What it Takes to Probate a Will in Michigan
This article discusses the process involved to probate a will, and covers other useful information regarding probate in the State of Michigan.
When Someone Dies Without a Will
When a person passes away without a will or trust their assets are declared intestate. This means that the state probate courts are in charge of administering the estate. This court-supervised legal process assigns a family member to gather the decedent’s assets, pay debts and taxes, and finally distribute assets to people who inherit them. Of course, any legal activity costs money and court costs must be paid before distributing assets. So, passing away without a trust may diminish how much hard earned money passes to your heirs.
Assets That Go Through Probate
Some assets need not pass through probate court even without a will. For example, life insurance policies with a named beneficiary do not go through probate court. Bank accounts that are jointly held or have POD (payable upon death) designations are also exempt from probate. Jointly held property, securities and retirement accounts with beneficiaries also remain unaffected by intestacy. However, without a will or trust disputes may arise and often the courts get involved.
If there is no will or trust any assets without named beneficiaries or joint owners pass through the state probate court. In a will, a decedent names an executor for the estate. Without the proper legal document the laws of the State of Michigan dictate how assets are divided among family members. So, if there is no will, the probate court appoints someone to serve as personal representative for the decedent.
Usually, this is the surviving spouse. When there is no spouse available then the nearest relative is appointed by the court. A document entitled “Letters of Authority for Personal Representative” is issued by the court giving the personal representative legal authority to handle the deceased person’s estate.
A legally appointed personal representative has specific responsibilities and must follow legal guidelines. In order to settle an estate this appointed person must:
- Pay debts and taxes
- Safeguard the deceased person’s assets
- Gather and inventory all assets
- Distribute any property and assets according to the will(or if no will, state law)
It’s important to keep accurate records of all transactions and disbursements and use a knowledgeable attorney for probate in Michigan to help guide you through this complex legal process.
Small Estate Probate
Michigan does offer a simple process for very small estates with no will in place. The following criteria must be met to qualify for this simple procedure:
- Estate is worth less than $15,000 (after funeral and burial costs)
- Estate is only large enough to cover the costs of last illness, some expenses, and certain family costs
- No real estate is involved
With small estates, an affidavit form is available from the Michigan court system’s website. Signing this one page form allows an heir to access the deceased family member’s bank funds. Of course, the estate must satisfy all requirements. This legal document is signed “under penalty of perjury” and it is illegal to lie on this form. Of course, speaking to an attorney before signing any legal document is always advisable.
The length of probate cases and the size of the estate affect the cost. When someone contests a will court cases may drag on, especially if a great deal of money is at stake. In Michigan, most probate cases can be wrapped up in under a year. Probate costs commonly include:
- Court costs
- Attorney fees
- Appraisal fees (if necessary to determine the value of property)
- Back taxes
- Executor or administrator fees
The best advice is planning ahead and setting up an estate plan with a knowledgeable attorney. To sum up, a will and a trust avoids the costs and burden of probate court.