In this case, the court appoints a personal representative who distributes your entire estate to your surviving spouse or registered domestic partner — unless you have children from outside your current marriage. In that case, your spouse or registered domestic partner retains half the marital property and receives half your individual property, with the rest of your estate split equally among all your children, from this marriage and outside it. (See also the State Bar of Wisconsin’s pamphlet, Answering Your Questions About Marital Property.)
If you have no spouse, registered domestic partner, or surviving children or descendants of children when you die, your estate goes to other surviving relatives. State law lists the order of inheritance as follows: parents, brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews, grandparents, and descendants of grandparents. The state school fund receives your assets if you leave no heirs closer than the descendants of your grandparents.
If you leave behind minor children and have named no guardian in a will, a court must choose a guardian. If a minor inherits money or property, it is likely the court will place it in a guardianship account. Ask yourself: Is that a decision you want someone to make for you?
Having a judge decide who will raise your children can be emotionally wrenching for other family members. Also, court-supervised guardianships entail extra costs. Avoid the upset and expense by naming a guardian in your will.
Finally, bear in mind that if you have no will, the court will appoint a personal representative to administer your estate. Having a will allows you to choose this person. Also, you can stipulate in your will that the personal representative need not post a surety bond, thus saving money for your estate.