If you die without a valid will in Michigan, the laws of intestacy will determine who will receive your probate assets . If you have no surviving parents and no surviving children/descendants, your spouse will indeed receive all of your probate assets after your creditors and costs of probate administration are paid. If you fit in this category and this is precisely how you want your probate assets to be distributed upon your death, then your work is done!
If however you are married and have surviving parents and/or surviving children when you die without a will, intestacy gets more complicated. A simplified summary of the laws of intestacy follows:
If you leave no descendants but leave a surviving parent, your surviving spouse is entitled to the first $221,000 (this is the 2015 amount which is adjusted annually for inflation) of your estate. Your spouse then receives three-quarters of the balance and your surviving parent(s) receive one-quarter.
If you die leaving children and any of your children are also your surviving spouse’s children, then your spouse is entitled to receive the first $221,000 of your estate and shares the balance equally with your children.
If you die leaving children and none of your children are also children of your surviving spouse (they are your surviving spouse’s stepchildren), then your surviving spouse is entitled to receive the first $148,000 (similarly adjusted annually for inflation) of your estate and shares the balance equally with your children.
If you die with no surviving spouse, your entire probate estate passes to the following individuals who survive you in this order:
- Your descendants.
- If you leave no surviving descendants, your parents.
- If you leave no surviving descendants or parents, the descendants of your parents, i.e., your brothers and sisters, then nieces and nephews.
- If there are none of the above, half of your estate goes to your maternal grandparents or their descendants and half goes to your paternal grandparents or their descendants. If there is no one to take on one side of the family, the entire estate passes to the relatives on the other side.
If this is not your preferred plan of distribution for your probate assets, make sure you have a valid will or trust in place before you die! Keep in mind as well that any assets that pass outside of probate such as joint assets, beneficiary designations and pay-on-death designations will go to the other joint owner or beneficiary automatically upon your death. This may complicate or change the intestate distribution plan outlined above.
If all of this seems unduly complicated, you are correct. The legislature and courts have amended and refined the laws of intestacy over the years to address the varied situations that can arise when someone dies without having prepared a Will or Trust. You can save your loved ones the trouble of navigating this maze of intestacy laws by planning ahead and putting your own estate plan in place before its too late!