4 Things You Need to Know About Probate

Close up of "probate" typography with $100 bills around

When your loved one passes on, their estate will need to go through a process referred to as probate. Probate is the method used by the courts to administer an estate and ensure the decedent’s property is adequately managed and allocated to the correct beneficiaries.

What to Know About Probate

Here are four things you should know about the probate process:

#1 - There are four main players during the probate process.

  1. The executor or personal representative
    1. This person assists in the administration of the estate. They must facilitate asset distribution according to the will and they must also settle up with any existing creditors.
  2. The beneficiaries
    1. These people will inherit the assets. Relatives who aren’t named in the will but may be able to claim certain assets can also make an appearance.
  3. The creditors
    1. They might be made aware of the probate proceedings and could have the right to collect debts owed by the estate.
  4. A judge
    1. This official conducts the probate proceedings.

#2 - The probate process requires you to take several steps.

When your loved one passes away, the first thing you’ll need to do is gather the relevant documents, including the last will and testament (if one is available) to present to the probate court. You may also need to obtain a death certificate.

Then, you’ll apply to begin a probate proceeding with the court. Once the will has been authenticated, the executor or administrator will be named and probate will continue. Once the executor is named, he or she must also do the following:

  • Gather assets
    • The executor must gather and value the decedent’s assets, including:
      • Property
      • Investment accounts
      • Retirement assets
      • All other valuable items
  • Alert creditors
    • As probate proceedings move forward, the executor will need to notify creditors to come and collect anything that the estate owes. Creditors can include:
      • Credit card companies
      • Contractors
      • Mortgage holders
      • Funeral home director (who must be compensated for the memorial service)
    • It’s also a good idea to publish the death in a local newspaper.
  • Distribute the remaining estate
    • Once all assets have been gathered and valued and all debts have been relieved, then the executor may start the process of distributing the rest of the estate to the heirs.
  • File the decedent’s final taxes
    • You have nine months from the date of your loved one’s death to finish the tax return and submit any payments.

#3 - Probate can be a lengthy process.

Probate proceedings can take anywhere from many months to several years. The particular length of time will ultimately come down to how complex disbursing the estate is.

#4 - Probate isn’t free, but the money won’t come out of your pocket.

Any fees that arise as a result of probate will be paid by the estate, which means you won’t have to spend any of your own money to go through it. Some of the fees the estate must pay include:

  • Executor compensation
    • The will’s executor can collect fees for conducting the work necessary to carry out his or her tasks. In Wisconsin, the executor may collect 2% of the net value of the estate assets or a rate may be agreed upon with the decent or the majority interest of the heirs.
  • Court fees
    • In Wisconsin, if the estate is valued higher than $10,000, the court will charge a 0.2% fee.
    • If the estate is valued at less than $10,000, the filing fee is $20.
  • Probate bond
    • This provides a safety net if a mistake or bad actions are taken during the administration of the will. Once the probate proceedings are completed, the bond may be refunded, less any nonrefundable fees.
  • Other costs
    • Certain fees may also be paid by the estate, including:
      • Litigation fees
      • Tax preparation fees
      • Property selling fees

If you lost a loved one and you need help with the probate process, our team is here to help. We have helped many others in similar situations, and we may be able to help you, too.

Contact our estate planning attorneys today at (608) 344-5491 to schedule a case review. We are proud to serve Madison and Oregon, WI, and surrounding areas.

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