Michigan probate courts operate at the county level. When someone dies, the probate court for her county of residence is the one that handles the case.
The Michigan State Bar's guide to probate says the decedent's family should locate the will before going to probate court. They should also determine who will act as the estate's personal representative, Michigan's term for an executor. If the decedent named someone in the will as his PR, that may settle the question.
The PR must apply to the probate court to make her status official. If there's a will, she submits it to the court to confirm it's a valid document. Michigan has the forms for these and other probate matters available online. Once the court approves the representative, it will issue letters of authority confirming the appointment.
The personal representative is responsible for making funeral, burial and related arrangements. The Bar says it may be necessary for whoever serves as PR to attend to all this before the court formally approves him.
As of publication, if the net value of the estate is less than $15,000 plus funeral expenses, there's no probate hearing. The court will order the entire estate, less the funeral costs, be transferred to the decedent's spouse, or to the decedent's other heirs. This overrides any contradictory instructions in the decedent's will.
If someone other than the spouse or the decedent's minor children is named to the inheritance, that person may be held liable for the estate's debts, up to the value of his inheritance.
If the estate is worth more than $15,000 plus expenses, it may still receive simplified probate. The PR figures this by adding several figures together:
- All mortgages and liens on the decedent's property.
- Up to a $15,000 homestead allowance — a portion of the family home's value that's shielded from the decedent's creditors.
- Up to $10,000 in other exempt property.
- Up to $18,000 as an allowance for the family.
- Funeral, last illness and estate administration expenses.
If the estate is worth less than that total, the PR pays off secured creditors -- those with a mortgage or lien on the property. The rest of the money goes to the surviving spouse or the person appointed to handle money for the decedent's minor children.
Larger estates mean more work for the personal representative. Before the court closes the case, the PR finds and pays off the estate's creditors, settles any tax bills for the decedent and the estate, manages estate assets and eventually divides up the estate. If the decedent left a will, that determines how the property is divided up. Otherwise, the PR has to follow Michigan law for distributing assets without a will.
The Bar says unsupervised administration is Michigan's preferred approach to probate for larger estates. The court leaves the PR free to carry out his duties, and only intervenes if a creditor or an heir objects to what the PR is doing. In supervised administration, the PR must obtain the court's prior approval for many decisions, and must submit his accounts to the court for review. The PR can request either approach, downloading the appropriate application from the state-forms web page.
The timeline for a full probate typically runs seven months to a year, the Nolo legal website says.
No Probate Needed
It's possible that probate won't be necessary. For example, if the decedent's property is entirely co-owned with her spouse, then her spouse takes title. Retirement accounts and life insurance pass to the named beneficiary. The Michigan Bar says the family should decide whether probate is necessary as they're getting everything organized after the death.