How To Wednesday. What to do when someone dies. Probate.

That word.  “Probate.”  It scares so many people.  It brings thoughts of back corner offices in the Courthouse where staff sift through a person’s Will to see who is getting what.  Add that other scary term, “death tax” and it’s enough to make a family bury their head in the sand like an ostrich.  Unfortunately, burying your head is the worst thing you can do.

I don’t have the time to tell you all the details of the probate process and what to expect when your loved one dies. You wouldn’t want to read about it anyway – for the most part it is boring forms and paperwork.  But I do advise that every family consult with an attorney when someone dies.  Probate for your loved one may be complicated, especially if there were extensive debts and family disputes.  But for the majority of people, probate can be, and is, a fairly painless process.

The Wisconsin Probate System Handbook (published by the Wisconsin Bar Association) describes the process,

“Probate proceedings are held in a court with the jurisdiction to determine the rights in a decedent’s property. Probate usually involves the following three stages: (1) inventory and collection of assets owned by or owed to the decedent; (2) payment of the decedent’s debts and taxes and the costs of estate administration from the decedent’s assets; and (3) distribution of the balance of the decedent’s property in accordance with the decedent’s will or, if there is no will, in accordance with the statutes of intestate succession.”

In some situations the court process may not even be needed.  If the deceased person had a total net worth (assets minus debts) of less than $50,000.00 the process can be completed very simply with minimal paperwork.

There generally are three types of probate, Formal, Informal and Summary Proceedings.  Formal probate requires a personal representative and lots of court supervision.  Informal Probate also requires a personal representative, but has less court supervision. Summary Proceedings do not require a personal representative and assets are usually assigned or transferred without court supervision.

Regardless of whether your loved one died with extensive or minimal assets, it is worth your time to consult with an attorney to find out what obligations you might have to start a probate, how to remove the deceased’s name from property, and how to appropriately pay debts and distribute things to survivors.

I have extensive experience in handling probates ranging from a value of “bankrupt” to multi-millions of dollars.  I have handled contested probates where family members are fighting over assets and peaceful ones where the process goes very smoothly.  If you have a question about probate or what might need to be done after someone has died, contact me.  I am happy to answer questions and provide help.

Johanna R Kirk – Kirk Law Office, L.L.C.  1418 Tower Ave. Suite #6; Superior, WI 54880