When someone passes away, their estate must go through an administration process before their assets can be distributed. In Wisconsin, there are multiple types of administration processes, including a formal administration process and an informal administration process. Wis. Stat. Ann. § 865.01. In both instances, the probate court must appoint a fiduciary to manage the process. The fiduciary is called a personal representative. Wis. Stat. Ann. § 851.23. Executor and administrator are other terms that are used to describe the role.
Contrary to what some believe, when someone dies, their debts do not go away. Further, their property cannot be divided up and allocated to family members as they see fit. The primary purpose of estate administration is to pay the debts of the decedent and distribution of the decedent’s property to the appropriate people according to the laws of the state of Wisconsin.
Personal Representative Appointment in Wisconsin
Typically, personal representative is nominated by the decedent in their will. However, if that person is not able or willing to serve, then those eligible to serve also include anyone who has an interest in the case or that person’s nominee. In addition, the court has discretion to appoint the person it sees fit. Wis. Stat. Ann. § 856.21. Whether the personal representative was named by the decedent in their will or not, before they have authority, they must be formally appointed by the court and receive a document called “domiciliary letters.”
Personal Representative Duties and Responsibilities in Wisconsin
Once appointed, the personal representative is responsible for completing the tasks that Wisconsin law requires to close an estate.
Identify property. Upon appointment, the decedent’s property interest becomes the personal representative’s. Wis. Stat. Ann. § 857.01. They must figure out what property is part of the estate and take over possession and management of it. They must also safeguard the property and avoid actions that would cause its value to diminish.
Create list of property. Another job of the personal representative is to create a list of property in the estate and determine what it was worth as of the date of the decedent’s death. When necessary, the law allows the hiring of professional appraisers and paying them a reasonable fee. For example, an appraiser might be required to determine the value of jewelry or collectibles.
The inventory must be filed with the court within 6 months of when the personal representative was appointed. Wis. Stat. Ann. § 858.01. The inventory must also identify the property that is marital property as well as the details of any liens on the property.
Pay estate debts. Payment of estate bills is the responsibility of the personal representative. After the application for administration is filed, the court issues an order setting a date for creditors to file claims against the estate. The date must be between 3 and 4 months from the date of the order. If a claim is not filed by the deadline, it is forever barred. Wis. Stat. Ann. § 859.02.
Pay expenses and taxes. In addition to resolving creditor claims, the personal representative must make sure that permissible expenses of administration are paid as well as state and federal taxes. Wis. Stat. Ann. § 857.05.
Final accounting. After liabilities of the estate are resolved, the personal representative must submit a document called a final accounting. It details money and other assets that left the estate and property that came into the estate. Along with the final account, the personal representative must submit a petition for the court to enter final judgment and authorize asset distribution.
Distribute estate assets. In the final judgment, the court will approve the personal representative’s proposed asset distribution which is based on either the provisions in the decedent’s will or Wisconsin’s law of intestate succession. Wis. Stat. Ann. § 852.01.
Compensation of a Wisconsin Personal Representative
Personal representatives are not required to work for free. They are entitled to reasonable compensation. Under Wis. Stat. Ann. § 857.05., the personal representative is entitled to
- 2% of the net value of estate assets, or
- The rate agreed upon by the personal representative and the decedent, or
- The rate agreed upon by the majority of the heirs