Probate is the legal procedure used to transfer someone’s assets after their death. Any Wisconsin estate that is valued in excess of $50,000 must go through the probate administration process unless the property is subject to certain exemptions. For example, assets placed in a revocable living trust or life insurance proceeds are not subject to probate. Whether or not probate is required, any written will left by a deceased person must be filed with the county’s Register in Probate within 30 days.
A personal representative (sometimes known as an “executor”) is someone designated to administer the assets of a deceased person’s estate. Oftentimes, a personal representative is nominated in a decedent’s will. Still, a personal representative cannot begin the execution of his or her duties until appointed by a court. The responsibilities of a personal representative include creating an inventory of the decedent’s assets, paying any outstanding debts, managing the property included in the estate, paying taxes and administrative costs, and distributing the deceased person’s property in accordance with the law.
There are two primary types of probate in Wisconsin, informal and formal. Which process is used will depend upon a number of factors. Informal probate is the administration of a deceased person’s estate without continuous court supervision. Instead, informal probate is supervised by a Probate Registrar. Although consulting a Wisconsin probate attorney is usually wise, doing so is not required by law for informal probate administration. Informal administration is the most commonly used form of probate in Wisconsin.
Formal probate administration is supervised by a judge. Formal probate is required in a number of instances and Wisconsin statutes require the estate’s personal representative to procure the assistance of an attorney. A deceased person’s estate must be administered using formal probate where a will requires it, if the individual who is nominated to serve as a personal representative in the will declines, and where a decedent died intestate and all interested parties do not consent in writing to informal administration. Additionally, formal administration will be required where an interested party demands it.
All Wisconsin estates must be settled as quickly as is reasonably possible. Even so, it is impossible to settle a probate case in less than 4 months, and 6 months is usually a bare minimum. As a benchmark, all probate matters in the state should normally be closed within one year of commencing. That said, it is very common for estates to take longer than this to be completed, especially where real estate must be sold, the decedent had a legal claim against another when they died, or business interests are involved.
Each individual county also has the discretion to require speedier completion of probate administration. The legal requirements regarding probate administration are discussed in Chapters 851-882 of the Wisconsin Statutes. For assistance with probate matters, it is a good idea to consult with a knowledgeable Wisconsin estate planning lawyer early on in the process.