Wisconsin Probate and Estate Tax Laws

Probate is the process through which the property of a person who passes on (the decedent) is transferred to the persons entitled to inherit it. This is a legal process and whether the decedent left a valid will affects how his or her property is distributed. Probate matters in Wisconsin are handled at the local circuit court level.

If there is a will, it must be filed with the court, even if probate isn't needed to distribute the decedent’s property. A person who dies without a will is said to have died "intestate" and Wisconsin's intestacy laws determine how the person's assets are distributed. In addition, probate may not be required when a person dies, for example, if there are no assets in his or her estate at death as they were all transferred through other means.

Medicare Estate Recovery Program

Wisconsin's Estate Recovery Program will seek repayment for certain long term care services paid for by Medicaid and BadgerCare Plus out of a decedent’s estate. The state is a creditor in this case. However, the state doesn’t seek recovery when the individual who used Medicaid or BadgerCare is survived by a spouse, a child under 21, or a disabled or blind child of any age.

Estate Tax

Wisconsin's estate tax was eliminated for deaths occurring after December 31, 2012. This is because the federal estate tax credit that was the basis for Wisconsin’s estate tax was repealed. Unless the federal estate tax law is modified to provide a federal estate tax credit for state estate or death taxes, then Wisconsin doesn't and won't have an estate tax for deaths in 2013 onward.

The following table outlines Wisconsin's Probate and Estate Tax Laws.

Code Sections

Wisconsin Statutes Chapters 851-879: Probate

Types of Estate Administration

Wisconsin has four main types of probate proceedings:

  • Two Summary Procedures for Smaller Estates
    • Summary Settlement - For settling estates of $50,000 or less when the decedent had a surviving spouse, domestic partner, or minor children. Also available without surviving family if the estate assets don't exceed the debts (taxes, funeral, family allowances, etc).
    • Summary Assignment - Small estate procedure for estates of $50,000 or less that can't be settled under summary settlement.
    • Transfers by Affidavit - Transfers decedent's assets for estates worth $50,000 or less by a written statement, but requires notice of the transfer to the estate recovery program.
  • Informal Administration
    • Requires the appointment of a personal representative, but doesn't require continuous court supervision. The administration is supervised by the Probate Registrar and is the most common form of probate in Wisconsin.
  • Formal Administration
    • A formal, circuit court supervised procedure. Required when the will prohibits informal administration or when not all of the heirs consent to informal administration.
    • Requires the assistance of an estate administration attorney and a personal representative to be appointed.

What Assets Go Through Probate?

When a person has property in his or her name or rights to receive property at death, probate is needed. Property includes:

  • The decedent's bank accounts with no co-owner and no beneficiary
  • Home(s) or land owned by the decedent alone
  • Home(s) or land co-owned as tenants in common without the "right of survivorship"
  • Stocks and bonds in the decedent’s name alone
  • Tangible personal property (clothing, jewelry, furniture, cars registered to decedent only, etc.)

What Assets Skip Probate Entirely?

In contrast, some assets skip probate entirely and go directly to the beneficiary or co-owner of the items, such as:

  • Bank accounts that have a valid Payable on Death (POD) or Transfer on Death (TOD) document
  • Home(s) or land owned as joint tenants with right of survivorship or, for married couples, tenancy by the entirety, in these cases, the joint tenants own 100% of that real estate at the decedent's death.
  • Life insurance policies and retirement accounts with a designated beneficiary
  • Property held in a revocable trust
  • Vehicles can be transferred to a surviving spouse or domestic partner (up to five vehicles) or another heir (if the estate value was less than $50,000)

Estate Taxes

Wisconsin has had no estate tax since the end of 2012.

What Other Taxes Must be Paid?

The personal representative of a deceased taxpayer in Wisconsin must file all necessary state and federal tax forms, including:

  • The final individual or fiduciary income tax return(s) of the decedent
  • The real estate or other property taxes owed by the decedent at death
  • The estate income tax return, if the estate had income of $600 or more

Note: State laws are always subject to change through the passage of new legislation, rulings in the higher courts (including federal decisions), ballot initiatives, and other means. While we strive to provide the most current information available, please consult an attorney or conduct your own legal research to verify the state law(s) you are researching.

Related Resources

Get Legal Help Understanding Wisconsin's Probate and Estate Tax Laws

There are many factors that can affect an individual estate or the probate process. Professional assistance can help provide some assurance that an estate can be settled with a minimum amount of time and money lost to taxes or litigation. Contact a local tax attorney to discuss your questions about Wisconsin's probate and estate tax laws.

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