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Probate is a court-supervised legal process that may be required after someone dies. Probate gives a surviving family member authority to gather the deceased person’s assets, pay debts and taxes, and eventually transfer assets to the people who inherit them.

Will Probate Be Necessary?

Probate court proceedings are necessary only if the deceased person owned assets in his or her name alone. Other assets can probably be transferred to their new owners without any probate court involvement.

Examples of common assets that do not need to go through probate include:

  • Assets the deceased person owned in joint tenancy form, which pass automatically to the surviving owner.
  • Assets the deceased person owned with his or her spouse as “tenancy by the entirety” property, which pass to the surviving spouse without probate.
  • Assets subject to a beneficiary designation (for example, retirement accounts for which the deceased person named a beneficiary, or payable-on-death bank accounts).
  • Life insurance proceeds that are payable to a named beneficiary.
  • Assets held in trust (commonly, a Revocable Living Trust designed to avoid probate).
Contact an Experienced Estate Planning Attorney

Simplified Probate for Small Estates

Even if the deceased person left some property that was owned in his or her name alone, full probate may not be necessary. Michigan offers a simpler procedure for small estates. It’s available if:

  • The value of the gross estate, after funeral and burial costs are paid, is less than $15,000*, or
  • The estate is large enough only to cover the expenses of the last illness and funeral, the family allowance, the homestead allowance, and some expenses.

In either of these situations, the probate court can order the assets turned over to the surviving spouse or heirs. (Heirs, the people entitled to inherit under state law when there’s no will, are the closest relatives.)

“Karen, we really, really appreciate you! The better the planning we do, the luckier we have been, which is why I brought Aunt Betty to you 14 years ago, and we have sought your advice throughout. She is at peace knowing she doesn't need to worry about managing estate-related choices in her final days.“

Jay Smith

“Thanks for taking such good care of us and making it easy to ask questions. I appreciate not being made to feel stupid for asking questions. It was a lovely gift at a tough time.“

Charlie Patricolo

“Throughout the emotional roller coaster ride as my father’s Trustee, I am grateful you were there for me. You kept me grounded and focused on the job at hand, when I could easily have let my emotions take over. I am sure my Dad is smiling down on how everything came together, and happy I stayed with you as my legal counsel. I know I am certainly smiling. Thank you again.”

Lynn Speerschneider

“I would not hesitate to contact Karen in the future, or recommend her to friends and family, for estate planning needs. She made a confusing process very easy and painless.”

Top qualities: Personable, Good Value, On Time

“Karen is very personable and professional. Her method of determining my estate planning needs minimized the amount of time and effort on my part. She generated an estate plan that was fully customized for my special situation. It was a pleasure to work with her. I will continue to recommend her to my associates and friends.”

Rating: 5.0 out of 5.0

“I’d like to start by saying THANK YOU! For the first time in my life I found myself in trouble. I spoke with you and realized that I was speaking to a warm and sensitive person. After our discussion, you referred me to someone you felt more appropriate or fitting to my situation. I am grateful to you both! If I need a Lawyer or a CPA again, I would want the support and guidance of the two of you! Thank you again, you have made a difference in my life!”

Rating: 5.0 out of 5.0


Complimentary Consultation

Come on in for a complimentary 30 minute consultation to meet Karen and learn about what you should be considering in your estate plan to fit your personal circumstances. If you fill out our estate plan questionnaire and bring it with you, it will make the meeting more productive.

Complete our questionnaire and bring to the meeting.

No Probate for Small Estates: Claiming Property With Affidavits

No probate at all is necessary if the estate is worth less than $15,000* and doesn’t contain any real estate. Instead, inheritors can use a simple affidavit (sworn statement) to claim assets held by a bank or other institution. For example, someone who inherits a bank account could fill out a small estate affidavit and take it, plus a copy of death certificate, to the bank, and the bank would release the funds.

You can get an affidavit form (pc598) from the Michigan court system’s website. On the one-page form, the inheritor states that no probate proceeding has begun (or is planned), that the estate’s value is less than $15,000*, and gives information about the deceased person. The statement is signed “under penalty of perjury,” which means that if you lie on the affidavit, you could be subject to prosecution for the crime of perjury (lying under oath).

Special Procedure for Vehicles

If the deceased person owned vehicles with a total value of no more than $60,000, and no probate is necessary for other assets, the surviving spouse or next of kin (closest relative) can obtain ownership of the vehicles with a simple, fill-in-the-blanks form. This one-page form, called a “Certification From the Heir to a Vehicle,” is available from the Secretary of State’s office.  If several next of kin share equal inheritance rights, the others may sign off.

Who Conducts a Probate Proceeding?

The person named to serve as executor (called a personal representative in Michigan) in the deceased person’s Will generally takes charge of the estate. If there is no Will, or the person named in the Will isn’t available or willing to serve, the probate court will appoint someone to serve as personal representative. The surviving spouse, if any, has first priority to be appointed as personal representative if he or she inherits under the Will.

Once the court issues a document called “Letters of Authority for Personal Representative,” the personal representative must:  

  • Gather, inventory, and safeguard the deceased person’s assets.
  • Have those assets appraised, if necessary.
  • Pay debts and taxes.
  • Distribute the remaining property as the Will (or if there’s no Will, state law) directs.

The personal representative must keep careful records of how estate assets are handled and distributed.

Full Probate

Most Michigan probate cases can be wrapped up within six months to a year after the personal representative is appointed. After notice of the probate is given, creditors have four months to file a claim. If the estate owes federal estate tax (most don’t), probate is likely to take a year or more.
The case will also take longer if someone contests the Will in court, alleging that the deceased person wasn’t of sound mind or was under undue influence when he or she signed the Will. Will contests, however, are rare.

In Michigan, probate costs commonly include:

  • Court costs (this depends on the value of the estate).
  • Executor or administrator’s fee, based on an hourly rate for time spent on estate business (though many family members don’t accept compensation for their work).
  • Attorney fees (these fees can be negotiated between the executor and the lawyer).
  • Appraisal fees (when necessary to determine the value of estate assets).

If the estate is very large, it may owe federal estate tax. Estate tax isn’t affected by whether or not there is a probate court proceeding; even if no probate is necessary, tax may still be owed.

* Adjusted for inflation annually. The 2019 amount is $23,000.
(Excerpts from nolo.com)