Probate is the court process through which your assets are transferred to your beneficiaries after you die. If all of your assets are owned jointly with others, have beneficiary designations or are in a trust when you die, no probate administration will be necessary. Your assets will be transferred to joint owners, pay-on-death beneficiaries and successor trustees without the involvement of the probate court.
If you have assets in your individual name when you die, in order for these assets to be transferred to your heirs they will need to be administered through the probate process. Depending on the nature of your assets and the harmony of your family and other beneficiaries, the probate administration process can be fairly straightforward. If there are disputes between your heirs or beneficiaries, a challenge to your Will or joint assets, or other conflicts, the probate administration process can become complicated and expensive. These types of cases are the basis for many of the anecdotal “probate nightmare” stories you may have heard.
As an attorney dealing with probate cases for over 20 years, I can assist you in safely and efficiently negotiating the probate process. Working together, we will ensure that you comply with all the legal requirements associated with the estate. This will protect you so that you are not later held personally liable for actions you took or failed to take while acting as personal representative of the estate.
If you are an heir or beneficiary in a probate estate, you may find yourself in a position of not understanding what is happening or not trusting the person nominated or appointed to act as personal representative. It is much better to have counsel representing your interests during the probate process, rather than try to set aside distributions or re-open estates after the process is complete. At that point, time limits and waivers may prevent you from having your concerns heard by the court.
Whether you wish to avoid probate or draft a Will to direct where your assets will go when you die, it is always a good idea to know your options and make an informed decision. If you fail to do anything, the State of Michigan will decide who gets your assets through the laws of intestacy. This may be vastly different from what you assumed would happen upon your passing.
If you have no other estate plan you may want to consider preparing a Statutory Will; you can find the information and form on the State Bar of Michigan website here.