If you are here to learn about Illinois or Wisconsin probate after the passing of a loved one, we first want to say that we are very sorry for your loss. We hope that the information you find on this page will simplify any legal and administrative headaches you might otherwise face during such a difficult time.

stressed man with hands on face at desk covered in papers

With that said, probate in Illinois and Wisconsin is a court-supervised procedure that helps to ensure the legal transfer of assets from the deceased to the rightful heirs or beneficiaries. Probate in Lake, Cook, Milwaukee, or Kenosha Counties is also necessary to:

  • Prove the validity of the will;
  • Appoint someone to manage the estate (The “administrator” if there is no will or the “executor” if there is one);
  • Inventory and appraise the estate property;
  • Pay any debts or taxes (including estate taxes); and
  • Distribute the property as direct by the will—or by the state law if there is no will

In Illinois, if someone has $100,000 in assets, not including real estate property, they will probably have to have their assets probated. There are many other reasons why probate may be required, such as an ownership of the real estate or potential dispute over the inheritance.

What’s so bad about probate in Illinois and what should I do next?
Many residents in Illinois and Wisconsin have heard that probate is bad news. It tends to be very expensive, it’s time-consuming, and it’s also a public process.

The easiest way to avoid the probate process is to plan; but if you are now in a situation where you must go through probate courts to finalize the estate of a loved one, the best thing you can do is get educated and get help to complete the process as quickly, and cost-effectively, as possible.

How is a Probate Started in Illinois or Wisconsin?
Although any beneficiary or creditor can initiate probate, normally the person named in the will as the Executor or appointed by the court starts the process by filing the original will with the court and filing a Petition with the probate court. If there is no will, typically a close relative of the decedent who expects to inherit from the estate will file the Petition.

gavelHow is the Executor Chosen?
If the decedent had a will, the person named in the will as the Executor will serve, if eligible. If that person is unable or unwilling to serve as Executor, or if there is no Will, then any interested family member or person can petition the Court to be the administrator of the Estate.

How does the Executor Get Paid?
Illinois and Wisconsin probate law provides that the Executor gets paid according to a compensation schedule, based on a percentage of the assets of the probate estate.

Could I Be Held Personally Liable For Making a Mistake as an Executor?
Being an Executor is a big responsibility. Both Illinois and Wisconsin’s probate codes contain pages upon pages of complex legal rules and procedures that an Executor must follow during the probate. Also, there are certain deadlines that an Executor must meet in filing papers with the Court. If an Executor violates any of these rules, they can be held personally liable for losses to the estate.

My loved one had a Trust… Will we need to go through probate?
If the Trust is properly funded, then, no. If your loved one’s assets are owned in the name of a Trust, the family can contact a lawyer who will complete some paperwork and guide the loved ones through the process with ease without the need for court involvement.

Unfortunately, many people who have a Trust think they have it all taken care of. But time and again, family members’ of a recently passed loved one come into my office and they find out they are facing the frustration, expense and delay of a probate, even though the person they loved had a trust.

Why don’t some trusts work?
Often the Trust was prepared many years ago and was never updated; and often, their loved ones’ assets were not owned in the name of their Trust. That is why it is so very important that you carefully choose your estate planning attorney and have regular reviews of your plan and assets so the planning you do now works as planned later.

It’s why we do things so much differently than most other lawyers and law firms, here at Lexern Law Group.

What Assets are Subject to Probate?
Assets owned solely in the name of the deceased person are subject to probate. Assets that pass by means of title, such as real estate titled as “Joint Tenants with Right of Survivorship,” or bank accounts titled as “Transfer On Death” are not subject to the probate process. Assets that pass by means of a beneficiary designation, such as life insurance or some retirement accounts, are also not subject to probate. In some situations, however, assets that would otherwise pass by title or beneficiary designation can be subject to the probate process. Talk to an attorney if you have questions about your specific situation.

How is Distribution of the Estate Handled if there is no Will?
If there is no will or trust, the estate will be distributed according to Illinois or Wisconsin probate and intestate laws, which state that a person’s estate will be distributed in the following order: 1. Spouse 2. Children 3. Parents (if you have no children) 4. Siblings (if you have no children or parents), etc.

Getting Help: Choosing The Right Attorney For Your Probate Case

The best way to ensure your probate is done right is to choose your attorney wisely. Do not assume that all attorneys are the same! Too many lawyers only “dabble” in probate or trusts. Don’t choose a lawyer who does probate as a sideline because these lawyers often blunder causing real problems for their client and their cases often take longer than those handled by experienced probate lawyers.

You don’t have to use the attorney who prepared the Will either! Just because a particular attorney prepared the Will, this does not mean that attorney must handle the probate, nor are they necessarily the right person for the job. You need to be comfortable with the attorney and confident that they are the right attorney for you. Choosing your probate or trust lawyer is one of the most important decisions you will make. If you put in the time and effort to find the right lawyer, you will be rewarded with a skillful guide who will help you navigate the probate process.

Contact Lexern Law Group for a complimentary post-death estate or probate review.