When a parent or family member dies in another state, the normal grief process is intensified by the distance. The demands of real life continue without regard for your loss. On top of that, you need to deal with your loved one's estate, paying creditors, and distributing inheritance. Here are some things an out-of-state executor in Michigan probate court should know.
In this blog post I will review the Michigan probate process. I will explain what out-of-state executors may not know and how a probate attorney can help personal representatives make the process easier.
When a Michigan resident dies, the probate court identifies someone, usually a family member, as the personal representative of that person's estate. If the deceased person had a will, it will include a statement of who that person should be (sometimes called an executor). This is usually a trusted friend or loved one of the deceased, even if they don't live close by. It is the job of the executor or personal representative to make sure all the funds and property go to the right person or entity.
Being in charge of an estate doesn't mean you have to do it alone. If you are named as an executor or personal representative (PR), you should speak to a Michigan probate lawyer early in the process. A probate attorney can assist an executor in Michigan probate court, to explain the process and walk them through this difficult time.
In Michigan, estates go through probate if they have a will or no planning at all. However, depending on the assets in the estate, and the value of those assets, opening a probate estate may not be necessary. Before any steps are taken to open an estate, you should always seek the advice of a probate attorney.
If a person dies without a will and an estate plan, the estate is considered "intestate." In those cases, A probate court judge will use Michigan statues to decide how the person's assets are distributed and to whom. Only legal family members can inherit in an intestate estate.
When there is a will, that document replaces the default statutes and can name anyone as a beneficiary, including non-family members. Having a will can also help streamline the probate process, but it won't eliminate it. Even with a valid will, the probate court oversees the administration of the estate to make sure everything is done properly. A will, however, can be challenged by others, potentially rendering it invalid, and drawing out the probate process further.
Estates with and without wills are treated similarly by the probate court. However, many estate plans also include trusts and other assets that don't follow the same process. For example, jointly owned property transfers automatically, without the need for the probate court, as long as notice of the person's death is provided to the right people.
It can be challenging to figure out how each asset should be handled. Probate attorneys can help you identify the estate's assets, and how they are titled. They can explain the differences and help you use the right process for each asset. By identifying non-probated assets, you can save court costs and make sure each part of the estate is handled the right way.
The bigger and more complex an estate is, the more an out-of-state executor and his or her attorney will have to work. You may need to:
The good news is that you don't have to volunteer your time. Michigan law allows for executors and probate lawyers to be compensated for their time out of the estate's assets. You should track the time you spend working on everything from inventory to finances and travel time. You shouldn't have to carry a financial burden in administering your loved one's estate.
Administrating an estate in Michigan can involve a number of filings and hearings with the probate court at different stages of the process. For an out-of-state executor in Michigan probate proceedings, that can mean a lot of trips to Michigan. A probate attorney can help by taking over filing responsibilities, making sure deadlines are met, and appearing on your behalf at court hearings. This can save you time and frustration, especially if you are administrating an estate from another state.
The death of a loved one is traumatic enough without having to fight your way through the court system. An experienced probate attorney can help out-of-state executors save time, frustration, and expense. If you have been appointed to handle your loved one's estate, or if a loved one died without a will and you would like to handle their estate, contact a probate attorney today to get help.
Rebecca J. Braun, J.D., is an estate planning and elder law attorney for Mobile Legal Services in Southeast Michigan. She can help with estate and trust administration. She will travel to clients, free of charge, in Livingston, Oakland, Washtenaw, Wayne, and Southern Macomb Counties. Contact us for an initial assessment.