We have all heard the stories. A long-lost aunt or uncle dies with no heirs, and their mansion and riches sit abandoned, waiting only for some distant relative to claim them. Unfortunately, fantastical claims like this have little connection to reality.
While the Wisconsin Department of Revenue (DOR) holds over $600 million in unclaimed property, real estate is not among its unclaimed holdings. Claiming abandoned real estate in Milwaukee is much more complicated than finding out about a long-lost relative. Usually, the Wisconsin School Fund gets the property of an intestate estate with no known heirs. Sometimes banks must foreclose upon abandoned properties and sell them at a sheriff’s sale at a depressed value.
There are also ways to claim property that was not previously yours through adverse possession. Adverse possession laws are complicated and have strict guidelines in Wisconsin.
Laws On Milwaukee Abandoned Real Estate
Two relevant legal matters concern claims for abandoned property in Wisconsin.
First, when someone dies without a will, their estate is considered intestate, and their property will go through probate court. In probate court, state laws govern how the deceased’s property will be distributed. In most cases, the court will find the closest living relative and pass the estate to them. If no heir is found, ownership reverts to the state. If ownership reverts to the state, heirs will have ten years to file an heirship claim and recover the funds.
Second, Milwaukee has an interest in reducing the number of “zombie properties” throughout the city. Zombie properties are abandoned properties that banks have yet to foreclose on. The laws governing the sale of these properties are complicated and more relevant to the banks selling the property than the buyer. However, these abandoned properties can be bought in sheriff foreclosure sales in Milwaukee.
You can file an heirship claim if a close relative dies with no will. If the estate is still in probate court and you are the closest living relative, you may be able to claim the estate, including any real estate owned by it. Heirship claims for intestate estates can be complicated and fiercely contested. An estate attorney can help guide you through the process.
Buying an abandoned house through a sheriff’s sale has advantages and disadvantages. The primary benefit is that the real estate will likely sell at a greatly depressed price. However, abandoned properties are often in severe disrepair. Further, there is a chance that squatters have moved in while the property sat vacant. Animal infestations, vandalism, and unsafe conditions on the property are also common in abandoned houses. There are unique legal issues that can arise when buying an abandoned property. It is crucial to consult an experienced real estate attorney before buying one of these properties.
Adverse possession is another way to claim abandoned property. Wis. Stat Section 893.25 governs adverse possession in Wisconsin. To claim property ownership through adverse possession, an individual must openly occupy the property for 20 years.
Four requirements must be met for adverse possession laws to take effect. First, the occupation must be “hostile.” This means the occupier is on the property against the current owner’s intent. In most cases, “hostile” occupation results from an honest mistake.
Second, the occupier must have actual possession of the property. Actual possession involves a physical presence on the property.
Third, the possession of the property must be open and notorious. Secretly occupying a property without any way for the owner to know will not satisfy adverse possession laws.
Finally, possession must be exclusive and continuous. For example, if two neighbors share a garden at the edge of their property, one neighbor will not be able to claim adverse possession. However, if only one neighbor continuously maintained the garden for 20 years, they may be able to claim adverse possession.
Unclaimed Property Other Than Real Estate
The Wisconsin DOR holds unclaimed property for ten years. DOR has a helpful guide outlining the process for claiming unclaimed property. The unclaimed property held by DOR can be anything from an inactive bank account you forgot about to accounts a relative forgot to include in their will.
Mallery s.c. Can Help
If you have questions regarding how to claim abandoned real estate in Milwaukee, Mallery s.c. knows how to help. Our attorneys are experienced in a broad range of topics and can help find solutions to all your legal needs. We pride ourselves on developing trusted, collaborative, long-term relationships with our clients. Contact Mallery s.c. today so we can help you.