What Problems Will Your Family Face If You Die Without a Will?

If you die without a will or estate plan — referred to as dying intestate — your family may face a myriad of problems, some of which may not easily be resolved. Those problems can result in serious family disagreements and even tear a family apart. Your wishes about who should benefit from your estate may not be honored. Family members and loved ones could be left without the financial security you want them to have.

Michigan Intestacy Laws

If you die without a will in Michigan, state law and the probate court will control the distribution of your estate. Probate is the court-supervised process an estate goes through following your death. While jointly-owned property will pass automatically to the co-owner and accounts with designated beneficiaries will not go through the probate process, everything you own in your name alone will go through the probate process.

In addition to ending with results you may not want, going through the probate process can take a considerable amount of time and cost substantial legal fees. If you have a will or estate plan developed by an experienced estate planning attorney, it may be possible for your estate to avoid the probate process altogether.

Specific Issues Arising From Intestacy

Who Will Make Your Funeral Arrangements?

The problems begin immediately after your death, with the question of who can make your funeral arrangements. If you don’t have a will or a valid legal document designating a funeral representative, a Michigan statute will determine who can make the arrangements. The law specifies the priority of the designation. Whoever is entitled by law to be the funeral representative will make all the decisions — including whether you are cremated and what happens to your cremated remains or whether you are interred and where you are interred — and determine all other details of your funeral arrangements.

When you create a will or estate plan, your wishes about funeral arrangements are spelled out in detail. You may name a funeral representative if you wish to do so. By specifying your wishes about funeral arrangements in a will, you ensure those wishes will be carried out after your death.

Who Will Administer Your Estate?

A will designates a personal representative or executor to make sure all your wishes are carried out after your death, including distribution of your property. Without a will, there is no designated personal representative. The probate court will appoint someone to administer the estate.

Michigan law establishes which specific people can apply to be appointed as personal representative if you do not have a will. A similar process applies if a designated personal representative or executor and alternate(s) cannot serve or do not apply to be appointed. Any individual listed in the statute can apply. That means the person who administers your estate and distributes your property could easily end up being someone you would not choose to handle your estate.

Who Will Get Your Property?

If you die without a will, some assets may go directly to co-owners or beneficiaries, including:

  • Life insurance policy proceeds with a designated beneficiary
  • Retirement accounts with a designated beneficiary
  • Joint bank accounts or bank accounts payable on your death
  • Jointly-owned property
  • Securities designated as transferable on your death

Aside from these types of assets, the property in your estate is distributed according to your will (or estate plan) or — if you do not have a will — according to a Michigan law that specifies how your assets will be distributed. The provisions of the law are complex.

If you have a surviving spouse and have no surviving children, parents, or grandchildren, your spouse gets the entire estate. If there are surviving children, parents, or grandchildren — even if they are not related to the surviving spouse — the spouse will not receive the entire estate. The share your spouse receives will depend on whether the living relatives are children, grandchildren, or parents and the size of the estate.

If you do not have a surviving spouse, your children inherit your estate in equal portions. If there are no surviving children, your surviving grandchildren, siblings, or parents will be entitled to the estate, according to specific provisions in the Michigan statute.

Situations involving blended families are particularly complicated. If you have multiple marriages and die without a will, children from different marriages may not be treated as you would want them to be. In addition, if you have a child with special needs, that child’s financial well-being could be placed in jeopardy if you do not have a will or estate plan to ensure the child’s care.

When you die without a will, loved ones who are not related to you receive nothing. If you have non-profit organizations you care about — such as a church, educational institution, or charity — they also will receive nothing. If you have no relatives identified by the intestacy law, the state will end up with your estate.

The only way to make sure that your property ends up benefiting those you wish to benefit is to have a will or estate plan drawn up by an experienced estate planning lawyer. For all your loved ones — including your spouse and children — the only way to protect their future financial security is to have a properly drafted and executed will or estate plan in place.

Who Will Raise Your Minor Children?

If you have minor children, one of the important reasons to have a will is naming the person(s) will take care of them if something happens to you. If you have not named a guardian in a will, the court will determine who will care for your children. They may end up being raised by someone other than the person or persons you would choose.

What Will Happen to Your Business?

If you own a business and do not have a plan in place to address what happens after your death, you will not determine who will own and control the business and how it will be run. Your family could be at risk of losing control of the business.

Avoiding Living Probate

While many of the reasons for having a will focus on what happens after you die, there are also very important reasons why you need to plan while you are still alive. When you set up an estate plan, your attorney will include provisions to make sure that you avoid living probate in the event you become incapacitated. Without the right legal documents in place, you could end up going through a guardianship or conservatorship court process — also referred to as living probate — while you are still alive. When you have a will or estate plan in place, your financial, business, and personal affairs will be handled according to your wishes in the event you become incapacitated for any reason.

Our Trusted Michigan Estate Planning Attorneys Are Here to Help

You can avoid all these problems that arise when you don’t have a sound estate plan. If you do not have a will — or if you have a loved one who does not have a will — our trusted BRMM estate planning attorneys are here to assist. Talk with us about your wishes and concerns, and let us help make sure you and your family are taken care of in exactly the way you wish.

If your family member died without a will, and you need assistance with probate court administration of the estate, our experienced BRMM probate litigation attorneys can help.

We are located in Troy, Michigan, and serve clients throughout the Tri County and Detroit area and in other parts of Michigan. We also assist out-of-state clients with an interest in a Michigan estate as well as Michigan clients with property or interests in Florida.

Call us at (248) 494-4577 or complete our online form to set up your free initial consultation.

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