Probate Frequently Asked Questions

 What is Probate?

Probate is the process that transfers a decedent’s property to persons entitled to receive it, pays

creditor’s claims, and pays any State or Federal taxes.


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 Do I need an attorney to go through Probate?

The personal representative must be represented by an attorney if a formal probate is filed. You may

use an attorney, as needed, at any time during informal probate. 

The Deputy Register in Probate can ANSWER questions on preparation of forms
but CANNOT give legal advice.


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 What is Informal Probate?

Informal probate is the administration of the decedent’s estate, intestate (without a will) or testate

(with a will), without the exercise of continued supervision by the Court. Informal administration

proceedings are Circuit Court proceedings under probate jurisdiction and administered by the

Probate Registrar.


Informal Probate may be used if there is $50,000 or more of assets, and the Will does not prohibit

its use. An attorney is not required but may be used. All parties must agree to use this procedure,

and any party at any time may petition the court for Formal Administration (an attorney must be hired

and all hearings are then held in front of the Circuit Court Judge). 


An Inventory must be completed and a notice is published in the newspaper. There may be final

and fiduciary tax returns to complete. You will be required to file a closing certificate for fiduciaries

from the Department of Revenue. You are encouraged to utilize the services of a competent tax

preparer, accountant, or an attorney to help you with this aspect of the estate.


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 I have an original WILL of a relative who just passed away. There are no assets that

require probate. What do I do with the original WILL?

If you have the original WILL of the deceased person, by state law, you must file it with the Register in

Probate within thirty (30) days of the date of death even if no actual probate process is required.


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 I had Power of Attorney for my loved one who just passed away. Can I still manage

his/her affairs?

No, your power to act ends with the principal’s death.


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 What if there is no WILL? What happens then?

If the decedent did not leave a WILL and probate is required, the rules of Intestate Succession

apply. See Chapter 852 of the Wisconsin Statutes.


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 I have a relative who died owning less than $50,000 in solely owned property; do I need to file anything?

If there is a WILL, State law requires that it be filed. Wisconsin Statutes allows for the transfer of a

small estate to an heir of a decedent, or to the decedent’s guardian, without the necessity of

going through a probate proceeding. When a decedent leaves solely owned property with a total

value of $50,000 or less, the State form, PR-1831, Transfer of Affidavit ($50,000 and Under) can

be used. This form is available online at The Transfer by Affidavit is not filed or

processed by the Register in Probate Office. It is a form completed by an heir, guardian or trustee

which is presented to the institution or other entity holding an asset of the deceased.


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 Transfer of Real Estate to Spouse, Co-Owner

As an alternative to court proceedings, where a decedent leaves real property in joint tenancy with

another person, a surviving joint owner may remove the deceased’s name from the title to real

estate by applying to the Register of Deeds of the county in which the property is located.

Milwaukee County Register of Deeds’ phone number is (414) 278-4021. The website address is: The form (HT-110)
and instructionscan be downloaded from the following website: Probate Office does not provide these forms.
 Who are the heirs?

The heirs are the “closest living relatives” of a person defined by Wisconsin Statutes. Heirs are

entitled to notice of probate proceedings and will inherit all of the decedent’s assets if he/she

did not leave a WILL.

  • Spouse, or Spouse and children not of the current marriage (if any)
  • Children (and descendants of any child who is deceased)
  • Grandchildren (and descendants of a deceased grandchild)
  • Parents
  • Siblings (and descendants of siblings who are deceased)
  • Nieces and nephews (and descendants of those who are deceased)

If none of the above are living, refer to the Chapter 852 for further distribution.


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 How do I obtain Domiciliary Letters?

Domiciliary Letters are issued by the Probate Court either upon the filing of all required documents

with the Deputy Probate Registrar for an informal proceeding, or after a hearing before the Circuit

Court Judge or Probate Court Commissioner in a formal probate proceeding. 

The Domiciliary Letters show that the Probate Court has given the authority to the named Personal
Representative to act on behalf of the estate of the decedent and to perform all duties required to
administer the estate according to Statute. 

Even though you may have been nominated in a decedent’s Will as Personal Representative, you

do not have the authority to act until Domiciliary Letters have been granted to you by the Probate




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 Is there a difference between being named a personal representative or an executor?

There is no difference. These two terms refer to the person to whom letters to administer a

decedent’s estate have been granted by the Court or by the Probate Registrar.


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 What are the Personal Representative’s responsibilities and are they paid for doing this job?

Serving as a personal representative is a very important job. You will be required to take an oath

that you will uphold the law and you may be required to post a bond to protect the assets in the

estate. You must keep all interested parties informed of the status of the estate proceedings and

complete the estate within statutory time limits.

A personal representative is acting in place of the decedent. You are expected to handle the
assets of the decedent just as any prudent person would handle their own assets. 
Duties include:

- Taking possession of all the decedent’s assets and filing an inventory including the date

  of death values of all assets you have in your control

- Opening a checking account so that accurate records of income and expenses can be kept

  giving notice to creditors and may give notice to interested persons by publication in the


- Converting assets to cash, selling real estate, running a business, insuring and keeping

  property in good repair

- Collecting income due to the decedent like interest, dividends, rent

- Paying bills, settle proper claims or object to claims that are not appropriate

- Completion of any final and fiduciary tax returns

- Distributing assets according to the WILL and/or statutes and secure receipts from those

  receiving assets

- Filing a personal representative’s statement to close estate


The personal representative is allowed all necessary expenses in the care, management, and
settlement of the estate. The amount of the fee is determined by the probate court, based on
statutory guidelines. If the estate requires extraordinary services or is unusually difficult, the
court may allow a greater fee. If a personal representative is derelict in his/her duty, his/her
compensation for services may be reduced or denied.
For additional information see,


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 How do I file a claim?

Complete the form, PR-1819, Claim Against Estate (available online at ).

  • File the completed form with the Register in Probate Office together with the $3 statutory filing fee. The claim will not be filed if the $3 fee does not accompany the claim. 
  • Send a copy of the claim to the Personal Representative and the estate attorney, if any. 
  • There is a time limit for filing a claim based on when the probate action was started. You can review the court record on the Wisconsin Court System website at to find out the claims deadline for a particular case.

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 Who do I contact with questions regarding estate fiduciaries?

For answers to questions like:

  1. What Wisconsin tax returns are required for a deceased taxpayer?
  2. Where do I file the estate’s Wisconsin tax returns?
  3. What are the deadlines for filing the estate’s Wisconsin returns?
  4. What extensions are available if I can’t file the estate’s Wisconsin returns by the due date?
  5. How do I get a Closing Certificate for Fiduciaries?
  6. Do I have to report my inheritance on my income tax return?
and to gain other helpful information regarding estate fiduciaries visit the Wisconsin Department of Revenue’s website at:

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 How do I transfer a vehicle?

The State Department of Motor Vehicles has forms to use to transfer a vehicle. Check their website at: for more information about their office hours and locations and how to transfer a title to:

an heir: 
a surviving spouse:


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 Who do I contact with questions regarding Federal Tax matters?

For answers to questions pertaining to Federal Tax matters, visit the IRS website at: - or – call 1-800-829-3676.


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