Michigan Probate Courts handle cases involving estate administration, guardianship and conservatorship, and commitment hearings. In regards to estate administration, or probate administration, the County Court supervises the process where a decedent’s assets are distributed to heirs. Probate Courts make sure property and other assets are properly allocated after someone dies without trust documents. Michigan Probate cases may take seven months or longer after a personal representative is appointed. So, if you receive a Notice of a Probate Court proceeding, contact an experienced Family Law attorney that specializes in estate administration.

Michigan Probate Process

Michigan’s probate process has four main steps:

  • The Court appoints a personal representative- This person manages the decedent’s estate. Basically, the representative must pay all debts and distribute assets to heirs. This person may have been appointed in the will, or may be a surviving spouse. The probate judge chooses the personal representative.
  • Assembling the assets- The personal representative has the difficult job of locating all assets.
  • Paying the bills- The court appointed representative must pay all bills including taxes.
  • Distributing the assets- Finally, the personal representative will distribute remaining assets according to the terms listed in the will. If there was no will, then the representative must follow State Law.  It’s important to keep records for the court and the heirs.

Assets Exempt from Probate

Some assets are exempt from the probate process. Exempt assets include accounts with designated beneficiaries. For example, retirement accounts, bank accounts, insurance policies, annuities, CD’s, property with joint tenancy, and estates valued under $15,000 avoid probate. It’s important to note that a well structured estate plan that includes a trust will also avoid probate court. For this reason, talking to an experienced family law attorney remains very important to protect your family.

Probate Litigation

Michigan Probate Courts have jurisdiction over all matters involving estates, will and trust disputes, commitment proceedings, and guardianship or conservatorship concerns. Many times these cases involve highly emotional situations. Sadly, greedy people may even commit fraud when settling an estate. Others take advantage of elderly relatives and convince them to change their wills or trusts in order to receive more of an inheritance. If you suspect any foul play regarding a loved one, contact an experienced attorney immediately. Sometimes, guardianship is necessary for a relative experiencing cognitive decline. Other times, families don’t realize what’s happened until their loved one passes away. Regardless, it is never too late. So, talk to an attorney if you have any concerns.

Grounds for Contesting a Will or Trust

Once the formal probate process is completed, it may be too late to contest a will or trust. Also, you must have grounds to contest a will or trust. Simply being unhappy with the terms of the settlement is not sufficient grounds. In order to overturn a will or trust document, you must hire an attorney and prove the document is invalid. An attorney will guide you through this costly and complicated process. Generally speaking, there are several reasons these documents may be invalid:

  • Incapacity- the person writing the will, or trust was not of sound mind
  • Undue influence- someone took advantage of an incapacitated, or vulnerable person
  • Improperly drafted document- if the document is forged, or not signed

Of course, you must have “standing” to contest a will or trust. For example, if your best friend passes away and you feel someone took advantage of their fragile state, you may feel terrible. However, you have no legal connection, or standing to contest their estate documents. So, only people with a legal connection may contest estate documents. Finally, remember to contact an experienced family law attorney for advice on any estate matters.