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Common Probate Questions

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What is probate?

Probate is the court proceeding whereby the court formally recognizes the Will, if any, of a deceased person, and the assets are obtained and distributed according to the law. Probate in Wisconsin may either be "formal" or "informal." The difference between the two is the amount of court involvement in the proceeding.

When is the “reading of the will” for family members?

Despite what they show on television, there is generally no formal "reading of the will." A family member or several family members, including the designated Personal Representative or executor, usually bring the Will to an attorney of their choice. The attorney reviews the Will with the family and discusses the known assets of the deceased to determine whether a probate of the estate is necessary. Of course, if the decedent requested a formal reading of the Will or if the family would like one, it may be arranged with your attorney.

Is probate always necessary?

A probate action may not be necessary depending on the dollar amount of the assets the decedent had at the time of death. There are different procedures for estates valued at $10,000 or less, for estates valued between $10,000 and $30,000, and finally for estates valued at over $30,000. If assets are held in joint tenancy or made payable on death, no probate may be necessary. However, in these cases there may still be some legal work to terminate the tenancy or to preserve tax status. These considerations should be discussed with an attorney.

When can I start paying the bills?

The bills are normally not paid until a Personal Representative (formerly known as "executor") has been officially appointed by the court. This process can take anywhere from a couple of days to several weeks depending on the number of beneficiaries and the ease of getting in touch with all of them. An important thing to remember is that a Power of Attorney terminates at the time of death. If a person was acting in that capacity for someone who then dies, the authority of the Power of Attorney document lapses. Therefore, no one may act until a Personal Representative is appointed by the court. There are things that can be done informally, however. We can discuss your options at the first meeting with the attorney.

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Who should come and what should we bring to the first appointment with the attorney?

The spouse of the decedent and the designated Personal Representative should come to the first appointment, if possible. Generally, any immediate family member who would like to come is also invited. The family should come with a death certificate, if available, and the names and addresses of all of the people named in the will. If at all possible, financial information should be brought to the first appointment. The information most helpful would be the names of any institutions holding assets. If there is real estate, the abstract or title policy and the most recent property tax bill should also be brought to the meeting. If this information is not readily accessible to the person attending the appointment, it would be helpful to bring the deceased person's latest income tax return. Information on insurance policies, pension plans, and other assets should also be taken to the first appointment. Of course, in many situations these documents may simply not be available at the outset. In those cases, we will collect them as they become available.

How long does it take to settle an estate?

Some important dates in estate proceedings:

Click here for helpful links to web sites about the probate process.

Any information presented on this web site is not legal advice nor does its viewing constitute the formation of an attorney-client relationship.