Making a Will in Wisconsin

How to make a will in Wisconsin and what can happen if you don't.

What Can I Do With a Wisconsin Will?

A will, also called a "last will and testament," can help you protect your family and your property. You can use a will to:

  • leave your property to people or organizations
  • name a personal guardian to care for your minor children
  • name a trusted person to manage property you leave to minor children, and
  • name a personal representative, the person who makes sure that the terms of your will are carried out.

What Happens if I Die Without a Will?

In Wisconsin, if you die without a will, your property will be distributed according to state "intestacy" laws. Wisconsin's intestacy law gives your property to your closest relatives, beginning with your spouse and children. If you have neither a spouse nor children, your grandchildren or your parents will get your property. This list continues with increasingly distant relatives, including siblings, grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, nieces, and nephews. If the court exhausts this list to find that you have no living relatives by blood or marriage, the state will take your property.

Do I Need a Lawyer to Make a Will in Wisconsin?

No. You can make your own will in Wisconsin, using Nolo's do-it-yourself will software or online will programs. However, you may want to consult a lawyer in some situations. For example, if you think that your will might be contested or if you want to disinherit your spouse, you should talk with an attorney. Nolo's will-making products tell you when it's wise to seek a lawyer's advice.

What Are the Requirements for Signing a Will in Wisconsin?

To finalize your will in Wisconsin:

  • you must sign or acknowledge your will in front of two witnesses, and
  • your witnesses must sign your will within a "reasonable time" after your signing or acknowledgment. Wisconsin Statutes § 853.03.

Do I Need to Have My Will Notarized?

No, in Wisconsin, you do not need to notarize your will to make it legal.

However, Wisconsin allows you to make your will "self-proving" and you'll need to go to a notary if you want to do that. A self-proving will speeds up probate because the court can accept the will without contacting the witnesses who signed it.

To make your will self-proving, you and your witnesses will go to the notary and sign an affidavit that states who you are and that each of you knew you were signing the will.

Should I Use My Will to Name a Personal Representative?

Yes. In Wisconsin, you can use your will to name a personal representative who will ensure that the provisions in your will are carried out after your death. Nolo's will software and online will produces a letter to your personal representative that generally explains what the job requires. If you don't name a personal representative, the probate court will appoint someone to take on the job of winding up your estate.

Can I Revoke or Change My Will?

In Wisconsin, you may revoke or change your will at any time unless you signed a contract not to revoke your will. You can revoke your will by:

  • burning, tearing, cancelling, obliterating, or destroying all or part of your will with the intent to revoke it
  • ordering someone else to burn, tear, cancel, obliterate, or destroy all or part of your will in front of you, or
  • making a new will that says it revokes the old will or has contradictory terms to the old will. Wisconsin Statutes § 853.11.

If you have two wills and it's not clear whether you revoked the old will or not, Wisconsin has rules that determine whether your new will revokes the old one or simply adds to it. If you intended to revoke the old will, the old will is revoked. Wisconsin law presumes you intended to revoke your old will if the new will disposes of all of your estate. If you didn't dispose of all of your estate in your new will, Wisconsin law presumes you only meant to add on to your old will. In this situation, the executor should follow the instructions in both wills. If there's a contradictory term, the executor should follow the instructions of the new will for that particular term. Wisconsin Statutes § 853.11.

If you and your spouse divorce (or if a court determines that your marriage is not legal), Wisconsin law revokes any language in your will that leaves property to your spouse or names your spouse to be your executor. This rule also applies to any relatives of your former spouse. This rule does not apply if you specifically state in your will (or divorce decree or contract relating to the division of your property) that divorce should not affect the provisions in your will. Wisconsin Statutes § 854.15. If you have any concerns about the effects of divorce on your will, see an estate planning attorney for help.

If you need to make changes to your will, it’s best to revoke it and make a new one. However, if you have only very simple changes to make, you could add an amendment to your existing will – this is called a codicil. In either case, you will need to finalize your changes with the same formalities you used to make your original will (see above).

Where Can I Find Wisconsin’s Laws About Making Wills?

You can find Wisconsin’s laws about making wills here: Wisconsin Statutes Chapter 853 Wills.

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