An individual's death leaves many items to be resolved with one of the primary issues being the disposition of the individual's estate. Certain property goes to other parties such as the surviving spouse, children, siblings, parents and others as a matter of law or contractually upon the individual's death. However, any property which does not automatically pass to someone as a matter of law or contractually must be probated.
Probate is the legal process of administering a deceased individual's estate and resolving all claims and distributing the deceased's property. Probate does not require the decedent to have a will but a will can establish the decedent's wishes as to the disposition of their estate. The decedent's property is otherwise distributed to according to Michigan laws. Michigan allows informal probate administration of an estate but many estates are administered through formal proceedings under the supervision of the probate court.
However, all estates must be administered by a personal representative whose power is granted by a probate court which issues a Letter of Authority that informs third parties the personal representative is authorized to administer the estate. The Letter of Authority also gives the personal representative the right to assets held by anyone in the sole name of the decedent. The probate court will generally look to the decedent's will to determine the personal representative but can appoint an interested party if there is no such guidance from the decedent's will.
The deceased estate that goes through the probate process is property which hasn't already passed on to third parties contractually as in the proceeds of an insurance policy or as a matter of law as in the case of property held jointly with right of survivorship or held by a trust. The personal representative is responsible for inventorying the decedent's assets and ensuring all taxes and debts of the decedent's estate including estate taxes. The personal representative is also responsible for distributing the remaining property to the beneficiaries as instructed by the decedent's will or by Michigan laws of intestacy.
The personal representative is a fiduciary of the decedent's estate and must understand and abide by the fiduciary duties, such as a duty to keep money in interest bearing account and to treat all beneficiaries equally. Not complying with the fiduciary duties may allow interested persons to petition for the removal of the personal representative and hold the personal representative liable for any harm to the estate.
Administering a probate estate can be a long, tedious process requiring guidance. We at the Law Offices of Ravi K. Nigam can assist you in this process. Please contact us to see how we may assist you in this process.