After a loved one passes away, family members are often left with the seemingly daunting task of administering the decedent’s estate. This can be overwhelming for some folks, especially if the decedent did not leave a will prior to death. However, with a bit of legal consultation, administration of a decedent’s estate, also known as probate, does not need to be so difficult. This article is intended to provide family members with a basic understanding of the probate process and hopefully make the experience less stressful for everyone involved.
Opening the Estate
The first step in opening an estate is to actually apply to do so. In this application, the applicant (generally an heir of the decedent) will provide information about the decedent, family members of the decedent, whether or not there was a will, and nominate the Personal Representative. The Personal Representative is charged with administering the estate. This is sometimes referred to as the Executor in other states.
In Wisconsin, most estates are administered either by Informal Administration or Formal Administration. Informal Administration allows the Personal Representative to administer the estate without direct involvement of the court. Formal Administration requires an attorney to be hired and is often the type of administration to choose when the estate is large, if there is a question of the legitimacy of a will, or if any other type of dispute may arise.
Once the Personal Representative is appointed, he or she will be issued Domiciliary Letters, which allows the Personal Representative access to the decedent’s information and assets, such as bank accounts, investments, safe deposit boxes, etc.
Once the estate is opened, the Personal Representative must publish a “Notice to Creditors,” which, as its name suggests, notifies creditors of the administration of the estate. Creditors will have 90 days to file a claim against an estate. If a creditor fails to file a claim in that time period, the debt owed to the creditor is likely never to be paid by the estate.
The compiling of estate assets is the most time-consuming duty of the Personal Representative. The estate assets (and liens on those assets, like a mortgage) are accounted for on the Inventory statement that is filed with the court by the Personal Representative. The assets must be valued at their fair market at the time of the decedent’s death. Generally, if the asset is sold to a third party after the decedent’s death, the selling price is a sufficient value. If the asset is being purchased by an heir of the decedent or is going to be co-owned by beneficiaries, an appraisal of the asset may be necessary to obtain a fair market value.
Once the asset values are all accounted for, the Personal Representative will file the Inventory statement. Upon filing, the estate must pay an Inventory filing fee of .2% of the net value of the estate.
Closing the Estate
After the Inventory has been filed, the Personal Representative must do three things to close the estate. First, the Personal Representative must provide a full accounting of income, expenses, and distributions from the estate. This is done on the Final Accounting statement that will be filed with the Court. Second, the Personal Representative must distribute the estate assets according to the decedent’s will or the laws of intestacy (if the decedent died without a will). To confirm the assets have been appropriately distributed, the Personal Representative must obtain Estate Receipts from the heirs or beneficiaries that received the distributions. Once these are obtained, the Personal Representative files a Statement to Close the Estate, which ends the administration of the decedent’s estate.
Probate administration is a scary thought for many who just lost a loved one. However, with legal counsel who are well-versed in the process, it can be (relatively) quick and painless. If you or someone you know has questions about the administration of a loved one’s estate, do not hesitate to call Russell Law Offices, S.C. at 608-448-3360 to see how we can best serve you.