Wisconsin offers some probate shortcuts for "small estates." These procedures make it easier for survivors to transfer property left by a person who has died. You may be able to transfer a large amount of property using simplified probate procedures or without any probate court proceedings at all -- by using an affidavit. And that saves time, money, and hassle.
Here are the ways you can skip or speed up probate. (If the affidavit procedure is used, there's no need to use the simplified probate procedure.)
Wisconsin has a procedure that allows inheritors to skip probate altogether when the value of all the assets left behind is less than a certain amount. All an inheritor has to do is prepare a short document, stating that he or she is entitled to a certain asset. This document, signed under oath, is called an affidavit. When the person or institution holding the property -- for example, a bank where the deceased person had an account -- gets the affidavit and a copy of the death certificate, it releases the asset.
The out-of-court affidavit procedure is available in Wisconsin if the deceased person's solely owned property in Wisconsin is worth $50,000 or less. On the affidavit, the inheritor:
If the deceased person received state-provided medical services, the inheritor must give notice of the intent to file the affidavit to the department of health services. The inheritor must attach a copy of this notice to the affidavit. After the inheritor gives the affidavit to a person holding property, there is a 30-day waiting period before that person gives the property to the inheritor. The inheritor takes the property subject to any creditor claims.
Wisconsin has a simplified probate process for small estates. To use it, an inheritor files a written request with the local probate court asking to use the simplified procedure. The court may authorize the inheritor to distribute the assets without having to jump through the hoops of regular probate.
You can use the simplified small estate process in Wisconsin if the value of the estate, less mortgages and encumbrances, is $50,000 or less and the deceased person is survived by a spouse or minor children. This process is also available if the value of the estate, less mortgages and encumbrances, does not exceed costs, expenses, allowances, and claims. Wis. Stat. Ann. § 867.01.
To use this procedure, the inheritor must include the following information in the request:
The inheritor must give notice to the department of health services if the deceased person or his or her spouse received medical services provided by the state. After 30 days from this notice (if required), the court makes an order directing the property to go to those individuals entitled to it, or to the spouse and children if you are using the first option.
For help determining if an estate qualifies for one of these probate shortcuts, or handling an estate in general, see The Executor's Guide, by Mary Randolph (Nolo) or Estate Planning Basics, by Denis Clifford (Nolo).