Estate Planning 101

How Long Does an Executor Have to Settle an Estate in Wisconsin

In this article, we'll look at how long an Executor has to settle an estate in Wisconsin. We'll look at the milestones and due dates, as well as factors that impact timelines and how to know when an estate is officially 'settled'.)
October 6, 2023

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The process of settling an estate, also known as probate, can often be a complex and time-consuming affair. In Wisconsin, it involves several steps, such as validating the deceased's will, inventorying their assets, paying off any debts and taxes, and finally, distributing the remaining assets among the beneficiaries. The timeline for this process can vary significantly, generally ranging from several months to over a year, depending on factors like the size and complexity of the estate, the clarity of the will, and whether or not the probate process is contested.

The Estate Settlement Timeline:

To provide a clearer understanding of the process and its timeline, let's break down each stage of settling an estate in Wisconsin:

  1. Submitting the Will: As per Wisconsin law, the executor, or personal representative, is required to submit the will to probate court as soon as reasonably possible following the death of the testator (the person who made the will). There is no specific deadline stated in Wisconsin law, but it's generally best to do so within a month to prevent unnecessary delays in the probate process.
  2. Inventorying the Estate: Following the submission of the will, the executor must compile a comprehensive inventory of the deceased's assets, including real estate, personal belongings, bank accounts, investments, and any other assets of value. Depending on the size and complexity of the estate, this process can take several weeks to a few months. In Wisconsin, executors are generally given six months from the date of their appointment to submit this inventory to the court.
  3. Communicating with Creditors: Once the inventory is complete, the executor must notify all known creditors of the deceased's passing. In Wisconsin, creditors are given a window of three months from the date of their notification to make claims against the estate for any debts owed.
  4. Paying Debts and Taxes: After the creditors have been notified, the executor must pay off any valid claims from the estate's assets. This also includes settling any final income taxes or estate taxes owed. Depending on the number of claims and the state of the deceased's financial affairs, this process can take anywhere from a few months to over a year.
  5. Distributing the Remaining Assets: The final step in the estate settlement process involves distributing the remaining assets to the beneficiaries as specified in the will. This can only take place once all debts and taxes have been paid. If there are no disputes among the beneficiaries, this step can be completed relatively quickly, often within a few weeks.

These timelines are approximate and can vary significantly based on individual circumstances. For instance, if a will is contested, the probate process can be delayed by months or even years. Additionally, if the estate is particularly large or complex, it may take longer to inventory and distribute the assets. Therefore, while it is the duty of the executor to settle the estate as quickly and efficiently as possible, it's important to remember that this process often requires patience and diligence.

How Do You Know When an Estate is Settled:

An estate is considered settled when all of the following tasks have been completed: the will has been submitted to probate court, the estate has been thoroughly inventoried, all creditors have been notified and paid, any taxes owed have been settled, and the remaining assets have been distributed according to the will.

Beneficiaries should receive a final accounting from the executor, which is a document detailing all of the financial transactions made on behalf of the estate. In Wisconsin, once this final accounting has been reviewed and approved by the probate court, the executor can file a “petition for discharge”, which officially releases them from their duties. Upon approval of this petition, the estate is officially considered settled. This final confirmation ensures beneficiaries that the estate settlement process has been completed.

What to Do If You Think The Executor Is Taking Too Long:

While settling an estate can often be a lengthy process, there may be instances when an executor is not fulfilling their duties in a timely or efficient manner. If you, as a beneficiary, have concerns about this, there are steps you can take. First, communicate openly with the executor. They may be able to provide a reasonable explanation for the delays. If communication doesn't resolve the issue, you can request an accounting of the estate, which is a report detailing the financial actions taken by the executor on behalf of the estate.

If these steps don't bring about satisfactory results, Wisconsin law allows beneficiaries to petition the probate court for the removal and replacement of an executor who is failing to perform their duties. This should be considered a last resort, as it can add further delays and complications to the estate settlement process. It's recommended to consult with an estate planning attorney before taking this step.