- creditors are notified of the decedent's death;
- the court issues a letter empowering the personal representative (called the domiciliary letter here in Wisconsin) to handle all matters related to the estate (close accounts, sell property, etc.);
- liabilities are paid (funeral, medical, cell phone, credit card, taxes, etc.);
- remaining probate assets are distributed according to the terms of the will if there is one or by according to statutory guidelines if there was no will; and
- the estate is closed.
Often times the PR will hire an attorney to assist with this process, which can take from 12 months to over 2 years. The attorney's fees are a cost of the estate, meaning the estate plays the attorney's bills not the PR.
When drafting a will it is very important to give thought to who would be a good PR. I recommend someone that is good with finances, legal matters, is organized, will not be emotionally crippled by your death, and if possible, local.
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The only legal way to nominate a PR is to draft a will, otherwise you are leaving it up to chance as to who will step forward and ask the court to appoint him or her. Drafting a will is never easy, but keep in mind it allows you to take control in a matter that you probably know best compared to the court.
Blogger note: I am devoting the month of February to definitions of terms common to estate planning. Enjoy.