Guiding an estate through probate requires a wide range of talents. An administrator -- called an executor or personal representative in Wisconsin -- must be detail-oriented and good at budgeting. The job involves taking an oath of office, and that's only the beginning. After swearing in, an administrator's responsibilities begin, and Wisconsin law requires that an administrator complete them within 18 months.
Opening the Estate
Wisconsin offers two types of probate procedures: formal and informal. Informal probate doesn't require court supervision and is usually less expensive. However, it's not appropriate if the administrator has reason to believe that an heir or beneficiary might contest the will. As the administrator, you're responsible for securing the written agreement of all interested parties if you elect to open an informal proceeding. You have 30 days to decide which form of probate is appropriate and to get the agreements, if necessary.
Taking Care of the Family
Wisconsin law includes special provisions for surviving spouses and minor children. As administrator, you're responsible for making sure these family members have money to live on during the probate process. You must apply to the court to authorize a year's living allowance for the deceased's immediate family.
An administrator is responsible for safeguarding all the estate's assets. This involves identifying them and making sure that insurance is kept current on any assets of significant value. You have six months to file an inventory of the assets with the court. Assets can include money owed to the decedent, and you're responsible for collecting anything that's due.
Dealing With Debts
Dealing with a decedent's debts is one of the more complicated responsibilities of settling an estate. Wisconsin requires that you send official notice to creditors, as well as post notice in the newspaper in case there are any you can't identify. The creditors then have three months to file claims for payment, and you're responsible for satisfying these claims from the estate's funds. If there isn't enough cash, you might have to sell assets to raise the money. You're also responsible for filing a final income tax return for the decedent and for filing and paying any estate taxes that might be due.
Your final responsibility is to close the estate. This involves filing a final accounting with the court and making bequests according to the terms of the decedent's will. You must also file a receipt stating that everyone received their bequests, and a statement to officially close the estate.