Wisconsin Deed Forms for Real Estate Transfers

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What types of deeds are recognized in Wisconsin?

Wisconsin law recognizes three general forms of deeds for transferring real estate from its current owner—the grantor—to a new owner—the grantee.1 Wisconsin does not offer statutory model deed language, as is provided in many states. Wisconsin deeds are instead derived primarily from common law and principles enunciated within Chapter 706 of the Wisconsin Statutes.

Wisconsin’s three general categories of real estate deeds: warranty deeds, special warranty deeds, and quitclaim deeds.

Wisconsin General Warranty Deed Form

A Wisconsin general warranty deed form conveys real estate with a complete warranty of title. Warranty of title is the current owner’s guaranty that a deed transfers lawful title to real estate free of defects not disclosed in the deed.2 The current owner agrees to be responsible for any undisclosed defects in the property’s title—which could include liens, adverse claims on the property, or chain-of-title problems resulting from an earlier faulty deed.3

Wisconsin’s statute authorizes a “conveyance by which the [current owner] contracts to warrant the land or its title” without expressly using the term general warranty deed.4 Wisconsin courts typically use the abbreviated term warranty deed when referring to a deed with complete warranty of title.5

Wisconsin Special Warranty Deed Form

A Wisconsin special warranty deed form transfers real estate with a limited warranty of title. Warranty of title is limited because the owner’s guaranty only extends to defects that arose or occurred while the current owner held title to the property. A special warranty deed divides the risk of unknown defects between the current owner and the new owner—depending on when a defect arose.

Wisconsin’s statutes do not expressly authorize special warranty deeds. They are instead rooted in common law, statutory authorization of warranty deeds, and the parties’ right to contractually modify conveyance terms.6 Special warranty deeds are alternatively called limited warranty deeds, grant deeds, and covenant deeds in other jurisdictions. Wisconsin courts use special warranty deed—which is the more common term nationally.7

Wisconsin Quitclaim Deed Form

A Wisconsin quitclaim deed form transfers—without warranty of title—whatever interest in the real estate the current owner signing the deed has the power to convey at the time of signing.8 A quitclaim deed conveys the current owner’s entire interest—if any—but does not guaranty or imply that the transferred title is free of defects or that the owner genuinely has any claim on the property at all.9 Due to the absence of a warranty or guaranty, a quitclaim deed places all risk of unknown title defects on the new owner.

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What types of estate planning deeds are used in Wisconsin?

The three Wisconsin deed forms described above are distinguished by the warranty of title offered by each. Wisconsin law recognizes several additional types of deeds named for their specialized purposes and settings. Specialized deeds used in estate planning—which can sometimes also be warranty, special warranty, or quitclaim deeds—include the following categories:

  • Transfer on Death Deeds. Wisconsin transfer-on-death deeds—also called TOD deeds or beneficiary deeds—convey title to real estate effective upon the current property owner’s death. A Wisconsin TOD deed is revocable and does not affect a property owner’s interest in the property during life.10 A deed transferring Wisconsin real estate can include a TOD designation, or the current property owner can name a TOD beneficiary by executing and recording a document with the designation.11
  • Life Estate Deed. Wisconsin life estate deeds create two separate interests in the real estate: a life estate that lasts for the remainder of the life estate holder’s life and a remainder interest that gives another person the right to take title after the life estate holder’s death.12 Unlike a TOD deed, a life estate deed limits the life estate holder’s right to transfer, mortgage, and use the property during life.
  • Personal Representative Deed. A Wisconsin personal representative deed transfers real estate from a deceased person’s estate to a purchaser, assignee, or estate beneficiary.13 The court-appointed personal representative of an estate signs a personal representative deed. A personal representative deed cannot also be a warranty deed or special warranty deed because Wisconsin law forbids personal representatives from providing warranties.14

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Where are deeds filed in Wisconsin?

Each Wisconsin county’s Office of the Register of Deeds is responsible for recording deeds that convey real estate in that county.15 While some counties accept deeds submitted electronically, all Wisconsin counties must also accept paper filings.16

The person receiving transferred real estate customarily files the deed with the register of deeds. An unfiled deed has no effect on the interests of a later good-faith purchaser of the same real estate.17

A real estate transfer return completed and signed by both parties is a prerequisite to submitting a deed for recording.18 Real estate transfer returns—which include information needed for calculation of transfer fees—are e-filed on the Wisconsin Department of Revenue’s website.19 The Department of Revenue provides detailed instructions for completing the form. Wisconsin transfer-on-death deeds do not require a real estate transfer form.20

What is the cost to file a Wisconsin deed?

Registers of deeds charge a flat fee of $30.00 for recording a Wisconsin deed.21 The number of pages in a deed does not affect the recording fee amount.

Wisconsin also charges a transfer tax—called a real estate transfer fee—due when recording most deeds.22 Wisconsin law imposes the transfer fee at a rate of 30 cents ($0.30) for each $100.00 of the transferred real estate’s value. The transfer fee—if owed—is payable to the register of deeds at the time of recording, or the person requesting recording may present a receipt or exemption number instead.23

What deeds are exempt from Wisconsin’s real estate transfer fee?

Wisconsin’s real estate transfer-fee statute lists 31 categories of deeds that are exempt from the transfer free.24 A real estate transfer return for an exempt transaction states the reason for exemption.

Categories of deeds exempt from Wisconsin’s real estate transfer fee include the following:

  1. Deeds to or from a government agency;25
  2. Deeds correcting a previously recorded deed;26
  3. Deeds relating to sale for delinquent taxes or assessments, foreclosure, or in lieu of foreclosure;27
  4. Deeds relating to a partition;28
  5. Deeds relating to the merger, conversion, domestication, or interest exchange of entities;29
  6. Deeds between close family members (including spouses under a divorce order);30
  7. Deeds from a subsidiary to its parent company for little or no consideration;31
  8. Deeds from a trustee to a beneficiary without consideration;32
  9. Transfer on death deeds and deeds transferring inherited real estate;33
  10. Deeds transferring real estate worth less than $1,000;34
  11. Deeds from a corporation, LLC, or partnership to a shareholder, member, or partner if all of the entity’s owners are related family members;35
  12. Deeds conveying real estate to a trust if a deed from the same person directly to the trust’s beneficiary would be exempt.36

Methods for Multiple Owners to Hold Title to Wisconsin Real Estate

Wisconsin law recognizes several ways in which co-owners can hold title to Wisconsin real estate.

Tenancy in Common

The default form of co-ownership of Wisconsin real estate—like most states—is tenancy in common.37 Tenants in common own separate, undivided interests in the property. Each tenant in common owns a fraction of the property’s title—which they can transfer independently during life or by will.38

Tenancy in common has no right of survivorship.39 When a tenant in common dies, the ownership interest becomes part of the estate unless the owner has made other arrangements—such as a TOD designation for the interest.

Joint Tenancy

Wisconsin also recognizes joint tenancy—a joint ownership form that includes a right of survivorship.40 When a joint tenant dies, the deceased owner’s interest automatically vests in the surviving owner—never becoming part of the deceased owner’s probate estate.41 When only one joint tenant remains living, the surviving owner is the sole owner of the real estate. A deed must explicitly declare the intent to create a joint tenancy using words like as joint tenants, as joint owners, or with right of survivorship.42

Survivorship Marital Property

Wisconsin does not authorize co-ownership in tenancy by the entirety—a form of spousal joint ownership with a right of survivorship. In place of tenancy by the entirety, Wisconsin recognizes survivorship marital property as part of the state’s community property system for married couples.

Wisconsin’s community property system deems each spouse as owning a one-half interest in all of the couple’s marital property—which encompasses most assets obtained by either spouse during the marriage other than through gift or inheritance.43 When an asset is survivorship marital property, a surviving spouse automatically receives a deceased spouse’s interest in the asset upon the other spouse’s death—with no need for probate.44

Real estate conveyed to two spouses as tenants in common is considered ordinary marital property.45 Real estate conveyed to two spouses as joint tenants is considered survivorship marital property.46 A Wisconsin homestead co-owned by spouses is survivorship marital property unless the deed through which the spouses took title or a marital property agreement expressly provides otherwise.47

Co-ownership through a Trust

The Wisconsin Trust Code48 allows for effective co-ownership of real estate conveyed to a trust with multiple beneficiaries.49 Co-owners create a trust by executing a trust instrument declaring the trust and naming a trustee and beneficiaries.50 The trust receives the property through a deed to the trust or to the trustee as trustee.51 The trustee—who may also be a beneficiary—manages the real estate for the benefit of the trust’s beneficiaries.52

Spousal Ownership of Real Estate in Wisconsin

Spouses can co-own Wisconsin real estate in tenancy in common, joint tenancy, as marital property, or as survivorship marital property.53 Full title to survivorship marital property automatically vests in a surviving spouse upon the other spouse’s death.54 Spouses can devise their one-half interests in marital property separately by will.

Wisconsin does not recognize dower or curtsey rights between spouses, but Wisconsin’s community property system gives a non-owner spouse an interest in certain real estate owned by the other spouse. If either or both spouses acquire real estate during the marriage, the real estate is considered community property by default. A non-owner spouse has rights in community property real estate even if the property’s title is held only in the other spouse’s name.55

If a spouse separately owns real estate as individual property—such as if the spouse acquired the property before the marriage or if a marital property agreement provides for individual ownership—the owner spouse ordinarily has the right to transfer the property.56 However, a non-owner spouse must consent to a transfer of individually owned real estate that qualifies as a homestead.57 A spouse can indicate consent by either signing the deed or executing a separate deed conveying the property. A homestead is a dwelling used as a home and the surrounding land of between ¼ acre and 40 acres.58

A non-owner surviving spouse can also acquire rights in Wisconsin real estate owned by a deceased spouse through Wisconsin’s spousal elective share. Wisconsin law gives a surviving spouse the right to receive a one-half interest in a deceased spouse’s “augmented deferred marital property estate.”59 The effect of the elective share is that a surviving spouse can claim up to fifty percent of a deceased spouse’s real estate and other assets not qualifying as marital property—even if the deceased spouse’s will says otherwise.60 A spouse can waive the elective share—in whole or in part—either before or during the marriage.61

If a deceased spouse is intestate—that is, does not leave a will—the surviving spouse receives the entire estate—including real estate—unless the deceased spouse leaves children who are not also the children of the surviving spouse.62 If the deceased spouse leaves other children, the surviving spouse inherits half of the deceased spouse’s individual property and half of the deceased’s share of the couple’s marital property.

Wisconsin Deeds to and from Trusts

A deed that conveys real estate owned by a trust must be signed by the trustee.63 Wisconsin law presumes that a trustee has authority to transfer real estate if the deed through which the trust received the property identifies the trustee as a trustee.64

Wisconsin does not require that a deed transferring real estate to a trust identify the trust’s beneficiaries. A deed that conveys real estate to a trustee should adequately disclose the trust’s existence and the trustee’s representative capacity.65 A trustee can—but does not have to—record a certification of trust with the register of deeds of a county in which the trust owns real estate. A certification of trust provides general information about a trust’s existence, the parties to the trust, and the trustee’s powers.66

Wisconsin Deeds from Corporations

Any of a corporation’s officers may sign a Wisconsin deed on behalf of the corporation unless its articles of incorporation or a corporate resolution expressly provide otherwise.67 A corporation’s board may record a resolution specifically authorizing by name or title individuals the board has empowered to sign deeds for the corporation.68 A recorded resolution preempts the general power of officers to sign a deed for a corporation. A corporate seal is not necessary for a corporation to execute a valid deed.69

Wisconsin Deeds from Nonprofit Associations

A nonprofit association executes a Wisconsin deed through a person given authority to act for the association in a recorded statement of authority.70

Wisconsin Deeds from LLCs

Wisconsin LLCs are expressly authorized to own real estate and are the most common entity form for holding investment properties in Wisconsin.71 A member of an LLC executes a deed on behalf of a member-managed LLC.72 A manager executes a deed if an LLC is manager-managed.73

Wisconsin Deeds from Partnerships

A partner has authority to sign a deed on behalf of a general partnership—except that, if partnership property is titled in the name of only one partner, that partner must sign a deed conveying the property.74 A general partner of a limited partnership has authority to sign a deed transferring real estate owned by the limited partnership—unless the certificate of partnership states otherwise.75 A limited partner lacks authority to transfer partnership real estate unless given the authority under a statement of partnership authority.76

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  1. Wis. Stat. §706.01(6).
  2. Wis. Stat. §706.10(5).
  3. See Badger Mining Corp. v. First Am. Title Ins. Co., No. 29-cv-840-wmc (W.D. Wis. 2021).
  4. Wis. Stat. §706.10(5).
  5. See, e.g., Schorsch v. Blader, 563 NW 2d 538 (Wis. App. 1997).
  6. Wis. Stat. §706.10(1) and (5).
  7. See, e.g., Pollnow v. Dept. of Natural Resources, 276 N.W.2d 738 (Wis. 1979).
  8. Wis. Stat. §706.10(4).
  9. Wis. Stat. §706.10(4).
  10. Wis. Stat. §705.15(3).
  11. Wis. Stat. §705.15(2)(b).
  12. See Wis. Stat. §700.02(3).
  13. See Wis. Stat. §860.01.
  14. See Wis. Stat. §860.07.
  15. Wis. Stat. §59.43(1c)(a).
  16. Wis. Stat. §706.25(3)(a) and (b).
  17. Wis. Stat. §706.08(1).
  18. Wis. Stat. §77.22(1).
  19. Wis. Stat. §77.22(2).
  20. Wis. Stat. §77.255.
  21. Wis. Stat. §59.43(2)(ag)(1).
  22. Wis. Stat. §77.22(1).
  23. Wis. Stat. §59.43(1c)(c).
  24. Wis. Stat. §77.25(1 – 21).
  25. Wis. Stat. §77.25(2).
  26. Wis. Stat. §77.25(3).
  27. Wis. Stat. §77.25(4) and (14).
  28. Wis. Stat. §77.25(5).
  29. Wis. Stat. §77.25(6), (6m), (6q), and (6t).
  30. Wis. Stat. §77.25(8), (8m), and (8n).
  31. Wis. Stat. §77.25(7).
  32. Wis. Stat. §77.25(9).
  33. Wis. Stat. §77.25(10m), (11) and (11m).
  34. Wis. Stat. §77.25(13).
  35. Wis. Stat. §77.25(15), (15m), and (15s).
  36. Wis. Stat. §77.25(16).
  37. Wis. Stat. §700.18.
  38. Wis. Stat. §700.17(3).
  39. Wis. Stat. §700.17(3).
  40. Wis. Stat. §700.17(1).
  41. Wis. Stat. §700.17(2).
  42. Wis. Stat. §700.19(1).
  43. Wis. Stat. §766.31(3).
  44. Wis. Stat. §766.60(5)(a).
  45. Wis. Stat. §766.60(4)(b)(1)(b).
  46. Wis. Stat. §766.60(4)(b)(1)(a).
  47. Wis. Stat. §766.605.
  48. Wisconsin Trust Code, Wis. Stat. §§701.0101, et. seq.
  49. See Wis. Stat. §701.0401.
  50. See Wis. Stat. §701.0103(3), (28), and (30).
  51. See Wis. Stat. §701.0710.
  52. See Wis. Stat. §701.0404.
  53. Wis. Stat. §766.60(4)(a).
  54. See Wis. Stat. §766.60(b).
  55. Wis. Stat. §766.31(3).
  56. Wis. Stat. §766.60(3).
  57. Wis. Stat. §706.02(1)(f).
  58. Wis. Stat. §706.01(7).
  59. Wis. Stat. §861.02.
  60. Wis. Stat. §861.03.
  61. Wis. Stat. §861.10.
  62. Wis. Stat. §852.01(1)(a).
  63. See Wis. Stat. §701.0816(2) and (25).
  64. Wis. Stat. §706.08(4).
  65. See Wis. Stat. §706.08(3).
  66. Wis. Stat. §701.1013.
  67. Wis. Stat. §706.03(2).
  68. Wis. Stat. §706.03(3).
  69. Wis. Stat. §706.03(2).
  70. Wis. Stat. §706.03(3m); Wis. Stat. §184.05(1).
  71. Wis. Stat. §183.0701.
  72. Wis. Stat. §183.0301.
  73. Wis. Stat. §183.0702.
  74. Wis. Stat. §178.0301; Wis. Stat. §178.0302(1).
  75. Wis. Stat. § 179.0402; Wis. Stat. §178.0302(1).
  76.  Wis. Stat. § 179.0302; See  Wis. Stat. § 179.04023(1)(c).