The Michigan Probate Process

Couple reviewing legal documents

If you are looking for information on the Michigan probate process for an estate, you may have recently lost a loved one; if so, let us offer our condolences. Although we deal with probate matters on a daily basis, we know that each one represents the life of someone who was loved and is deeply missed. We also understand that navigating the unfamiliar probate process is challenging at the best of times, and especially when you are grieving.

In this blog post, we will give an overview of the Michigan probate court process for an estate: what it is, the various processes, and how to determine which one is right for your needs. Hopefully, understanding more about Michigan probate will make your next steps easier.

What is the Probate Process?

Broadly speaking, “probate” means dealing with the property and debts of someone who has died (the decedent) under the authority of the probate court for the county in which the decedent last resided. The property the decedent owned is referred to as their estate, and probate is sometimes referred to as estate administration.

However, not all of the decedent’s property needs to go through probate. Certain property passes outside of probate without court involvement, including:

  • Property owned by the decedent’s revocable living trust, which is administered by the trustee named in the trust and passes according to the terms set forth in the trust

  • Property owned by the decedent and one or more other people as “joint tenants with right of survivorship,” which passes automatically to the surviving joint owner(s). Real estate and bank accounts are often jointly owned.

  • Property with beneficiary designations, such as life insurance, retirement accounts like IRAs and 401(k)s, pensions, and annuities. These assets pass directly to the named beneficiary or beneficiaries.

In general, only property owned in the decedent’s sole name at their death must go through the probate process. There are some limited exceptions, such as unpaid wages, income tax refunds, and unused travelers checks. The decedent’s property that must go through probate is called their “probate estate.”

There are different types of probate administration depending on the size and complexity of the estate. An experienced probate attorney can help you determine which process is right for your needs.

Types of Probate Administration in Michigan

For estates under a certain dollar value, there are two simplified estate administration processes in Michigan:

Small Estates

If the decedent’s probate estate is valued at less than the sum of their funeral expenses plus a statutory amount adjusted annually for inflation ($27,000 in 2023), it qualifies for a court order distributing small estates. The probate court orders that any unpaid funeral expenses be paid (or if necessary, reimbursed) from the estate. The remainder of the estate is assigned to the decedent’s surviving spouse or heirs. For 63 days following the assignment, the recipient(s) of the estate are responsible for any unpaid debt of the decedent, up to the amount of the property they received.

Summary Administrative Proceedings

If the decedent was survived by a spouse or minor or dependent children and the estate value is under a certain amount, the estate may qualify for summary administrative proceedings. To qualify, the value of the estate must be less than the total of all mortgages, and liens, the homestead allowance, the family allowances, exempt property, and the expenses of the decedent’s last illness and funeral and administration of the estate. After payment of secured creditors by the personal representative, the spouse and/or children receive the remainder of the estate.

If an estate does not qualify for either of these simplified processes, it must go through either informal or formal probate. A formal probate process may be either supervised or unsupervised.

Informal Probate

Most estates can go through informal probate. In informal probate, a personal representative is appointed and notifies heirs and creditors of the probate matter. The personal representative secures estate property, pays estate debts, and distributes the remaining assets according to the decedent’s will or state law. The personal representative must file certain required documents with the court, but the personal representative can handle estate business without obtaining court permission.

Informal probate is used when there are no disputes regarding debts, heirs, or other issues, and there are generally no hearings before a probate judge.

Unsupervised Formal Probate

The difference between informal probate and formal probate is that formal probate involves court hearings. The involvement of a judge in the case means that if there are disputes over issues such as the amount or validity of a debt or the meaning of a provision in the will, the judge can resolve the dispute. In unsupervised formal probate, the personal representative of the estate is also required to get the court’s permission before taking certain actions, such as selling estate property or making a final distribution of assets.

Supervised Formal Probate

Supervised formal probate involves court oversight of the personal representative’s actions at every step of the administration of the decedent’s estate. Formal probate is supervised only in certain circumstances: when directed by the decedent’s will, or if the court finds supervised administration is necessary to protect interested persons or for some other reason.

The more court hearings and judicial involvement there are in a probate case, the more costly it is likely to be and the more information about the estate that will be publicly available in the court file. For those reasons, it is usually preferable to use the simplest available probate process unless there is a particular reason for greater court oversight.

How Long Does the Probate Process Take?

The length of the probate process depends on the circumstances, including the size and complexity of the estate. A small estate or summary administration may take only a couple of months; a large, disputed, or complex estate could take years to settle. It’s common for an estate to be settled within six months to a year if there are no disputes or other complicating factors.

To learn more about Michigan probate or how to start the probate process in Michigan, speak with an experienced attorney. The knowledgeable probate attorneys at Barron, Rosenberg, Mayoras & Mayoras work with clients who need to settle a probate estate. Schedule a consultation today by calling (248) 213-9514 in Michigan or (941) 222-2199 in Florida to learn how we can assist you. You can also use our simple online contact form.

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