Many people have never heard of a probate until a parent, or another loved one, passes away. After the death, you may experience difficulty accessing their accounts or transferring an asset such as their home.

Probate is the process of getting authority to access property, pay bills and expenses, and ultimately distribute money and property to the people entitled to it, called “beneficiaries.” A probate may be necessary whether or not the person had a will.

A probate is usually started in the county where the person resided prior to death. The first step is filing documents that ask the court to appoint a “personal representative,” who will be in charge of handling the estate. If there is a will, it typically nominates a personal representative. When there is no will, the personal representative is selected based on Wisconsin statutes, and is usually a close relative such as the spouse or child, or someone entitled to receive property. When that person files documents, the court will review them and determine whether they are entitled to be appointed as a personal representative. The court also reviews the will to determine whether it is valid and can be, “admitted to probate.”

After filing the proper paperwork, there are steps that must be taken such as:

  • Publishing notice of the probate
  • Notifying interested parties such as relatives and creditors
  • Collecting and protecting the estate property
  • Creating an inventory of the estate property
  • Accounting for dollars received and spent by the estate
  • Paying bills and claims
  • Distributing funds to the beneficiaries of the estate
  • Closing the estate

The actual steps will differ for each estate, as will the amount of time to complete the process. Normally a probate will take at least six months. In Wisconsin, a probate should be closed within 12 months, but that time can be extended with permission from the court.

While it is possible to handle a probate without an attorney, the process can be complex. A personal representative will need to transfer and sell assets, keep detailed accountings, deal with creditors and beneficiaries, and provide paperwork and information to keep them informed. Because of that, most personal representatives hire an attorney to guide them through the process.


This article appeared in the May 2022 Hudson Neighbors magazine.