Generally, spouses in Michigan own real property through tenancy by the entirety, which allows spouses to own property together as a single legal entity. With this form of ownership, when a spouse dies, the surviving spouse is entitled to full ownership of the property. The procedure for transferring real property to a surviving spouse in Michigan is typically a straightforward task. Recording the decedent spouse's certified death certificate at the county's register of deeds where the property is located is usually all that is required.
Check the Deeds
Carefully read the deed. Be certain the spouses are the only named property owners listed. Confirm that after the spouses' names, language refers to a tenancy by entirety. For example, "John Smith and Mary Smith, husband and wife" or "John Smith and Mary Smith, his wife" or "John Smith and Mary Smith, tenants by the entirety."
Obtain a certified death certificate for the decedent spouse from the funeral home that handled the remains or from the vital records office for the county in which the spouse died. You may also order a certified death certificate online at the State of Michigan Vital Records Office's website. Be prepared to pay a small fee for a certified copy.
Hand-deliver or mail the death certificate to the register of deeds for the county in which the property is located. Contact the register of deeds in advance to ascertain the filing fee. Recording fees generally run $14 to $15 dollars. Ask for any special mailing instructions if your preference is to mail the death certificate versus hand-delivery.
Do not give legal advice to third parties regarding the transfer of property unless you are an attorney. Always consider consulting an attorney for all legal matters.
Property held with spouses as tenants in common or as joint tenants with third parties may require probate or the preparation of a new deed. Consult with your attorney if this is the case.
Maggie Lourdes is a full-time attorney in southeast Michigan. She teaches law at Cleary University in Ann Arbor and online for National University in San Diego. Her writing has been featured in "Realtor Magazine," the N.Y. State Bar's "Health Law Journal," "Oakland County Legal News," "Michigan Probate & Estate Planning Journal," "Eye Spy Magazine" and "Surplus Today" magazine.