Probate is a process whereby the government assures that a deceased person’s assets are distributed to his or her heirs or beneficiaries following payment of just debts. The term heirs refers to those persons who would inherit assets without a will (spouses, children, parents, siblings, etc.). The term beneficiary refers to a person or entity legally entitled to the deceased’s assets; a friend who’s designated in a will to receive assets is a beneficiary but is not an heir.
In Wisconsin, there are two main types of probate: formal or informal. Formal probate proceeds under the supervision of a Circuit Court, and informal probate is administered through the Register in Probate in each county.
If a person dies with assets less than $50,000 in value, a small estate affidavit can be used instead of the probate process. The $50,000 is cumulative and “TOD”, “POD”, joint accounts, and trust assets are not included. It is important to note that there is no reduction for a mortgage in determining the $50,000 value. For example, if John Doe dies with no assets except a home valued at $175,000 (with a $125,000 mortgage), a probate procedure will be necessary even though the net value of Doe’s assets is actually $50,000.
In Wisconsin, informal probate administration is designed so that non-attorneys are able to independently process and complete all administration of the probate. The forms are online at: (https://www.wicourts.gov/forms1/circuit/ccform.jsp?FormName=&FormNumber=&beg_date=&end_date=&StatuteCite=&Category=26&SubCat=All). In addition, the Register in Probate is able to assist applicants if help is requested.
At Malm & LaFave, S.C., we offer a broad spectrum of services to assist clients with whatever is needed for the probate process. These services and support can range from the law firm handling all of the probate paperwork with very little client involvement to minimal assistance only as requested if the client wishes to independently handle the probate process.