The Role of the Probate Court Following a Death

When an individual dies in Michigan, their assets often must be processed through the probate court in order to pass to their heirs. Depending on the assets owned at death, and how those assets are titled, the probate process can be handled in various ways.

Attending to the details of a probate proceeding is often a complex, time-consuming matter, and it may be necessary for family members or close friends to face this task during a time of grief and sorrow. A probate lawyer can help shoulder this burden by providing professional advice and assistance in handling probate proceedings.

Mobile Legal Services practices in probate courts throughout Southeast Michigan. Our probate attorneys meet clients in their homes, nursing homes, or other convenient locations — for no additional cost — in the Metro Detroit area including Livingston County, Washtenaw County, Oakland County, Wayne County, and Southern Macomb County. If you have questions or need help with the probate process in Michigan, we welcome you to call today for a free initial telephone consultation.

Probating a Will

A Last Will and Testament is not effective for any purpose until “admitted to probate.” Even if a will states that the court should have no intervention, it still requires a court procedure called probate. Probate is a legal procedure for settling the affairs of an individual who has died (the “decedent”) and for transferring the decedent’s property to the beneficiaries or heirs. Probate is a court-supervised process and is used to validate a will, to appoint an executor, aka “Personal Representative,” to administer the estate, and to determine the proper beneficial owners of the estate. Probate also provides a procedure for limiting the time in which creditors may file claims against the estate in order to collect on debts that the decedent owed at the time of his or her death. Certain “small estates” may qualify for more simplified proceedings.

Probate Without a Will

When an individual dies without having prepared a will, or maybe having prepared a will that is deemed ‘invalid,’ that process is called ‘intestate.’ Through the court process, heirs at law, family members, and sometimes creditors are notified of the death and the proposed action. They can use the court venue for raising claims against the estate. When people die without a will the court will decide how much discretion to give to the personal representative in administering the estate. When someone dies without a will, it still may result in a fairly simple proceeding, but more requirements and notices are necessary.

Michigan Probate Proceedings

Probate proceedings are intended to provide a mechanism for the orderly transfer of a decedent’s property while protecting those who might have an interest in the property including heirs, beneficiaries, creditors, and taxing authorities. Generally, the laws of Michigan govern the proceedings; however, individual county probate court systems may have additional procedures in your local area.

How Much Does Probate Cost?

Probate costs can vary, ranging from a few hundred to several thousand dollars or more. Fees and expenses are influenced by the complexity of an estate’s administration, including such factors as the type of assets, claims by creditors, disputes among beneficiaries and family members, and the need to file tax returns.

Both the personal representative and his or her lawyer are entitled to reasonable compensation for their services; their fees may require approval by the probate court. Common considerations in determining fees are an estate’s complexity and the type and amount of work involved. A personal representative may elect not to be compensated for services rendered in the administration of the estate.

When Is Probate Necessary?

Probate is always necessary when someone dies owning real property in his or her name alone. It is also required when someone dies owning accounts over the statutory limit for “small estates.” That limit changes periodically; please contact us for current limits. Various factors, including the value, nature, and titling of assets, will determine whether or not probate is required and what type of probate proceeding is necessary.

In some cases, after an individual dies, informal methods may be used to transfer property without court proceedings. An affidavit procedure, for example, provides swift and informal transfer of certain “small estates” (as defined by Michigan law). Proceeds of life insurance policies and certain retirement benefits may be paid directly to the recipient if the proper beneficiary designation was made by the decedent. If assets are owned with another individual as joint tenants with rights of survivorship, the surviving joint tenant may take sole title to the assets without probate proceedings.

What to Do When Someone Dies

When someone dies in Michigan, the surviving spouse or a close relative of the decedent should contact a probate lawyer. The lawyer will determine if probate is required, explain any necessary procedures, and serve to guide and help the personal representative through the process.

We welcome you to contact our probate attorneys with your questions or concerns.

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