your estate’s debts and taxes
- Distributing assets to your beneficiaries
- Notifying your creditors
Your personal representative will pay your taxes and debts with your assets and will not be personally liable for any debts of your estate. They also can use your estate’s funds to hire attorneys and accountants to assist with probate and taxes.
Choose guardians for your minor children
In Wisconsin, you can use your will to name two different guardians for your minor child: the guardian of the person and the guardian of the estate. The guardian of the person will raise your child and make decisions about their education, health care, and general welfare. They should be willing to raise your child in line with your values.
The guardian of the estate will manage all assets your child receives through probate. If you establish a trust, the trustee of the trust will manage all assets placed in the trust for your child’s benefit. Like a personal representative, the guardian of the estate should be someone you trust to make intelligent financial decisions for your child.
Sign your will
After you fill out your form, you must comply with Wisconsin’s requirements for executing a will. You must sign it or direct another person in your presence to sign your name for you. You also need two adult witnesses who are not beneficiaries to sign your will.
A notary public is not required, but it is advisable to use one to make a self-proved will. A self-proved will can be admitted to probate without your witnesses’ testimony. To make a self-proved will, you and your witnesses must sign a self-proving affidavit and have it notarized.
Store your executed will in a safe place
Your executed will with original signatures is your one true will, unless you revoke it later. Sometimes, a court will accept a copy of a will, but it is difficult to convince a court to accept a copy. If you want to ensure a court will follow your wishes, you must keep your original will safe.
Common places to store a will are:
- A safe place in your home
- Your lawyer’s office
- A safe deposit box at a bank
- The probate court where you live
Let your personal representative and trusted friends or family members know where your will is stored. This will allow the probate process to start without delay.
Review your will when your net worth or family changes
As time goes by, the size of your family and net worth can change. When your life changes, review your will to make sure it does not need changes. If you do not have any major life events, you still should review your will every few years to ensure it still meets your goals. If you have a major life change or want to amend your will, a Wisconsin estate planning attorney can help you.
You May Want To Speak With a Lawyer if You:
- Have a past divorce, blended family, or other complex family situation
- Have a high-value estate
- Own a business
- Want to create a special needs trust
- Want legal review of your completed will
Ready to get started on your Wisconsin will? It’s free to start.Create My Will
Wisconsin Will FAQ/People Often Ask
A will also is called a last will and testament or a last will. It is an estate planning document that a person can use to give money or property to people or entities after they die. If you have children, you can also use it to appoint people to care for them in case you die while they are under 18.
There are several terms related to wills that you should know:
- Testator: The person who creates a will (A testator must be an adult and of sound mind to make a valid will.)
- Beneficiary: A person who receives a testator’s assets through a will
- Personal Representative: A person named by the testator to manage the testator’s estate during probate
- Probate: A court-supervised process to distribute the testator’s assets to beneficiaries and pay off the testator’s debts
- Devise: A distribution of property or money made through a will, or the act of distributing property or money through a will
- Guardian: A person named in the will to care for the testator’s children
You can make a will without a lawyer. The easiest way to make one on your own is by purchasing a will form from a reputable source and following the above steps.
Although you do not need a lawyer to make a will, it is often a good idea to hire an attorney. If you have children with special needs, significant assets, or children with different partners, a Wisconsin estate planning attorney can advise you about the best estate plan for you.
Attorneys in Wisconsin charge varying prices for a will. The cost of a will depends on several factors:
- The complexity of your family’s needs
- The total value and complexity of your assets
- The attorney’s experience level
- The market rate in your area
- Whether the attorney charges a flat fee or an hourly rate
An attorney likely will charge a few hundred dollars for simple will. If you want a more complex estate plan with a trust and powers of attorney, you pay will pay significantly more.
Purchasing a will form is a lower cost option that can work for a lot of people. If you use a form, you can ask an estate planning attorney to review it before you sign it, though this is not necessary to make the will legal. You will follow other FindLaw-provided steps to make it a valid will.*
*FindLaw is not a law firm, and the forms are not a substitute for the advice or services of an attorney.
Wisconsin offers two will forms in its statutes: the basic will and the basic will with trust. The basic wills are useful if you want something simple, but they do not offer much flexibility. Avoid using free forms from other sources. Many free forms available online are not tailored to Wisconsin law. Using one may leave you with an invalid will.
In Wisconsin, you change your will by executing a codicil. Codicil is the legal name for an amendment to a will, and you must sign it with two witnesses. If you are making several changes or a major change to your will, you should create a new will that revokes your old will.
Executing a new will that states it revokes previous wills and codicils is the best way to revoke a will. However, a new will that does not state it revokes your current will might still revoke it if it is inconsistent with your previous will. You also can revoke a will by destroying it with the intent to revoke it, but this can lead to disputes in court about your intent.
Holographic wills are in the handwriting of the testator and signed by the testator without witnesses. Wisconsin does not allow holographic wills.
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