Most people don’t know much about probate — just enough to know they want to avoid it. However, whether you have to guide a loved one’s estate through probate court or you’re planning your own estate to avoid probate, it helps to know what probate is all about and why it can frustrate people so much.

In this article, we’ll explain Michigan’s probate laws and help you understand what to expect when you open an estate in probate court.

What Is Probate?

Probate is the legal process of opening an estate after a loved one’s death and then distributing the assets. Typically, this involves filing documents with a Michigan probate court, appointing a personal representative (sometimes called an executor), and completing a series of specific tasks.

If your loved one dies and they don’t have an estate plan in place that’s specifically designed to avoid probate, then you’ll probably have to complete the probate process.

There are several types of Michigan probate: formal, informal, supervised, and unsupervised. In a formal or supervised probate proceeding, the court is more involved and you cannot distribute the estate’s property without a court order.

While formal and supervised probate cases can take a long time to complete, they tend to provide closure since it’s very difficult to modify a court’s decision in a formal, supervised probate case. In addition, supervised probate can help protect disabled adults and other vulnerable people since the judge oversees the personal representative throughout the probate process.

Informal or unsupervised probate doesn’t involve as much scrutiny. Instead, the administrator completes the probate process independently and submits forms to the probate court. This process typically takes less time compared to formal or supervised probate, but the tradeoff is that the results aren’t as “airtight,” so to speak. If concerns arise during unsupervised probate, you can petition the court to switch to a supervised process.

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What Happens During a Michigan Probate Case?

When a loved one dies, you should locate their will or estate plan as soon as possible. This plan should detail your loved one’s final wishes and might even include information about a pre-planned memorial service.

After you have the will or estate plan, your next step is to open a probate case. While every probate case is different, they typically involve the following steps:

  • Filing a petition with the probate court
  • Appointing a personal representative for the estate
  • Identifying and paying the estate’s debts, including taxes
  • Filing and publishing a series of documents, including the personal representative’s Acceptance of Appointment as well as notices to creditors and other interested parties
  • Taking inventory of and valuing the estate’s assets and property
  • Identifying heirs and beneficiaries of the estate plan
  • Distributing the property under either:
    • The terms of a valid will
    • Michigan’s intestacy or inheritance formula (if there isn’t a will)
  • Resolving any disputes that arise during the probate process, including any challenges to the will
  • Closing the estate with the court once all loose ends are tied up

You’ll also have to notify Social Security that the person is deceased (although this isn’t part of the probate process).

RELATED: I’ve Been Named as an Executor—What Do I Need to Know?

How Long Does the Michigan Probate Process Take?

On average, a Michigan probate case takes about six months to a year to complete. If the estate is very simple or has a well-constructed estate plan, the process might be shorter. However, it can take much longer if the executor has problems identifying all the estate’s property or if disputes and debt claims arise.

Hiring a West Michigan probate lawyer can help streamline your probate process. If you’re feeling overwhelmed or don’t have the time and resources to manage your loved one’s estate, contact one of the experienced and compassionate lawyers at Phillips & Santana today.

How Much Does Michigan Probate Cost?

The cost of a probate proceeding can vary dramatically depending on the estate’s complexity and whether any disputes arise. However, you should expect to pay court costs, fees to the executor or administrator (unless the executor is a family member who waives this right), attorney’s fees, and appraisal fees.

Is Michigan Probate Always Necessary?

Sometimes, you can avoid or minimize the Michigan probate court’s involvement in an estate. Depending on your circumstances, you might be eligible for a simplified probate process, or you might even be able to skip probate altogether. In the next two sections, we’ll explore some options that can help you limit or avoid probate.

Simplified Michigan Probate for Small Estates

You might qualify for a simplified probate process if the estate involves less than $22,000 after funeral costs are paid, or if the estate only has enough money to cover the funeral, medical expenses, and certain allowances.

In these circumstances, you simply can submit an affidavit to the probate court before you access and distribute the estate’s assets.

Estate Planning Options That Reduce the Need for Probate

Not all assets require probate. For example, probate is not required to distribute:

  • Property that is owned through a joint tenancy
  • Assets that are collectively owned by spouses
  • Assets that have a beneficiary designation (such as retirement accounts)
  • Life insurance payments
  • Property that is held in a revocable living trust
  • Most vehicles, watercraft, wages, and fringe benefits (if there aren’t other assets requiring probate)

The estate planning lawyers at Phillips & Santana can help you understand whether probate is necessary in your loved one’s case, and we can also help you plan your own estate so your loved ones can avoid spending unnecessary time and money on probate.

RELATED: Is a Living Trust Better Than a Will?

Law Offices of Kari Santana: Your West Michigan Partners in Estate Planning and Probate

Probate doesn’t have to be a stressful and frustrating process. Our team at the Law Offices of Kari Santana works to guide families in Grand Rapids and across West Michigan through the complicated process of opening and administering estates in probate court. We also help our clients minimize probate by working with them to create comprehensive estate plans.

If you’re ready to learn more about how we can help you and your family, contact us by filling out our convenient online form or by calling 616-717-5759.

The content provided here is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject.