Q: My mother recently passed, she did not have a will, and has very little assets (about $1200 after mo bills are pd).
No home, no car, no investments , no life insurance, no death benefit on her pension income, just household items. Do I have to set up a probate case? How do I handle her remaining medical bills. She has no other debt, just medical bills that exceed her assets. Do we have to sell her household items to settle bills? There really isn’t anything of value.
A: I am sorry to hear about the passing of your Mother. In Wisconsin, for small estate less than $50,000 in value, there is a transfer by affidavit process to transfer assets when the total value of the estate is less than $50,000. In this case, if there are no financial assets, and no real estate, and all you have left is personal property, I understand you are hesitant to spend the time and money to open a probate estate for this amount of assets. The personal property owned by the Estate would be considered an asset, and yes it could be sold to pay off any creditors.
However, you mentioned the outstanding medical debts, and if those debts are significant you may want to publish notice to creditors, informing them of her death, in order to start the statutory period for creditors to file these claims. If the medical debts are large, you may want to open some form of an informal probate for the main reason of publishing this notice to creditors. The good news is that debts of the decedent die with them, so you are under no legal obligation to pay those debts, if her debts exceed her assets. You can sell the household items and use them to pay the debts of the estate, but if the debts exceed the assets of the estate, and the debts are unsecured, then the creditors have no recourse. I would consult with a probate attorney in your area if you need help with any of this. There is also a very helpful guide to probate for people who seek to do it themselves available here https://www.wicourts.gov/services/public/selfhelp/docs/probateguide.pdf
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