Do I Need to Go to Court to Get a Debt Repaid From a Family Member’s Estate?

Probate administration is the legal process of distributing a deceased Wisconsin resident’s property in accordance with the terms of his or her will, or if there is no will, under the state’s intestacy laws. Probate is also when anyone to whom the deceased owed money can present claims for payment. This includes health care providers, credit card companies, and even family members of the deceased.

Court Dismisses Son’s “Frivolous” Lawsuits Against Mother’s Estat

Under Wisconsin law, a creditor may demand “formal proceedings” in probate court to resolve any disputed claim against the estate. Probate court is the proper place to resolve such issues. In other words, a family member or other creditor should not initiate civil litigation outside of the probate administration process.

Some people do not quite understand this simple concept. For example, a Wisconsin appeals court recently held a man who had filed multiple civil lawsuits against his mother’s estate was barred from bringing any further actions unless he complies with the probate rules. The deceased passed away nearly four years ago. She died leaving a last will and testament, which was filed with the probate court in Milwaukee.

The will named the decedent’s daughter as personal representative of the estate. The decedent’s son subsequently brought three separate lawsuits against his sister, all in small claims court. These claims apparently related to money the estate allegedly owed him for taking care of his mother’s property, making repairs, paying the taxes and overdue utility bills, et cetera.

Now, it is not unusual for an estate to pay expenses related to the maintenance of a decedent’s property. Indeed, the estate is generally obligated to pay such bills. Again, the problem was that the son tried to collect this money in small claims court rather than demanding a formal probate proceeding. The son appears to have represented himself without an attorney in all of these small claims cases, which may explain his failure to follow proper procedures.

Unfortunately for him, Wisconsin courts do not forgive self-represented litigants who are ignorant of the law. In this most recent case, in which the son demanded payment of over $9,800 in small claims court, the judge ruled that the case was “filed in bad faith” and “frivolous.” The Court of Appeals agreed, noting that the son did not even bother to file a proper brief explaining why the trial court’s ruling was incorrect.

Contact a Madison Trust and Estate Lawyer Today

Many people feel they do not need to work with an attorney when it comes to dealing with a parent or family member’s estate. They assume they can just handle any disputes among themselves. Probate is a legal process that requires a certain degree of court supervision, so it is in everyone’s interest to work with a lawyer who can help ensure that things go as smoothly as possible.

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.

Contact our office by calling (608) 292-5185 to schedule a consultation or use our online contact form.

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