Keeping the Farm Out of Probate


Author: Attorney Eric S. Johnson

Most people have the goal of avoiding probate. Probate is the process through which the Court administers the assets and debts of a person after their death. People generally want to avoid probate to reduce costs, administer assets and debts faster, or to administer them more privately.

Several tools are available to keep assets outside of probate. Among the most common are creating a revocable living trust or using beneficiary designations.

When a person creates a trust to avoid probate, the person also either transfers ownership of the assets to the trust or designates the trust as the pay-on-death or transfer-on-death beneficiary of the asset. A review of the uses and benefits of trusts is beyond the scope of this article. You can find an excellent summary of beneficiary designations in Attorney Casey’s article with this link: Transfers Outside of Probate – Curran Law Office

To completely avoid probate through the use of beneficiary designations, the total value of all assets without beneficiary designations or joint owners must be under $50,000. If the total assets without beneficiary designations exceed that threshold – even by a little – a probate is required to transfer those assets.

Getting and staying under the $50,000 threshold was historically extremely difficult for farmers who, by necessity, own a variety of valuable tractors and other equipment. Fortunately, the Wisconsin Legislature created Wisconsin Statute 705.18 to help. The statute allows farmers to sign a document called a “Nonprobate Transfer of Farm Implements at Death” to designate beneficiaries for a wide variety of items including tractors, machines, accessories, attachments, fuel, repair parts, auxiliary power generators, loaders, elevators, conveyors, augurs, dryers, grinders, milk coolers, milking machines, etc. To be valid, the Nonprobate Transfer of Farm Implements at Death must be signed by all of the owners and by two witnesses (one of whom must be a disinterested witness).

A good estate plan must be carefully and thoughtfully devised and implemented. Doing so is all the more critical when the estate plan must pass on a family legacy – like a farm. To learn more about how to create a quality, efficient estate plan, contact an attorney well-versed in estate planning and probate.