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When is the last time you looked at how your real estate is titled? This question has real implications for how your property will be distributed upon your passing and can make the difference between a smooth process and extra steps, cost, and time for your loved ones.

In Wisconsin, the two main ways to hold property are as tenants in common and as joint tenants (sometimes referred to as joint tenants with right of survivorship). Both forms of ownership have distinctive characteristics when it comes to distributing such property upon the death of one of the owners.

If property is held as tenants in common, that means that each owner of the property owns a specific interest in the property. The interest in the property held by an owner who passes away, passes through their estate plan and to whomever would receive under that owner’s estate. Holding property in this manner can be difficult if other owners or beneficiaries of a prior owner’s interest to do not agree or cannot get along.

If property is held as joint tenants, the interest held by an owner at their death usually will pass equally to the surviving owners of the property. This transfer of interest will likely be a non-probate transfer. For this reason, joint tenancy is sometimes called joint tenancy with right of survivorship, meaning that the surviving owner(s) receive the deceased owner’s interest.

As for married couples living in Wisconsin, property acquired during or after marriage is generally considered to be marital property, which means that such property is considered to be owned equally by both spouses during their marriage. Upon the passing of the first spouse, such interest typically passes to the remaining then living spouse.

Knowing how your property is held and how your interest will pass upon your death can make the process relatively easy or much more complicated. Take a moment and learn how your property is held, and consult with an estate planning attorney if you have questions on how your ownership interest could affect your estate plan!

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