Wisconsin is one of the few states that offer an informal probate process that does not require the estate meet certain size requirements to use this process. For example, Maryland requires that the estate be worth less than $20,000 to take advantage of its small estate simplified probate process. Probate is the process where a person’s assets get distributed after they die. It can be a costly and time consuming process, which is why many people look to simplified procedures such as Wisconsin’s informal probate process.
When a person drafts a Last Will and Testament (will), the law will refer to that person as a “testator.” A testator, usually with the assistance of an attorney, drafts and executes a will with specific instructions on who the testator wants particular assets to go to. In the will, the testator appoints a personal representative who, upon the testator’s death, has the responsibility to file the will for probate in a Wisconsin probate court and distribute the assets in the manner in which the will instructs.
When someone who has assets dies without having executed a legally valid will, that person dies “intestate.” For a Wisconsin resident who dies intestate, Wisconsin laws for intestacy govern how that person’s assets get distributed. The Wisconsin Probate Code, Chapter 852 has specific formulas that dictate which of the decedent’s heirs get property and how much of the estate each gets. The basic gist of intestacy is that the spouse (if married) and children get property. If the decedent had no spouse or children, then intestacy laws go on down the line to parents, siblings, grandparents and so on.
When a will goes to probate in Wisconsin, a personal representative bears the responsibility of administering the estate. For testate, the testator usually appoints a personal representative in the will and that person serves in probate court. For intestate succession, the court appoints a personal representative. The personal representative must identify and take inventory of the assets in the estate, pay any and all debts the estate owes, distribute assets to any spouse and/or children pursuant to Wisconsin law and transfer assets according to the instructions in the will.
In Wisconsin, there is a special process for “informal probate.” Instead of going to a probate court where the probate judge supervises the process, informal probate goes through county register in the county in which the decedent resided. Informal probate can be done mostly through mail and with limited court appearances. However, where any dispute arises in the administration of the estate, the parties must transfer the matter to probate court where only a probate judge has the power to adjudicate such disputes.