Tuesday, June 30, 2009

What is probate?

In Wisconsin, a probate is a legal action designed to find, collect, and distribute the assets of a person who has passed away. What sounds like a simple goal, can be anything but simple. To make sure no assets or debts of the person who has passed away are forgotten, there are numerous procedures and forms that must be completed as part of a probate.

Many of our largest assets are typically not subject to probate. For example, a retirement account with another person designated as a beneficiary is not part of a probate. The same is true of life insurance policies, transfer on death deeds ("TOD" deeds), and bank accounts with designated beneficiaries.

So what assets do end up in a probate? Lots of things. Clothes, furniture, jewelry, vehicles (titled only in the name of the decedent), houses (titled only in the name of the decedent), cash accounts (without a designated beneficiary), etc. There is a clear-cut, right or wrong answer for whether an asset belongs in a probate or not. I remember contacting a local attorney, before I became one myself, and to ask what happens with one of my grandmother's assets when she passed. The attorney called me back twenty minutes later with the answer and didn't charge me for his time.

Keep in mind, whole books, actually multiple volume books, have been written about the ins and outs of probate. A lot of attorneys don't even do probate because of the complexity. So, if you are thinking about how to handle a loved one's estate or are concerned about your own estate, contact an attorney.

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