5 Questions to Ask a Probate Attorney

Gavel with last will and testament

A probate attorney is not someone you usually have on speed dial — they are instead usually needed after a loved one passes away and their assets need to go through probate court. While probate can usually be avoided with a revocable living trust, it may be too late for others to get their affairs in order. A probate attorney can also assist you in the post-death administration of a loved one’s estate even if it does not need to be administered through the probate court.

Before hiring a probate attorney, make sure they can confidently answer these five questions.

1. What is the Probate Process in Wisconsin?

In Wisconsin, any estate that is worth more than $50,000 must go through probate unless the property qualifies under certain exemptions. Those exemptions could include property that is titled in the name of a Trust, jointly owned with rights of survivorship or has a payable on death designation.

If a personal representative has been nominated by the decedent in their Last Will and Testament, then that person will typically act as the executor during the probate process. The probate process can be informal if heirs agree to the distribution of assets otherwise a formal probate process will occur.

Learn more about Wisconsin’s probate process here.

2. How Are Debts Handled Through Probate?

Debts can actually begin being sorted out before the probate process begins. For heirs, it’s important to organize debts into two categories — liabilities that need to be continued through probate and liabilities that can be paid off after probate. Liabilities that need to be paid throughout the probate process include administrative expenses such as a mortgage, utility bills, and property taxes. Liabilities that can be paid off after probate include any of the decedent’s final bills such as for a credit card or cell phone, personal loans, and income taxes.

3. How Long is the Probate Process?

This is usually one of the most frequently asked questions by those going through the probate process. Unfortunately, there is not a one fits all answer to the question.

The probate process usually takes a minimum of six months to go through the courts. Prior to their passing, individuals can help the probate process go faster for their heirs by making sure all their assets are up-to-date, titled assets that qualify are designated, they have a transfer-on-death deed, or enhanced life estate deed that is not valid until after death. However, as mentioned before, if all assets are put into a revocable living trust, the probate process can be typically avoided altogether.

While the goal for most is to get through the probate process as seamlessly as possible, that will not work if heirs argue over property or the estate is large. That’s why it’s essential for individuals and couples to have proper estate planning done before someone passes.

4. Do I Really Need An Attorney For Probate?

In Wisconsin, you do not need an attorney to go through the probate process. However, the process is complicated and can be full of pitfalls where someone could get in legal trouble if it is not done properly. The probate process is much more than just splitting up assets. The probate process also includes:

  • Proper documentation on required court forms;
  • Reporting to the court on taking inventory and accounting of all expenses and income;
  • Giving proper notification to all parties involved;
  • Proper tax planning and preparation; and,
  • Negotiating with creditors, paying them, and getting court receipts from each.

Having an experienced probate attorney will make administering the estate through the probate court as painless as possible. The attorney can specifically tell you what the probate court will need and prepare the necessary paperwork so you can focus on yourself and your family during this difficult time.

5. How Long Have You Been Practicing in Probate?

Experience matters. You need an attorney who has been actively administering estates and knows the specific requirements of the probate court systems. Too, while many law offices say they “practice” probate, having an attorney who specifically focuses on this area of law will give you and your loved ones the peace of mind you need during an otherwise stressful time. For more than 20 years, Dan Krause has focused on proper estate planning, elder law, and probate.

The legal team is also important in the probate process. Paralegal Jennie Gagner has been the key to the friendly, smooth, and efficient handling of estates for more than 30 years, longer than most law offices have been in business. While the attorney is the “lead” on your case, most work is done by a paralegal. At Krause Estate Planning & Elder Law Center, our team has the resources and experience to help.

For all your probate needs, look no further than Krause Estate Planning. Our experienced team can help you whether you’re in Madison, Milwaukee, Oregon, Middleton, Verona, Waunakee, Sun Prairie, Janesville, or anywhere in Wisconsin. Contact our office today for a consultation — (608) 344-5491.

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