What are "Probate Alternatives"?

A will is not the only way to pass assets to your loved ones after your death. In Wisconsin, assets left through a will must go through formal or informal probate, unless their total value is $50,000 or less, in which case summary settlement, summary assignment, or transfer by affidavit may be used. Summary settlement and summary assignment still go through the probate court, but they are simpler, abbreviated procedures.

Transfer by affidavit does not involve the probate court at all. Other options that bypass the probate process include a "marital property agreement" between spouses that allows transfer of property outside probate; survivorship marital property; joint tenancy with right of survivorship; and payable-on-death or transfer-on-death designations. You can also create a living trust, which allows you to use and manage your property during your life, then designate a successor trustee who will manage and distribute the assets outside of probate after your death. Talk to your estate planning attorney about which of these options is best for your needs.