Many Wisconsin residents are appointed to serve as the personal representative for a family member’s estate without fully understanding the duties and responsibilities of the position. Handling an estate is not necessarily difficult, but it does require a certain attention to detail and the ability to meet specific legal deadlines.
The Basics of Administering a Wisconsin Estate
The first duty of a personal representative, according to Wisconsin law, is to “collect, inventory and possess all the decedent’s estate.” In other words, you need to identify any property that belonged to your deceased relative that is subject to probate. Not all property belongs in a probate estate. For example, if the decedent jointly owned a home with a spouse, the surviving spouse would automatically assume full ownership of the property.
Let us say the decedent was single and owned a home outright. The personal representative must then assume responsibility for maintaining the house and paying any ongoing expenses, such as property taxes, from the estate’s funds. For that matter, the personal representative also needs to open an estate checking account to pay such expenses. This in turn normally requires closing the decedent’s checking or savings accounts and transferring the proceeds into the estate’s account. In some cases, it may be necessary to sell some of the decedent’s property to ensure the estate is “liquid” enough to pay its expenses.
These expenses include creditor claims. A person’s debts do not necessarily die with him or her. If the decedent had an outstanding credit card bill, for instance, the lender may file a claim with the personal representative for repayment. Wisconsin law actually establishes a “priority” order to pay claims–and credit card bills are actually at the bottom of that list–but the personal representative is still responsible for prioritizing and paying as many claims as the estate’s funds will allow.
After the personal representative has gathered and inventoried the estate and paid any expenses or claims, the time will come to close the estate. This basically involves filing some paperwork with the probate court, distributing any remaining assets according to the terms of the decedent’s will, and closing the estate’s checking account. The actual timeline for closing an estate will depend on a number of factors, including the amount of property involved and the number and complexity of any outstanding claims.
Get Help from a Wisconsin Probate and Estate Planning Attorney
The estate lawyers of Estate Law Partners, LLC practice law in the areas of Probate, Wills, Estate Planning, and Trusts. We assist clients in and around Madison, Wisconsin with all matters related to estate planning, trusts, and probate matters. Our dedicated attorneys will even make house calls if you are unable to come to our office.
To attend a free estate planning workshop or to receive our client planner to assess your estate planning mindset, contact our office by calling (608) 292-5185 or use our online contact form.